The Sounds of Spanish

In addition to the web version, you can download the lesson as a PDF, found at the bottom of the page.

Be sure to listen and practice with the audio throughout the lesson.​

The Sounds of Spanish

Now that you’re familiar with the Spanish alphabet, it’s as good of time as any to go through the sounds behind the letters.

The previous audios have provided you with some sample words that represent each letter. However, most languages have more sounds than letters.

If you’re learning a language and you’re only focusing on the sounds from the written alphabet, you’re going to miss a lot.

This is true for two reasons:

One letter can make multiple sounds, depending on its position within a word

A combination of letters produces unique sounds that individual letters don’t

A good example of reasons #1 and #2:

Generalmente, los gatos no les gusta el agua.”

generalmente has a ‘soft’ g and sounds more like the h in English, although not 100%

gatos and gusta use a ‘hard’ g and are equivalent to the g from the English word get

agua has a ‘soft-ish’ g and doesn’t have an English equivalent—the closest g would once again be the word get

You got that right—three different sounds for the letter g are possible in Spanish.

And that’s the focus of this lesson—how letters can produce multiple sounds depending on position and letter combination within a word.

the sounds of spanish

We’re going to make use of the International Phonetic Alphabet for this lesson.

The IPA establishes a standard representation for the sounds of all spoken languages, taking the guessing out of pronunciation.

The sounds are better understood as examples, so listen to the bold part for the sound you’re trying to pronounce.

IPA for Spanish Vowels

/IPA symbol/
English-approximate
Spanish example

/ä/
father
cama

/e̞/
set
peso

/i/
see
pico

/o̞/
more
algo

 

/u/
food
duro

IPA for Spanish Consonants

/IPA symbol/
English-approximate
Spanish example

/b/
about
boca, beso

/β/
very
curva, lava

This /β/ sound is made without closing your lips completely, like you would do with /b/

/d̪/
today
donde, cuando

/ð/
this
nada, dedo

/f/
face
fácil, café

/g/
again
lengua, gato

/ɣ/
again
amigo, luego, sigue

/ɣ/ not found in American English; like /g/, but without tongue hitting roof of mouth

/ ɟʝ/
jeep, judge
caballo, llave, pollo

/ɟʝ/ not found in American English; approximate with jeep and judge

/ʝ/
yes
pie, tierra, radio

/k/
kiss
casa, banco, quise

/ʎ/
million
caballo, llave, pollo

/ʎ/ not found in American English; approximate with million

No you’re not seeing things.
caballo, llave and pollo’ can vary in how the –ll sound is made, falling somewhere between /ɟʝ/ and /ʎ/ (jeep and million, in English)

Replay both audios from above or look back at the last lesson where we went through some special consonant combinations if you’ve forgotten.

the sounds of spanish

/ɱ/
symphony
influir

/ɱ/ not found in American English; approximate with symphony

/l/
let
lejos, local, la

/m/
him
campo, mamá, mismo

/n/
need
nada, nadie, nunca

/ŋ/
sing
cinco, domingo, venga

/ɲ/
canyon
año, enseñar, mañana

/ɲ/ not found in American English; approximate with canyon

/n̪/
month
antes, cantar, fondo

/p/
pack
paso, peso, sopa

/r/

arriba, correr, rumbo

/r/ not found in American English

/ɾ/
better
puro, caro, partir

/s/
sand
salida, las, encima

/θ/
thing
paz, zorro

/θ/ is the “lispy”, regional sound that’s mainly used in Spain.
Latin American Spanish does not use /θ/.

/t̪/
tie
tomó, tengo, listo

/tʃ/
church
mucho, noche, chocolate

/v/
valve
Afganistán

/w/
wine
agua, cuando, fuimos

/x/

general, mujer, jamón

/x/ not found in American English; approximate with the /h/ sound

/z/
zoo
mismo, rasgo, isla

the sounds of spanish

When two vowels appear next to each other, we call this occurrence a diphthong.

Another important task for learning the sounds of Spanish is being able to hear and then reproduce the 14 diphthongs.

Since these sounds are produced by two vowels which are already defined, usually diphthongs are classified as one new sound.

IPA for Spanish Diphthongs

/IPA symbols/
Spanish example

/äi/
baile, hay, traigo

/äu/
pausa, aunque, bautismo

/e̞i/
seis, ley, reina

/e̞u/
Europa, deuda, neutral

/o̞i/
estoy, hoy, oigo

/o̞u/
Tengo una casa

It’s rare to use /o̞u/within a word;
more often, it’s a connection from the ending of one word to the beginning of another word

/jä/
media, estudiar, infancia

/je̞/
tiempo, siempre, viejo

/jo̞/
delicioso, precio, novio

/ju/
ciudad, triunfo, viudo

/wä/
cuatro, guante, igual

/we̞/
bueno, fuerte, juego

/wi/
pingüino, cuidado, construir

/wo̞/
antiguo, ambiguo, monstruo

Now that you’ve completed the first introductory lessons, you have all the knowledge you need to get started on the Beginner Series.

By studying the sounds before beginning the series, you’re in a great position to understand more than someone who did not practice sounds right out of the gate.

You’ll be more likely to speak and practice with Spanish pronunciation and less likely to let your English knowledge take over.

¡A trabajar!