Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Vowels and Phonetics
The same 5 vowels that are in the English Alphabet are the vocals used in the Spanish alphabet as well.  It is very important to start practicing the pronunciation of Spanish vocals, because they are the root of each syllable in this language.  It will also facilitate comprehension when talking to someone because they will be more likely to understand you!
·         A  a  (pronounced , like the “o” in “mom”)
·         E  e  (pronounced like , with a slight “y” sound at the terminus, like the “a” in “cake”)
·         I  i  (pronounced , like the “ee” in “bee” or “keep”)
·         O  o (pronounced , but without closing your lips.  English equivalent doesn’t really exist.)
·         U  u (pronounced ,  like the “oo” in “kangaroo”) 
Some of the sounds will take some time to master, as they aren’t compatible sound-wise to that of their English counterparts.
Spanish is a far more phonetically accurate language than English.  What that means is that each letter has its own consistent sound.  There are only a handful of exceptions in the Spanish language, whereas English has thousands.  For example, the “gh” in English can either sound like “g” in “ghost”, like “w” in “slough” or “dough”, or like “f” in “laugh”.

The consonants in the Spanish alphabet are roughly the same pronunciation as the English alphabet, with only a handful of exceptions.  The “g” is pronounced with a throaty, guttural “h” sound, as if clearing the throat, ONLY if it is found before “e”: 
el gerente ()
la gente ()

The “h” is always silent in Spanish:
la hache ()
el hermano ()

The “j” is pronounced like a throaty “h” sound, as if clearing the throat. 
la caja ()
la pareja ()

“V” is pronounced like the “b” in “bee”, as in the following words:
la voz ()
la cerveza ()
bonita Cuernavaca ()

The “x” is usually pronounced like the “j”.  Hence, “México” is pronounced , and in fact, is even written sometimes as “Méjico”! 
If a word begins with “x” (which is rare), it sounds out like an English “z”:
la ciudad de Xochimilco

“Z” is pronounced like an “s”, as in the following:
el alcatraz ()
el ajedrez ()
A key thing to remember about Spanish consonants is that they need to be pronounced very sharply, and not as slurred out as English consonants tend to do.  Therefore, “r” in English doesn’t sound the same way in Spanish; it is more abrupt in Spanish and, along with “t”, can sound like a “d” to an English speaker! 
The Real Academia de la Lengua Española (Royal Academy of the Spanish Language), which has governing authority over the alphabet as well as the language itself, has eliminated a couple of consonants.  In this way, Spanish differs from English in that the standard for the Spanish language is subject to a governing body in order to preserve it in perpetuity.  For English, our language standard is found in sources like the Webster’s Dictionary or Roget’s Thesaurus, but there really is no centralized regulation on the language and as such, English is subject to far more change and metamorphosis than Spanish.  The following letters have been removed in recent years from the Spanish alphabet.  They are, however, still used in practice when spelling words: 
·         CH  ch (Pronounced: )- Formerly the 4th letter of the alphabet.  Pronounced like the English equivalent.  (“cheese”, “chess”) 
·         LL  ll (Pronounced: )– Formerly the 14th letter of the alphabet.  Pronounced with a “y” sound, i.g. “llamo” is pronounced
·         RR  rr (Pronounced: )– Formerly the 22nd letter of the alphabet.  Pronounced with a trilled lingual-fricative sound.  No English equivalent. 

A diphthong is the combination of two weak vocals (like “i” and “u”) or a combination of a strong vocal (“a”, “e”, or “o”) with one of the weak vowels. 
A diphthong actually makes up one syllable and is sounded out accordingly.  A major pitfall of English speakers learning Spanish is that we regularly break up vowel sounds in English; however, this would sound odd in Spanish if we do that, and you’d sound like the quintessential “gringo”! 
Here are some common diphthongs and their Spanish pronunciations:  
·         “ie” = pronounced
·         “ua” = pronounced
·         “ia” = pronounced
·         “io” = pronounced
·         “ue” = pronounced
·         “ui” = pronounced
·         “ei” = pronounced
·         “au” = pronounced
Try saying the following words:
1.       el siete
2.       el cuaderno
3.       el juego
4.       la radio
5.       la jaula
6.       el estudiante
7.       la agua
8.       el juicio
9.       el secretario
10.    el seis

Accents and other Special Characters
As you have probably noticed, Spanish implements diacritical marks (accents) from time to time.  The accents ALWAYS fall on a vocal (vowel).  The stress of the pronunciation of the word falls where the accent lies. 
Accents are occasionally located over vowels that are part of a diphthong.  If this occurs, then the diphthong pronunciation is broken up and each vocal is sounded out.  Note the following: 
·         el río (pronounced
·         el baúl (pronounced
Another character that appears regularly in Spanish is the tilde, on the letter ñ.  This letter, pronounced , is found in words such as la mañana (, and el año (). 
You’ll also (very rarely) encounter the umlaut, which is used to sound out the “ü” when it appears after a “q” or “g”.  Without the umlaut, the “u” is silent.  Some words you’ll find with an umlaut are libro bilingüe (pronounced and la sangüesa (pronounced
In exclamation sentences, you’ll find the upside down exclamation point at the beginning of the sentence:
¡Hace buen tiempo!  What great weather!
With interrogative sentences, you’ll find the upside down question mark:
¿Qué quieres?  What do you want?
In the Spanish language, quotation marks are symbolized by brackets instead: “«” and “»”.  In practice a quotation in a Spanish sentence would look like this: 
«Tengo una pregunta.» - dijo el alumno.
Here is a chart that shows you the ALT codes so you can create them on your computer:
ALT Code


Non-Accented Words and the Penultimate Syllable
The penultimate syllable or the second-to-last syllable on a non-accented word usually gets the stress of the pronunciation. 
la basura
la computadora
la mochila
el/la estudiante
An exception occurs when the word ends in a hard consonant like d, j, r, t, or z.  In these cases, the stress falls on the last syllable.  Note the following: 
el reloj *The “j” makes a very throaty guttural sound.
el caminar
la actitud
el avestruz
el estado de Nayarit   

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