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 the Spanish alphabet, 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, each letter makes pretty much only one sound, and it’s the same every time.
First, let’s start with the whole Spanish alphabet, which has 27 letters. It’s all of the same letters as the English alphabet with one addition: ñ. You can listen to a native speaker pronounce the alphabet below (or listen to a song version here).
Listen to the Spanish Alphabet
While the alphabet is great, it is only one part of seeing how the letters work in various contexts. Below, you can listen to each common letter and letter combination as they sound in Spanish words.
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)
An Aside: K And W
The letters “k” and “w” are only used in words that come from other languages. They’re a relatively recent addition to the Spanish alphabet.
Letters With More Than One Pronunciation
As mentioned, most letters in the Spanish alphabet have only one pronunciation. There are a few exceptions to that rule, however.
The letter “c” is one of the few Spanish letters with 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” (though some Spanish speakers may pronounce it more like a “th”).
The letters GU together have two possible pronunciations. If they appear before the vowels I or E, they make a hard “g” sound like the “g” in “tiger.” If GU is before an A or an O, it makes a “gw” sound like the “gu” in “guano.” When the Ü has a diaeresis, then GÜ makes a “gw” sound no matter what letters follows.
The letter U is silent when preceded by the letter Q. Also, you’ll never find the letter Q without a U after it.
The “x” almost always makes a sound like “ks,” like the “x” in “maximum.” There are three other pronunciations of the letter you might run into, however. When a word starts with an X, it’ll make an “S” sound. There are some location names like “Mexico” and “Texas” where the X sounds like a guttural “h,” and other place names where it might sound like a “sh,” like with the Guatemalan city Xela. Like K and W, the letter X mostly appears in loanwords.
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.
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 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 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).
Improve your Spanish pronunciation with Babbel Live
Once you’ve worked your way through the Spanish alphabet and perfected your pronunciation of Vamos a la Playa, the best way to improve your Spanish is to get confident speaking it. And you can do so comfortably with Babbel Live. In live, online tutoring classes led by an expert teacher, you can practice your pronunciation and conversation skills alongside a small group of up to six peers.
Now that you know the Spanish alphabet, 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 general pronunciation tips.