Pronunciation – the finer points
When learning a foreign language it’s very tempting to try to ‘put on’ an accent – to try to sound Spanish/French/German/etc. Unless you’re a good mimic, however, or learning from a very young age, or by total immersion – it’s unlikely that you’ll ever acquire an authentic-sounding Spanish accent …… so it’s best not to even try! Just speak Spanish in your own ‘voice’, learn how to pronounce the words correctly……. and you’ll be understood!
I covered the basic rules back in the September 2013 issue of Jávea Grapevine – what sounds the vowels (a, e, i, o, u) make, which consonants (all the rest) sound different to the way they do in English…… and that you pretty much say every letter every time.
Just in case you missed that – here’s a recap of the vowel sounds:
Asounds like the A in Apple – always, every time you see it
E sounds like the E in Egg – always, every time you see it
I sounds like the I in Igloo – always, every time you see it
O sounds like the O in Orange – always, every time you see it
U sounds like the OO in sOOn – always, every time you see it
Most of the consonants are pronounced more or less as in English (at least in some part of the Spanish speaking world) so here’s a recap of the exceptions:
G – there is a soft G & a hard G sound, just as there is in English – the hard G is the same as in English, the soft is more like a H sound – or that throat growl GGHH if you can manage it – & look – the rules are the same as in English – so just say it instinctively!
H – is silent – always – no matter where it is in the word, it’s silent – so Hotel is ‘otel’, & alcohol is alco-ol
J – that shouldn’t be too hard for us living in Jávea! The J makes the same sound as a soft G – so a H or GGHH sound if you can manage it.
Ñ – not to be confused with N – that squiggle on the top makes a huge difference – it’s a different letter called ‘enyeh’ & makes a ‘NYE’ sound.
QU makes the K sound – not kw – so queso (cheese) is keso – not kweso
And all the rest are pretty much the same as in English!
But what about the rhythm of the language? Once your ears are ‘tuned in’ it can sound very musical. This is largely due to the fact that every word has one syllable which is emphasised more strongly than all the rest. (The syllables are the ‘beats’ of a word – so the word ‘cerveza’ has three, ‘vino’ has two, & ‘sí’ has one!) . This syllable is known as the sílaba tónica or sílaba fuerte.
There are three simple rules for deciding which syllable is the strongest :
Rule 1: You may have noticed that some vowels have an ‘accent’ above them – this is known as the ‘tilde’. The tilde is very useful, because if there is a tilde on a vowel, then that syllable is the sílaba tónica.
e.g. café, alemán, lección, autobús
Rule 2: If a word has no tilde at all, but ends in a vowel (a, e, i, o & u) or n or s, then the syllable before last is the sílaba tónica.
e.g. libro, madre, mesa, familia
Rule 3: Again if a word has no tilde at all, but ends in a consonant except n or s, then the final syllable is the sílaba tónica.
e.g. español, vivir, hablar, hospital
even this 14 syllable word follows the sílaba tónica rules!!
STRONG & WEAK VOWELS
A , E & O are strong, or open vowels, & are pronounced as individual syllables, such as in aseo …. as e o.
I & U are weak, & need a tilde to make them strong, as in panadería.
Try these tongue twisters!
Perejil comí, perejil cené, y de tanto comer perejil me emperejilé.
El que sabe no es el que todo lo sabe, sino el que sabe donde está lo que no sabe.
Erre con erre, guitarra, erre con erre, barril, qué rápido ruedan las ruedas del ferrocarril.
– ¿Parará, papá, parará?
– Parará. Pepín, parará
and something to sing along with