Reading a language you’re not familiar with can be a real challenge when you’re starting out learning. It may use the same alphabet, but the letters won’t sound the same. Fortunately, Spanish has one of the easiest writing systems to learn how to pronounce, because the spelling matches up very well with the pronunciation. With this guide for how to pronounce Spanish letters and accent marks, you should be able to say pretty much anything in the Spanish language — even if you don’t understand what it means just yet.
The Spanish Alphabet
In English, a single letter can have a huge range of different pronunciations. “E,” for example, makes a different sound in “need” or “bled” or “weigh” or “hate” or “pallet.” In Spanish, however, each letter makes pretty much only one sound, and it’s the same every time.
To give you a taste of how all the letters sound, here’s an example of each of the letters in context (and a few letter combinations).
a — la sala (the room)
ay — la playa (the beach)
b — beber (to drink)
c* — la bicicleta (the bicycle)
cc — el accidente (the accident)
ch — ocho (eight)
d — el dedo (the finger)
e — el pez (the fish)
ey — el rey (the king)
f — el jefe (the boss, masc.)
g — el gato (the cat)
gu** — el agua (the water), el guerrero (the warrior)
gü — la vergüenza (the shame)
h — el hospital (the hospital)
i — el cine (the theater)
j — el ojo (the eye)
k*** — el kilogramo (the kilogram)
l — el pelo (the fur)
ll — la calle (the street)
m — mimar (to spoil)
n — la banana (the banana)
ñ — la araña (the spider)
o — el otoño (the autumn)
oy — hoy (today)
p — la papa (the potato)
qu**** — la taquilla (the ticket office)
r — pero (but)
rr — el perro (the dog)
s — las casas (the houses)
t — la tortuga marina (the sea turtle)
u — uno (one)
v — vivir (to live)
w*** — la world wide web (the world wide web)
x***** — el extranjero (the foreigner)
y — el yate (the yacht)
z — el pozo (the well)
*The letter “c” has more than one pronunciation. If it comes before an “a,” “o,” “u” or a consonant, it’s pronounced like the English “k.” If it comes before an “e” or an “i,” it’s like an English “s” (unless you have a Spanish accent, in which case it’s a “th”).
**The letters “gu” sound like a hard “g” before “e” or “i” in Spanish, but like “gw” before “a” or “o.”
***The letters “k” and “w” are only used in words that come from other languages, because they were not originally in the Spanish language.
****The letter “q” always occurs with “u” in Spanish, and combined they make a “k” sound.
*****The “x” will always sound like “ks,” except in certain location names like “Mexico” and “Texas,” where it sounds like a guttural “h.”
Accent Marks In Spanish
We’ve already covered two kinds of marks, the tilde (ñ) and the diaeresis (ü). Both of these affect the pronunciation of a specific letter. The rest of the accent marks (á, é, í, ó and ú) affect the stress, however.
In English, where the stress is in a word isn’t marked at all. You just have to know intuitively that elementary is pronounced “eh-leh-MEN-tuh-ree” instead of “EL-eh-men-tuh-ree” or “el-eh-men-TAH-ry.”
Spanish, however, is much more predictable. If the word ends in an “n,” an “s” or a vowel, the stress goes on the second-to-last syllable. If it ends in any other letter, the stress is on the last syllable. If, however, the word has an accent mark, the stress is on the syllable that has the accent mark.
There are also cases where accent marks are used to differentiate words. The word como means “like,” “as” or “how” in Spanish, but when used in a question it becomes cómo. The same goes for que (what) and qué (what, but in a question), or el (masculine “the”) and él (he).
With that, you should be ready to read Spanish! It’s not too hard once you get the hang of it. And if you’re still struggling to get around certain vowels and consonants, you can look at our more general pronunciation guide.