Rolled R's and Enyes (ñ): ¡Ay Caramba!So, you may think Spanish can be hard to pronounce. If you're not familiar with it, it can certainly sound fast! While you probably won't get to an expert level right away, you can make a lot of progress pretty fast, especially compared to othre languages you could be studying instead! While English and Spanish are not exactly the same in their nitty-gritty phonetic level, they are a lot closer than you think. Our style here is not to overwhelm you with everything here, but let you see the pronunciation in work along the way. So, with that being said, we'll tell you this: at a fundamental level, there aren't many sounds in Spanish that will take a lot of practice to get used to. So, instead of telling you how every sound is pronounced, we'll just tell you where the main differences are. As we go and study the language, you'll have plenty of audio to help you on the way. So, don't stress out too much, this is more of a guide to where the big differences are. The rest are easier to tackle and you'll be able to intuitively get as we go along.
VowelsThere is one key difference in vowels. In English, there are many cases where a vowel can be pronounced multiple ways depending on its stress, spelling, or position in a word. This isn't the case in Spanish, where each vowel is always pronounced one way, with a few exceptions that are clearly marked with accents. So, we'll make one exception to our rule of not spelling out everything so that you do know the correct way to pronounce each of the vowels:
A is pronounced "ah" as in "father"
E is pronounced "ei" as in "weigh"
I is pronounced "ee" as in "bee"
O is pronounced "oh" like in "grow"
U is pronounced "ooh!" like "goo"
Same Letter, Different Sound
CLike English, C can be pronuonced as both the "k" sound and the "s" sound, though in different contexts. Pay attention to the audio that accompanies it.
GThe g sound can be one of two ways. Typically it is similar to the English hard "G" like in "garlic". At other times however, it can have an "h" sound" like in the pronunciation of general (heh-neh-rahl)
HThe interesting thing about H is that it is actually "no sound". H's are pretty much silent in Spanish. So, ¡Hola! is pronounced more like "Ola", and the super verb hacer is pronounced more like "a-ser".
JJ is pronounced as an "h" sound. In fact, in some dialects, including Central American, J can even be pronounced as what I call a "kh" sound. This is a very gutteral sounding h. It is made by forcing more air into your h sound.
SWhile s is typically pronounced the same, we just want to use this space to point out something: there are certain words where the s sound will sound like a z sound when it is pronounced. We just ask you know that sometimes the S can sound like a Z. But more typically, in your day-to-day usage, S is pronounced like s in English.
VWhile you will get different responses from different people, by convention, the Spanish V doesn't have a v sound (like v in victor), but rather takes a b sound. So, for example, you may know the word la vaca (cow). It is pronounced "bah-kah". The same goes for the verb vivir (to live). It is pronounced "bee-beer".
XX can be a cool, but confusing letter, you know? In most cases, the X is pronounced as in English, such as in words like éxito (eiks-i-toe), meaning success. However, when you're dealing with words specific to Mexican Spanish, you can also see X pronounced as an "h" sound or even the "kh" sound we were looking at with J, such as in the Mexican Spanish pronounciation of Texas (te-hahs) or México (Mei-hi-ko). This also applies to names like Xavier (pronounced as ha-bee-air) or the last name Ximénez (pronounced as hee-mei-nes)
LL (double-L)This is actually its own sound and not a property of the letter L by itself. Typically this is prononced as a y-sound, so a phrase like "¿Cómo te llamas? is pronounced like "koh-moh tay ya-mas". However, in dialects including Central American, the sound can even be a j sound, such as "koh-moh te jah-mas". So a y-sound in general, but a j sound to be more "authentic" to Central American Spanish.
ÑDon't let this little tilde get you confused. This sound is simply the "ny" or "ni" of "onion". In other words, it's just n and a y sound merged into one letter.
R and RRR and RR (double-r) are two different sounds in Spanish. Without getting overwhelmed, there are three simple rules
1) The single R is actually a kind of tap done in the front of your mouth. It is different in character from the English R. R is made like a quasi-vowel near the middle of your mouth in English. To make the Spanish single r, first make the sound D. Now, scoot your tounge from your front teeth back a bit, but not far enough to hit the "roof" of your mouth. You should be somewhere around what is called the alveolar ridge. Now try to make a quick R sound here. No need to trill, just say the sound as you would when saying "red" in this new position. That's it!
2) The double R is the much dreaded trilled R. Now for the dreaded trill, simply keep your tounge in place in the same position but hold it firmly in place as you generate a trill sound...RRR-RRR-RRR-RRR. Do it long at first, but eventually, you will get comfortable doing it very quickly. Anytime you see the double-R, get your trill engine ready.
3) And remember that words that start with R are actually trilled as well. Words like rico (rich), and ratito (moment) both need the trilled R at the beginning too!