You can learn Spanish pronunciation rules one step at a time. In this blog, we’ll start from the beginning with Spanish letters, proceed to the middle with how to break down syllables, and end with the three rules on syllable stress.
Why Bother To Learn The Rules Of Spanish Pronunciation?
The best reason to learn Spanish pronunciation rules is that they are consistent. You don’t have to learn exceptions. In Spanish, pronunciation rules are based solely on how the word is spelled or where a syllable has an accent mark. If you learn Spanish pronunciation rules, you can pronounce any Spanish word.
Start By Learning The “Abcedario” (Alphabet).
Spanish has 27 letters, the same 26 letters as English plus the letter ñ. In Spanish, consonants are pronounced much the same as in English. Spanish vowels (a, e, i, o, u) sound like ah, eh, ee, o, and oo.
If you need practice and want to hear a native speaker pronounce Spanish letters, log on to the SpanishDict web page “Spanish Alphabet pronunciation.”
Next, Learn How To Separate Spanish Words Into Syllables
Learning how to pronounce new Spanish words is made easier if you can break them into syllables. In Spanish, the following general rules of breaking down word syllables apply:
Generally, When A Vowel Is Not Next To Another Vowel, It Forms A Separate Syllable. Thus:
- hablo (I speak) is two syllables and is broken into HA-blo
- cómoda (comfortable) is three syllables and is broken down as CO-mo-da
When the vowels a, e, or o appear together, the syllable breaks between those vowels. Thus:
- creo (I believe) is broken into CREH-o.
- caos (chaos) is broken into CAH-os
- coreano (Korean) is broken into co-reh-Ah-no
Vowels Combine To Form Diphthongs
In the above examples, the vowels a, e, and o, are considered “strong” vowels. The vowels i and u are known as weak vowels and play a distinct role in word pronunciation. Combine a weak vowel with a strong vowel, and you get what’s known as a diphthong—or a combination sound. Thus:
- nueve (new) consists of two syllables—NUEH-veh (pronounced nweh-veh)
- fui consists of one syllable and is pronounced fuee
- satisfaccicón (satisfaction) consists four syllables of sa-tis-fac-ción* (pronounced sah-tees-fahk-SHEEYON)—the weak vowel i combines with the strong vowel o make the diphthong “yo” sound.
*Note when two consecutive consonants appear in a Spanish word, they form two separate syllables. Exceptions are ll and rr, which form single sounds in Spanish.
Vowels With Accents Affect Both Pronunciation And Syllable Breaks.
When a diphthong has an accent mark on the weak vowel, the combination sound is dropped and the word breaks between the weak and strong vowel. Hence, tío (uncle) is broken into tí-o. The name María is broken into Ma-rí-a.
The Diaeresis Vowel Ü
There is one more “accented” vowel in Spanish. It’s the diaeresis ü. When ü appears in a Spanish word, it always follows the “hard g”* and is pronounced with a w sound, even before an e or i.
The following examples compare the uses of the diaeresis form ü and vowel u when it follows the letter g:
Use 1. The Ü Is Pronounced Like A W Before The Letters E And I:
- vergüenza (shame) is pronounced vehr-GWEN-zah
- lingüista (linguist) is pronounced leen-GUIS-tah
Use 2. The U (Without The Diaeresis) Is Silent Before The Letters E And I:
- guerra (war) is pronounced GEH-rra
- guitarra (guitar) is pronounced gee-TARR-ah
So, the ü is an exception to use 2.
Use 3. The U (Without The Diaeresis) Is Pronounced Like A W Before The Letters A And O:
- guapo (handsome) is pronounced GWA-po
- antiguo (ancient) is pronounced ahn-TEE-gwo
Finally, Learn Which Syllables In Spanish Words Receive Stress
Word stress is the emphasis of a particular syllable in a word when speaking it. In Spanish, you only need to know three rules:
1. If The Word Ends In A Vowel, An N, Or An S, Stress Is On The Second-To-The-Last Syllable. Thus:
- tengo (I have) = TEN-go
- computadora (computer) = com-pu-ta-DO-ra
- joven (Young) = JO-ven
- hombres (men) = HOM-bres
2. If The Word Ends With A Consonant (Other Than N Or S), Stress Is On The Last Syllable. Thus:
- estoy (I am) = es-TOY
- feliz (happy) = fe-LIZ
- trabajador (worker)= tra-ba-ja-DOR
- español (Spanish) = es-pa-ÑOL
3. If The Word Has A Vowel With An Acute Accent (As In Á, Í, Ó, Ú), Ignore Rules 1 And 2 Above And Stress The Accented Syllable.
- estábamos (we were) = es-TA-ba-mos”. Without the accent, it would be “es-ta-BA-mos
- habló (she spoke) = ha-BLO. Without the accent it would be HA-blo.
- inglés (English) = in-GLES. Without the accent it would be IN-gles
All these rules notwithstanding, the very best way to learn Spanish pronunciation is to hear it from a native Spanish speaker. Contact me, you can book a live lesson online instantly and begin your journey of learning Spanish.