C 2009 by Leonore H. Dvorkin
For background information, please see About this blog.
This is a slightly altered and condensed version of the first part of the first handout that I wrote in the summer of 2008 for elementary Spanish classes I was teaching. To receive the complete Alphabet, Spelling, and Pronunciation Handout via email, 8 pages when printed out, send me $2.00 via PayPal: firstname.lastname@example.org
In the book Spanish the Easy Way, see pp. xiii-xiv for examples of words and tips on pronunciation. In Spanish Now, those are on pp. xi and xii.
The dictionary I recommend most highly, Harper Collins Spanish Concise Dictionary, Third Edition, HarperCollins Publishers 2004, $15.00 pbk., gives pronunciation guidelines on pp. x-xi.
The verb book I recommend is 501 Spanish Verbs, 6th Edition, published by Barron’s 2007, $16.99 pbk.
General remarks on the Spanish alphabet, spelling, and pronunciation
To hear Spanish from native speakers, rent Spanish movies, tune in to Spanish language radio or TV stations, or buy or rent instructional tapes or CDs. I like the inexpensive Learn in Your Car series (CDs plus booklets), as well as the various sets from HUGO and Berlitz, such as the Berlitz set Spanish in 30 Days. I have heard good things about Behind the Wheel Spanish and the interactive Rosetta Stone series, but Rosetta Stone is expensive. There are dozens of choices in any large bookstore, such as Barnes and Noble. Start with something simple and inexpensive, or rent instructional materials from libraries.
1) Spanish is a phonetic language. That is, every letter (except H) is sounded. The various letters and combinations of letters have highly predictable sounds. Once you learn the basic sounds of the various vowels, consonants, and combined vowels, it is relatively easy to sound out any new word that you read.
2) The vowels (A, E, I, O, U) have relatively pure sounds in Spanish, with almost no variation. This makes both spelling and pronunciation easier than in English. In Spanish, A, E, I, O, U sound more or less like “ah, eh, ee, oh, oo.” Y by itself also sounds like “ee.” y = and
3) The only silent letter is H. CH sounds like English CH, as in chocolate.
4) The LL combination usually has a Y sound, as in llamar (“yah-MAR”), to call.
However, there are a lot of regional variations in the pronunciation of LL.
5) The RR combination is strongly trilled.
Examples: perro (dog), ferrocarril (railroad)
6) The letter R is also strongly trilled when it starts a word.
Examples: radio (radio), reciente (recent), Roma (Rome), ruso (Russian)
7) Inside a word or at the end of a word, a single R is sounded with a single soft tap of the tongue. It can sound almost like a soft D.
Examples: pero (but), tomar (to take or drink), torpe (clumsy), un traje (a suit)
8) The letter Ñ (N with a tilde) sounds like “EN-yay.”
Inside a word, it sounds like the NI in “onion.”
Examples: mañana (tomorrow) = “mahn-YA-nah” / año (year) = “AHN-yo”
9) Unlike English, Spanish has very few double consonants.
The only ones are CC, LL, RR and (much more rarely) NN.
Examples: acción (action), una parrilla (a grill), perro (dog), innato (innate)
10) B and V usually sound the same when they start words.
Examples: boca (mouth), vaca (cow)
11) In most of the Spanish-speaking world, the letter C before E or I, the letter S, and the letter Z tend to sound much alike, like the English S in Sam.
Examples: cero (zero), cinco (five), sopa (soup), zapato (shoe)
12) Spanish syllables tend to be rather short in sound and even in length, vs. drawn out, like some English syllables.
13) Spanish has a fixed system of voiced stress on certain syllables, which will be discussed in more detail later. One thing you can be sure of: If you see a written accent mark over a vowel, that syllable is stressed.
14) In Spanish, unlike in English, days of the week, months of the year, names of languages, and adjectives of nationality are not capitalized. Examples:
lunes (Monday), marzo (March), chino (Chinese), un coche alemán (a German car)
My next post will give examples of common words starting with each letter of the alphabet.