How Hard Can It Be?
Take a deep breath and don’t panic. To master the Spanish language you don’t need to speak as fast as Spanish speakers do — you only need to master certain sounds! I’m a proud madrilleña (a person from Madrid), but I’ll overlook my pronunciation bias in my tips. In the cases where the same word is pronounced differently in Latin America, I’ll explain both ways to pronounce it.
There’s nothing complicated here. The CH in escucha (listen) is the same as in “church.” You probably already know it from the famous chorizo!
When G is followed by a U, it sounds like the G in “guru” or “golf.” When it’s followed by an E or I, the U is not pronounced — for example guisante (pea) or the well known (but not Spanish) “Guinness!”
In Spain, LL is pronounced more or less like an English J. In llámame (call me) it sounds similar to the J in “jump.” We also pronounce Y at the beginning of a word the same way, as in yema (yolk). In most of Latin America, however, folks take the double-L a little easier and pronounce it like the Y in “yes.”
This one doesn’t have an exact parallel in English. The strong J we use for jamón is similar to the H in “ham” (but a bit throatier). Plus, jamón actually means ham — BOOM!
For many Spaniards, a C followed by an E or I is pronounced like TH in English: for example céntimo (cent) or cigarro (cigarette). When an S comes before the C, like in escéptico, you need to be careful to pronounce the letters separately (more on that later). However, in Latin America and some parts of Spain, the Castilian “lisp” is avoided and the C in ciudad is pronounced like an S (the same as in “city”).
Rrrrrolling your RRs might be the trickiest business when speaking Spanish. Some people even blame their tongues for not being able to move or vibrate that much, but there is hope, amigos — don’t be desesperados. If you’ve ever wondered how to say the rolled RR in Spanish, worry not, because I’ll help you. The rolled RR comes from the tip of your tongue and goes all the way to the top of your palate. Try to emphasize the R in the word “throat” by saying it for 5 whole seconds. Feel that vibration coming up to your palate? That’s what you want to achieve. It might take some practice, but keep at it. And rrrremember! not all words that include an R need to roll — only the words that start with R (“The Ramones” for example!), words where an R follows an N and the ones that have two RRs.
The Z in Spanish is pronounced like the C that’s followed by an E or I (see above).
Putting It Into Practice
With all that said, now you only have to apply the special sounds to the following difficult words. Cheer up, you can do it!
Start with ar — with a soft R (since it’s not the first letter of the word and is not following an N) — ma — di — llo, pronounced like the “jo” from “joker” (in Spain) or “yo” from “yogurt” (in most of Latin America).
Okay, we are facing a difficult one here. We have the R coming after an N and the J after that. Let’s divide the word into different sounds: son — ro (let’s go, tip of the tongue! Let’s make those good vibrations happen!) — ja (the strongest H is needed here) — do.
The trick to pronouncing the S followed by C is to do it smoothly and clearly. First as — then cen (pronounced like the “th” from “theft,” or “z” from “zen” — whichever is easier for you) — then sor.
zurcir (to darn, mend, or sew)
This word has both C and Z sounds, but fear not! Remember, if the Spanish C (TH from “thought,” for example) is not your thing, you can always resort to pronouncing C like an S, like an Andalusian or a Latin American would do.
Let’s bring back the hard J to start pronouncing ju — then gue (the G with the mute U, like in “guest”) — and finally tón. The accent shows you where to put the emphasis, on the last syllable.
Oof… this is a hard one: a — gu is easy, with the same G as in the example above — ja is again the hard J from “jamón.”
OK, we’ve got some double letters here, but there’s no reason to panic. Let’s separate the syllables: de — sa — rro (let’s get those RRs rolling!) — lla (the J sound as in “jumper”) — do — res.
Desarrolladores are the guys that make the apps, programs and games for your phone possible: developers!
jamonero (a stand for holding a leg of serrano ham)
The J here sounds like a harsh H. Inhale and exhale this J sound while warming up your vocal cords. Ja — mo — ne — ro.
So the next time someone asks you how to say a word in Spanish, feel confident in your ability to pronounce it! A little bit of practice and you’ll be perfect!