Consonants with Vowels

Once you’ve mastered the vowels and the alphabet as a whole, I suggest that you move on and practice the pronunciation of your consonants with vowels. Yes, this is very much like kindergarten phonics, except that we’ll be drawing on your knowledge of English to identify the differences and correctly pronounce the Spanish sounds.

A Chart To Print:  Here’s the chart that I based this lesson off of.  I encourage you to print it off.  It’s a syllables worksheet from a Spanish kindergarten classroom!  Hey if a kindergartner can recognize these syllables, we can too, right? 

Here’s an audio file where I *quickly* go over the pronunciation of these consonants with vowels.  Follow along with the worksheet above and pronounce the syllables with me.

Coming Soon – slower audio files to go along with the following guide.

A Detailed Guide To Help Your Pronunciation

This section is quite skimmable – some of you won’t need to go into detail on pronunciation because it comes quite naturally to you.  Permission to skim or skip granted!! 😉  However, if you are struggling with pronunciation or just want to reinforce your authentic accent, I encourage you to give this lesson some practice time.

About This Guide

In this guide, I’ll walk you through each of the letters and draw your attention to differences between Spanish and English, and encourage you to practice the sounds out loud so that you can, over time, improve your Spanish accent. If this is your first experience with Spanish, you will likely have a hard time putting these things into practice right away, and that’s ok. My hope is that by making you aware of these differences and helping you to practice them in a basic way, as you intentionally listen to more Spanish you will be able to better understand what you here and start to incorporate authentic patterns into your own Spanish speech to improve your accent. Improving your accent will help you to be better understood more consistently.

Now I’ll walk you through the pronunciation of the consonants with vowels. This section is especially helpful for those who are struggling with their pronunciation.

Walking through the syllables

Did you print the Kindergarten syllables worksheet?  It will be especially helpful to you as you follow along.  Here it is again:  SilabasSyllablesKinderBilingualSpanish

ma, me, mi, mo, mu

The ‘m’ is the same in Spanish and English, so use this familiar consonant as an opportunity to practice and review your vowels: ma, me, mi, mo, mu.  (Whenever you see bolded text, that means you should pronounce it out loud!)

pa, pe, pi, po, pu

Now try: pa, pe, pi, po, pu. Careful, though. In Spanish, there are no aspirated consonants. Aspiration has to do with air. In English, a forceful little puff of air comes out of your mouth when you are correctly pronouncing consonants like p, t, and k. You can feel this if you put the palm of your hand over your mouth and say the words “pot,” “top,” and “king.” When you pronounce the Spanish pa, pe, pi, po, pu, you ideally don’t want to feel that puff of airwell, more aptly, you want to feel it as little as possible. You likely will feel a tiny puff of air, because of how the air is blocked in the mouth when the consonant is pronounced. However, you should feel a noticeable difference between your Spanish pronunciation and your English pronunciation of the letter ‘p.’ Long story short — Practice this sequence making the puff of air as tiny as you can. Pa, pe, pi, po, pu. Try a couple of “p” words in Spanish: pan (bread), papel (paper), persona (person). Go back and forth between the English and Spanish “p” words until you can tell that you are pronouncing the p differently: papel/paper, persona/person.

sa,se, si, so, su

The ‘s’ in Spanish is the same as its English counterpart: sa, se, si, so, su.

ta, te, ti, to, tu

The letter ‘t’ has two major differences in Spanish and English. (1) As with the letter ‘p’, the ‘t’ sound is not aspirated in Spanish – there is no forceful expulsion of air. (2) The tongue touches the teeth in the Spanish ‘t’.

Trying to figure out tongue placement: Trying saying a ‘t’ word in English and notice where your tongue is: top, Tom, tickle. Now run your tongue along the roof of your mouth. Do you feel a kind of bump running from one side of your mouth to the other? That’s called the alveolar ridge, and that’s where the tongue comes into contact with your mouth when you pronounce the English ‘t’ sound. Try those ‘t’ words again thinking about this: top, Tom, tickle. The Spanish ‘t’ is actually “DENTAL” … this means that your tongue does not touch the alveolar ridge when the ‘t’ is pronounced, but rather, the placement is more forward in the mouth: it touches the back of your teeth. Try pronouncing the ‘t’ sequence with this in mind (tongue more forward, touching the back of the teeth): ta, te, ti, to, tu.

Now, try it again, and put your palm just in front of your mouth to see if you feel any air; remember, the ‘t’ in Spanish is not aspirated.

ca, ce, ci, co, cu

A ‘c’ before the vowels a, o, u is pronounced like the hard ‘c’ in the word cat; a ‘c’ before the vowels e and i is pronounced like the ‘c’ in the English word city. We see this pattern in English:

  • Pronounced like a ‘k’ – calm, cold, curb.
  • Pronounced like an ‘s’ – cent, city.

Spanish follows the same pattern, so the sequence ca, ce, ci, co, cu actually sounds like ka, se, si, ko, ku. Most of the time the ‘c’ will be pronounced like a k, but watch out for those ce, ci words where it sounds like an s.

na, ne, ni, no, nu

Same as the English ‘n’. Practice your pronunciation: na, ne, ni, no, nu.

ba, be, bi, bo, bu

This letter is a little tricky. Sometimes it sounds quite like the English b. Other times, the Spanish pronounciation is smooth and the lips don’t even touch, making a sound almost like the English v, as in the phrase, “Mi bebé” (My baby).

When does it sound like the English b? After a pause, when someone is taking their time to pronounce a word, and after the letters l, m, or n.

When does it sound more like the English letter v, soft and whispery? Most of the time, really. Whenever the “b” is between vowels, as both of the b’s are in the phrase “Mi bebé.” In conversational speech this happens all the time, but if people think about it then the b’s might come out more carefully and it won’t happen as much – if you can get the hang of it though, it’ll help your pronunciation sound more authentic.

la, le, li, lo, lu

The tongue is higher in the mouth when pronouncing the Spanish l. The English l is lower and dips down: Try the words look, listen, Leo, learn and pay attention to where your tongue is. Try raising your tongue closer to the roof of your mouth as you practice the Spanish syllables la, le, li, lo, lu.

fa, fe, fi, fo, fu

Same as the English: fa, fe, fi, fo, fu.

ra, re, ri, ro, ru

As a rule, the R is rolled in these three scenarios: (1) when it begins a word, (2) when it follows the letter n in the middle of a word, such as the word honrar, which means to honor, and (3) when it is doubled, such as in the word carro, which means car. In all other situations it is tapped.

A tapped r sounds kind of like a soft English d. The tongue “taps” the roof of your mouth. It is a sound very close to the American ‘tt’ or ‘dd’ in the words bitter, ladder. Say these two words and isolate that middle sound. Try to say the Spanish name María (Mah-ree-ah) but with a tapped “r” in the middle. Almost like a soft d. Ma-rí-a.

The ‘r’ when it follows a ‘t’ is hard for many Spanish speakers such as in the words tres (3), trabajo (job), treinta (30). In the English word “tree,” the tr sounds almost like a ch. This sound, however, does not exist in Spanish. Try putting together what you know about the tongue-forward-to-your-teeth, not-aspirated Spanish ‘t’ and the tapped ‘r’ to pronounce the word: tres (3). Trabajo (work). Treinta (30).

If you can translate that single tap into several vibrations, you can roll your r’s in Spanish!

ga, ge, gi, go, gu

The Spanish ‘g’ follows a similar pattern to the Spanish ‘g’ – before a, o, and u it is pronounced as a hard ‘gh’ sound (as in the English word goat), but before e and i it is a breathy sound like the English ‘h’ (as in the word hat). So ga, ge, gi, go, gu sounds like gah, hey, hee, go, goo.

To make the hard ‘gh’ sound proceeding an e or an i, a silent “u” is used: the syllables ga, gue, gui, go, gu all use a hard ‘gh’ sound.

da, de, di, do, du

Ways the Spanish ‘d’ is similar to the English ‘d’: After a pause, or at the beginning of a word someone is carefully pronouncing, it’s almost the same sound.

Ways the Spanish ‘d’ is different from the English ‘d’: It, like the letter t, is a dental sound – the tongue is more forward, at the back of the teeth. It also, like the better b, is barely pronounced when it appears between vowel sounds – the tongue barely touches anything and the sound ends up being a whispery kind of “th” sound. Try the phrase, “Mi dedo,” where when it’s said conversationally, has two d’s that each sound more like the English th than the English d. Practice da, de, di, do, du making sure your tongue is just behind your top teeth, and keeping the contact between your tongue and your teeth minimal.

va, ve, vi, vo, vu

In standard Spanish, the letters v and b in Spanish actually make the same sound. The same notes that apply to the letter b also apply to the v. It is more enunciated after a pause, and between vowels, the lips are barely touching and it is a whispery sound.

However, in some countries the pronunciation varies, and especially in the US because of the influence of English, you’ll often hear the Spanish v pronounced the same as the English v, especially in proper names (like Vanessa, Veronica, Vannia).

que, qui

These are two syllables to memorize. “Que” sounds like “Kay” and “Qui” sounds like “Key.” The q in Spanish does not occur in combination with the letters a, o, and u. It sounds like the English letter k and and is always followed by a silent u.

ka, ke, ki, ko, ku

The k is the same in Spanish and in English. It is not a very common letter in Spanish. The k sound is also made with the syllables ca, que, qui, co, cu. However, you will see the k in words that have made their way into Spanish from other languages.

cha, che, chi, cho, chu

While not officially a letter in Spanish, the ch is worth practicing since it makes a different sound – but lucky for us it’s the same in Spanish and English!

lla, lle, lli, llo, llu

The double l, while not officially considered a letter (although at one point it was) makes a sound like the ‘y’ in “yeah.” A common error is to pronounce it like the English l, especially because English doubles consonants (like in the word intelligent) – however this letter combination is never pronounced like the English l. Dialectally, the pronunciation of the ll generally varies between Spanish speaking countries from a “y” to a hard “j” sound (like the word “job”).

ya, ye, yi, yo, yu

Most of the time the ‘y’ sounds like the English ‘y’ in “yeah” and is indistinguishable from the “ll” sound. In these cases it is considered a consonant. However, at the end of a word it acts like a vowel and sounds like the Spanish “i” – ee sound in English. When it stands by itself it means “and” and is pronounced like the Spanish “i” – sounds like ee.

ña, ñe, ñi, ño, ñu

This is its own letter in Spanish and is completely separate from the n. It sounds like the ‘ny’ in canyon.

ha, he, he, ho, hu

The h in Spanish is completely silent, except in foreign words that have made their way into Spanish like “hip hop”. It does serve a purpose though in that it separates vowels in some words, such as in the words ahora (now) and almohada (pillow).

ja, je, ji, jo, ju

The Spanish ‘j’ sounds similar to the English ‘h’. From country to country the pronunciation varies and can be pronounced stronger. It never sounds like the English “j” is in “job” (and no other makes that sound; it does not exist in Spanish).

wa, we, wi, wo, wu

The w doesn’t occur often in Spanish, only in words of foreign origin. However, when it does appear, it is pronounced the same as the English w.

xa, xe, xi, xo, xu

Most of the time this is similar to English, sounding like a ks, such as in the word examen (test). However, the x can have some confusing pronunciation issues in other contexts: if it begins a word it is pronounced like an s, such as in xilófono (xylophone) or sometimes like a ch in names that are of foreign origin: Xela. Also, in some place names it sounds like a j, as in Mexico, or mexicano (Mexican).

za, ze, zi, zo, zu

There is essentially no distinction made between the Spanish letters ‘s’ and ‘z’. The Spanish z is NOT VOICED as the English z is. That sound does not exist in Spanish. It’s tricky because many words actually end in an –s in English but SOUND like a z. Say the word “dogs” – do you notice how the end –s actually makes a z sound? Be careful when you pronounce your s’s and z’s to always pronounce them like an s.

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