Sunday, June 21, 2009


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:

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. 

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Introduction to this blog

Foreign languages have fascinated me ever since my early adolescence, when my family and I lived in Germany for two years. Languages -- German, French, Latin, Spanish, and English -- were my main focus of study all through high school and college. Thus it was only natural that I should seek a career in languages.

I've done both classroom teaching and professional translating, but tutoring is my main love and my main occupation. I've been working as a private language tutor since 1988, teaching mainly adult and college-level students. I started with German, then added French, Spanish, and ESL (English as a Second Language). For the last seven years, I've been teaching mainly elementary and intermediate Spanish, some German, and a little ESL.

I teach primarily in my home in southwest Denver, also at the Auraria Campus Library in downtown Denver, working six days a week.

Since the summer of 2008, I've been teaching weekly elementary Spanish classes to employees of the Auraria Campus Library. All the students are beginners, so we use an inexpensive textbook, one designed for self-study or study with a tutor. That book is Spanish the Easy Way, 4th Edition, by Ruth J. Silverstein, Barron's 2003, $14.95 paperback. A very similar book is Spanish Now, Level 1, 7th Edition, also by Ruth Silverstein, Barron's 2005, $18.99 pbk.

To go along with each of the study units in Spanish the Easy Way, I've been writing multi-page handouts, 18 so far, with many more to come. Those give lots of extra vocabulary words, more grammar pointers, and more exercises, some with answers. All my students say they really appreciate the handouts, that they add a great deal to their understanding of the language and help reinforce the information in each chapter of the book.

My first two handouts, as well as a few others, are entirely original, not based on the textbook. Those first two handouts deal with the pronunciation of Spanish, the alphabet, spelling, voice stress, and rules for the use of accent marks.

Modifying my handouts for this blog will be an ongoing project, and the first installment will appear quite soon. My aim here is to provide you with information which you can use either all by itself or in conjunction with Spanish the Easy Way or with Spanish is Fun. On this blog, I will provide the answers for some of the exercises. The handouts will also be condensed and simplified.

Both in my handouts and in my face-to-face teaching sessions, one of my main goals is clarity of presentation. Grammar is often the least favorite and most intimidating part of foreign language study, but I seek to explain grammar in the most unthreatening way possible, very often giving examples of the same concept in both English and Spanish. Ms. Silverstein uses a lot of humor in her books, and that helps, too; I try to emulate her whenever possible.

Most of all, I hope to help others enjoy and come to love the very beautiful and useful Spanish language.

A note on purchasing the handouts:

Most of the handouts I have written so far for my classes run to 6-8 pages apiece when printed out. I will post only parts of each handout on this blog. If you find the parts interesting enough, you might want to order the PDF file of an entire handout. Each handout costs $2.00, payable to me by PayPal. My account is the same as my e-mail,