Spanish is a language that is quite literal in its pronunciation. All the vowels and consonants combined always have their own distinct sound as syllables and this sound never changes no matter how they are put together. For instance, the syllable “que” always sounds the same no matter if we are saying: “parque” (park) or “queso” (cheese). The good thing about this is that once you get the sound of the syllables that means you have the ability to pronounce them correctly in any given word or sentence.
Here are some helpful pronunciation tips to improve your conversational Spanish.
Hint: It’s all about the vowels!
In order to master the sound of the syllables in Spanish is really key to learn the sound of the 5 vowels which is different to their sound in English:
- A is pronounced like the “a” in “father”
- E is pronounced like the “e” in “bed”
- I is pronounced like the “ee” in “see”
- O is pronounced like the “o” in “nor”
- U is pronounced like the “oo” in “too”
The trick is to keep in mind that vowel sounds stay the same in every Spanish word. It doesn’t matter if we say “Queso”, “Beso” or “Sobre”, the “e” will always sound like the “e” in “bed”, and the “o” will always sound like the “o” in “nor”. And the same thing goes for all the vowels.
Once you have the vowel sounds clearly defined, if you want to sound more natural in Spanish, we recommend placing emphasis on the correct vowel sounds. “Impossible” is pronounced somewhat close to ‘eem-poh-see-bleh’. Each vowel sound needs to be articulated clearly, and separate the word in syllables. Unlike English where some long words can be said in just one spurt, Spanish needs to be articulated clearly in syllables. In order to learn how to pronounce more naturally in Spanish, it’s always recommended to speak slowly but separating the syllables. Of course, once you practice more and more you will be able to speak faster and still be able to define your syllables and your vowels.
Luckily we only have 5 vowels but sometimes you get two vowels that are placed together and you get what is called a diphthong. For example, for the word “aire”, make the /a/ sound and then immediately after, make the sound for /i/. Say it faster and faster until it is one syllable. That is a diphthong.
- au /a/ + /u/ = “ow!” au-la, aun-que
- ai, ay /a/ + /i/ = “ay ayay!” ai-re, hay
- eu /e/ + /u/ = * this sound does not exist in English, but is kind of similar to “eeew!” Eu-ro-pa, neu-tro
- ei, ey /e/ + /i/ = “hey” rei-na, rey
- ia /i/ + /a/ = “yah!” pia-no, ha-cia
- ie /i/ + /e/ = “yeck!” tie-rra, ser-pien-te
- io /i/ + /o/ = “yo yo” ra-dio, u-nión
- iu /i/ + /u/ = “you” viu-da, ciu-dad
- oi, oy /o/ + /i/ = “toy” boi-na, hoy
- ua /u/ + /a/ = “water” a-gua, cua-dro
- ue /u/ + /e/ = “wet” fue-go, true-no
- ui /u/ + /i/ = “wee!” fui-mos, huir
- uo /u/ + /o/ = “whoa” cuo-ta, in-di-vi-duo
We are confident after these tips you will be able to improve your pronunciation noticeably. Just remember: It’s all about the vowels!
Luis Cardozo is a successful language instructor for executives and busy professionals, and has more than 25 years experience teaching Spanish. In 2002 he launched SpanishNYC, offering customized instruction and translation services. -- Luis has taught group and individual Spanish classes at companies such as NBC, Univision, Nickelodeon, the Miss Universe Organization, The New York Times, Bloomberg, Sprint, Citicorp, JPMorgan, Deloitte & Touche and Pfizer. -- Luis Cardozo has developed his own method for teaching Spanish; the Natural Conversational Approach (NCA). -- With my method, you hear and understand Spanish from the first moment, whatever your level is. I create a relaxed practicing environment, where learning takes place easily and pleasurably. Instruction is totally focused on your specific background, based on the idea that everyone has unique talents, interests, strengths and challenges. -- My techniques allow us to intuit your needs, keep you motivated and insure that your instruction is effective. -- You will absorb the language consciously and unconsciously, just as you did when you learned your native language. -- You, the student, dictate how I should adapt to your way of learning, day by day. -- My main goal is that you enjoy the whole process and have fun learning Spanish.