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Spanish Matters - a blog in English and Spanish for those learning the language

This blog is entitled "Spanish Matters", because it does! Matter, that is. If you have committed to living in Spain, you should also make a commitment to learn some Spanish. So this is a blog about matters Spanish, as well as promoting the notion that Spanish does indeed matter. The blog contains articles in both English and Spanish. Don Pablo hopes it will be helpful to those learning the language.

Spanish spelling and pronunciation
Tuesday, May 24, 2022 @ 6:16 AM

The title of this blog, Spanish Matters, neatly encapsulates its purpose.  Not only is it about matters concerning the Spanish language (castellano), of interest to readers who either live in Spain or visit regularly, but also it seeks to reinforce the importance for us as English-speakers of learning sufficient Spanish to engage with local people as we go about our daily lives. In this article Don Pablo takes a look at Spanish spelling and pronunciation.


Of course, the key to the successful development of our Spanish language skills is the ability to listen.  This is, after all, how we began to learn our mother tongue, by hearing what was said to us by parents, relatives, friends and neighbours.  If, as foreign language learners, we listen and imitate, not only will we begin to use the correct words and phrases in the correct way, at the right time and in the right place, we will also demonstrate more authentic pronunciation and develop more genuine accents.

One of the most important things to remember is that Spanish vowels are pure and unwavering, ie one sound, and always the same, unlike English, which is impossibly inconsistent and riddled with diphthongs.  In English the same vowel may be pronounced in a range of different ways, for example, the vowel ‘a’:

again (uh), small (aw), cap (ah), car (aahh), many (eh), paper (ay), and so on.

Compare this with the absolute consistency of Spanish:  pan, casa, cerveza, zanahoria.

The same applies to consonants; in Spanish consistent, in English not at all.  The eminent linguistician, Simeon Potter, demonstrated the daft English spelling system by suggesting that ‘fish’ might be spelt ‘ghoti’ (‘gh’ from rough, ‘o’ from women and ‘ti’ from station!).  However, we digress…

As we have said, Spanish consonants, like vowels, are always pronounced consistently.  The only Spanish consonants which have different pronunciations are ‘c’ and ‘g’, yet these differences are defined by set rules which are logical and never change.  Let’s have a look …

The letter ‘c’ is pronounced ‘k’ (hard) before a, o, u and any consonant, eg casa, copa, cubo, actriz, acción, sección.  On the other hand, ‘c’ is pronounced ‘th’ (soft) before e or i, eg cerveza, excepto, cocina, acción, sección.  Note the pronunciation of the ‘cc’ in the latter two examples above, ie ‘kth’ – ah-k-th-ee-on, seh-k-th-ee-on.

The rule is similar with the letter ‘g’.  Before a, o, u and a consonant it is pronounced ‘g’ (hard), eg pagar, gol, agua, ignorancia.  Before e or i ‘g’ is pronounced ‘ch’ (like ‘ch’ in Scottish ‘loch’).  For example: generación, gira, agitar.  To achieve a hard ‘g’ sound before e or i, a ‘u’ is inserted, as in guerra, guiri.

This rule takes a bit of getting used to, but if you listen out for examples and be aware of spellings, you should soon get the hang of it.

Other interesting points to note are:

  • The Spanish alphabet has 29 letters, the extra three being ‘ch’, ‘ll’ and ‘rr’.
  • The letters ‘b’ and ‘v’ are virtually indistinguishable from each other, so much so that the occasional Spaniard is guilty of mis-spelling words by interchanging ‘b’ and ‘v’.
  • There are no double consonants except ‘nn’ in words beginning with the prefix ‘in-‘, ‘cc’ as we saw above, and ‘ll’ and ‘rr’, which are separate letters in their own right.

In other articles, we have already looked at or will look at greetings, courtesies and farewells, cognates and ‘false friends’, e-Spanish, the influence of Spanish on English, the two verbs ‘to be’ (ser and estar), diminutive suffixes and swearing!

In the meantime, happy listening and hasta pronto.


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