Unidad 1: Los conceptos que debes saber

1. Recordando la fonética española

a) El alfabeto: las vocales y las consonantes:

English and Spanish have Latin-based alphabets with similar vowels and consonants; however, Spanish has one more letter: La eñe (“Ñ”) thus resulting in the Spanish alphabet with 27 letters. Spanish is a phonetic language meaning we will have the same sound for each letter and any changes to the sound concept will follow precise rules.

A vowel, in English and or Spanish, received this name because the sounds are made by the vocal cords. The vowel sound comes from the lungs, through the vocal cords and depends upon the position of the lips, tongue, and mouth opening with nothing blocking the air. Keep in mind that Spanish is emphatic. You need to emphasize the position of the lips and the mouth when you make the sound of the vowels. The correct pronunciation of the vowels is a key factor to succeed in the correct Spanish pronunciation.

Other important facts that you need to keep in mind are:

  • The ‘K’ and the ‘W’ appear only in foreign words that Spanish has included in the language.
  • The ‘Y’ is a consonant when it begins a word or a syllable: “inyectar” (inject).
  • The ‘Y’ is a vowel when it is the last letter in a word for example: “hoy” (today) or if the ‘Y’ stands alone for example: Rosa y Juan (Rose and John).
  • Spanish is similar to English; the two languages are affected by regional differences. There are different patterns that may be typical in one place and less common in others.
  • The consonant groups have a specific sound with each vowel. You never can divide the consonants in the consonant group: ch, ll, rr, br, bl, cr, cl, dr, fr, fl, gr, gl, pr, pl, tr and tl.

It is important to consider that the vowels in Spanish always have the same sound; they never change as in English. As you know the correct pronunciation of the vowels is a key factor to succeed in the correct pronunciation of the Spanish language. Each consonant has only one sound with each vowel except the following consonants.

This chart represents the English letter sound and how you may see the consonant sound with the vowel in Spanish words. Those represented in bold and red reflect spelling changes that are unique.

Sonido en Inglés vocal a vocal e vocal i vocal o vocal u
K ca que qui co cu
G ga gue gui go gu
Gw gua güe güi guo
H ja ge, je gi, ji jo ju
Th, S za ce ci zo zu
S sa se si so su
[silent] ha he hi ho hu
El alfabeto español
La letra El nombre El sonido Las vocales Los ejemplos
A, a a Sounds like ‘a’ in father abeja
B, b be, be grande Sounds like ‘b’ in boy a,e,i,o,u bebé
C, c ce Strong sounds like ‘k’ in cap a, o, u casa
Soft Sounds like ‘th’ in thought (North and Central Spain) e , i cero
Soft Sounds like ‘s’ in dress ( America and south of Spain) e , i cero
D, d de Sounds like ‘d’ in day a,e,i,o,u dedo
E, e e Sounds like ‘e’ in elephant elefante
F, f efe Sounds like ‘f’ in family a,e,i,o,u fuente
G, g ge Soft sounds like ‘g’ in sugar a, o, u gato
Strong sounds like ‘h’ in home e , i general
With a silent u soft sound gue/gui as in sugar e , i guitarra
H, h hache Doesn’t have sound, it is silent as in honor a,e,i,o,u hotel
I, i i Sounds like ‘i’ in machine isla
J, j jota Strong sounds like ‘h’ in home a,e,i,o,u jabón
K, k ka Sounds like ‘k’ in karate : Occurs only in words adopted from other languages a,o,u kilo
L, l ele Sounds like ‘l’ in love a,e,i,o,u león
M, m eme Sounds like ‘m’ in mode a,e,i,o,u mamá
N, n ene Sounds like ‘n’ in night a,e,i,o,u manzana
Ñ, ñ eñe Sounds like ‘ni’ in onion or “ny” in canyon a,e,i,o,u araña
O, o o Sounds like ‘o’ in oak ojo
P, p pe Sounds like ‘p’ in part a,e,i,o,u pie
Q, q cu Sounds like ‘k’ in king, only with ue/ui and u is silent ue, ui queso
R, r ere Soft sound when is not an inicial position. sound like ‘d’ in muddy a,e,i,o,u loro
erre Strong vibration when initial or after N,L, or S no equivalent in English a,e,i,o,u rosa
S, s ese Sounds like ‘s’ in dress a,e,i,o,u sol
T, t te Sounds like ‘t’ in telephone a,e,i,o,u tomate
U, u u Sounds like ‘u’ in rule uva
V, v uve,ve chica Sounds like ‘b’ in Spanish a,e,i,o,u vaca
W, w doble u, uve doble Sounds like ‘w’ in Washington. Occurs only in words adopted from other languages a,e,i,o,u kiwi
X,x equis sounds like ‘ks’ in thinks a,e,i,o,u xilófono
The words of Mexican origin are written with an X, but pronounced with Spanish J a,e,i,o,u México
Y, y ye
*Hasta 2010 conocida como i griega.
Consonant: sounds like ‘Y’ in yes or ‘J’ in English ‘judge’ a,e,i,o,u inyectar
Vowel: when it stands alone or after another vowel at the end of the word is pronounced as if you pronouncing the Spanish ‘I’ y Rosa y Juan
Z, z zeta Soft Sounds like ‘th’ in thought (North and Central Spain) a,o,u zapato
Soft Sounds like ‘s’ in dress ( America and south of Spain) a,o,u zapato

Observa Videos 2.1.1 and 2.1.2 and listen and repeat what you hear. There will be times when you have to stop and repeat the section so you may take notes in this text. This is part of the flipped classroom style whereby you take more ownership of learning the materials at your pace which affords you the opportunity to replay certain concepts that help you. After reviewing the alphabet, continue to apply these concepts throughout the book and in your pronunciation.

In English, it is very common to find double consonants, but it is very rare in Spanish—the exceptions are the consonant groups listed above. Spanish has only two double consonants that are not considered consonant groupsà they are the double N and the double C. To read words with double N is very simple. Because it is not a consonant group, the sound doesn’t change, so we pronounce each N. Remember Spanish is phonetic, you read and write it like it sounds:


The double C is different because, as you remember, in Spanish we have two different sounds with the C, depending on the vowel that follows the C. The letter C has a strong sound with the vowels “a, o” and “u”. The sound is like the “K” in English. But with the vowels “e” and “i”, it has a soft sound as “th” or “s”. North and Central Spain are distinct in making a sound like ‘th’ in thought. This is known as ceceo or seseo. In other areas in southern Spain and in different American Countries, they use the same sound as the letter “S” in dress.

In conclusion, because the double C is not a consonant group, we have two sounds with the letter C: first with the strong sound and then with the soft sound:

    • The first C has the sound like the “c” in cap. (K)
    • The second C has the soft sound “th/s” depending on the geographic region.
    • North and Central Spain.
  • AK SI DEN TE à
    • Some areas in southern Spain and Latin American countries.

Along with consonant groups, in Spanish, we also have vowel groups. Los diptongos are the combination of one strong vowel (a,e,o) and one soft vowel (i,u). Los triptongos are formed by the combination of three vowels: iai, iei, uai, uei, and uau.

b) La división silábica y los acentos:

All words have a stressed syllable in Spanish. The stressed syllable or “sílaba tónica” is the one that is pronounced the strongest. The rules to know which is the stressed syllable are as follows:

Regla uno: Words ending in vowel, n, or s are stressed on the next to the last syllable: CA-ma, li-mo-NA-da.

Regla dos: Words ending in any consonant except n, or s are stressed on the last syllable:doc-TOR, a-MOR.

Regla tres: When there are exceptions to the above rules, a written accent, el acento ortográfico, is applied. The written accent (the tilde) is always on a vowel and looks like this: á, é, í, ó, ú as in the words jabón or lápiz.

Regla cuatro: Written accents are also used to differentiate between words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings: (yes) vs si (if), (you) vs tu(your), él(he) vs el(the).

c) Estrategia para escribir y pronunciar correctamente el español:

Dividing the words in syllables will help you control the different sounds that you need to reproduce. Syllables are an uninterrupted sound in speech with each having a vowel sound. After you control the sound of each syllable you will be able to say all the sounds together and say the word correctly. Spanish words are syllabified according to some very rigid rules. Let’s analyze the next words for the number of vowels and the number of syllables that we have, keeping in mind that the diphthongs and tripthongs count as one vowel:

amigo à has a, i, and o à then the word amigo has three syllables.

construir à has o, and ui (diptongo) à then the word construir has two syllables.

In order to define the number of syllables that the word has, you have to follow the next 4 simple rules:

Regla uno: A simple consonant or consonant group goes with the following vowel. You can NEVER have a consonant without a vowel in a syllable. But one vowel can be a syllable.

amigo à a – mi – go tres sílabas

Regla dos: Two consonants are usually separated; except when you have a blend (a consonant pair that never is divided.)

trampa à tram – pa dos (tr is a blend so it isn’t divided; but mp is not.)

(br, cr, pr, gr, fr, dr, tr, gl, pl, bl, fl, cl, ch, ll, rr are the blended groups or grupos trabados.)

Regla tres: Three consonants are usually divided after the first one, unless the second is a “S”:

hombre à hom – bre dos sílabas

transporte à trans – por – te tres sílabas

(Words with sp, st and sn for example will divide the “s” from the next consonant.)

Regla cuatro: It is uncommon in Spanish to have four consonants between vowels, but the rule is to always divide after the second.

construir à cons – truir dos sílabas (“ui” diptongo = una sílaba)

This exercise is crucial for your pronunciation, for your spelling and also for you to be able to write correctly the orthographic stress. For each word you need to write the number of vowels, diphthongs and triphthongs that it has. Write the syllables and underline the stressed syllable.

Palabra Número de sílabas/diptongos/triptongos Sílabas y sílaba tónica
octubre 3 / 0 / 0 oc –TU – bre

Observa the web site 2.1.3 BUSCAPALABRAS to check your answers to the exercise above.

When you read a new word, always divide it in syllables. You will see and hear how to control the pronunciation and you will know where the syllable is stressed. When you write a word, review each sound by syllables. This will help you spell correctly.


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Yo puedo: segundos pasos Copyright © by Elizabeth Silvaggio-Adams & Ma. Del Rocío Vallejo-Alegre is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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