How To Read Spanish Letters And Accent Marks Aloud

One of the first things to go after when you’re learning Spanish is how to actually pronounce Spanish. Fortunately, it’s not too hard!
February 15, 2019

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.

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.

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. 

ala sala (the room)

ay — la playa (the beach)

bbeber (to drink)

c*la bicicleta (the bicycle)

cc — el accidente (the accident)

ch — ocho (eight)

del dedo (the finger)

eel pez (the fish)

ey — el rey (the king)

fel jefe (the boss, masc.)

gel gato (the cat)

gu** — el agua (the water), el guerrero (the warrior)

gü — la verenza (the shame)

hel hospital (the hospital)

iel cine (the theater)

jel ojo (the eye)

k***el kilogramo (the kilogram)

lel pelo (the fur)

ll — la calle (the street)

mmimar (to spoil)

nla banana (the banana)

ñla araña (the spider)

oel otoño (the autumn)

oy — hoy (today)

pla papa (the potato)

qu****la taquilla (the ticket office)

rpero (but)

rr — el perro (the dog)

slas casas (the houses)

tla tortuga marina (the sea turtle)

uuno (one)

vvivir (to live)

w***la world wide web (the world wide web)

x*****el extranjero (the foreigner)

yel yate (the yacht)

zel 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.

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Author Headshot
Thomas Moore Devlin
Thomas grew up in suburban Massachusetts, and moved to New York City for college. He studied English literature and linguistics at New York University, but spent most of his time in college working for the student paper. Because of this, he has really hard opinions about AP Style. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and getting angry about things on Twitter. He's spent a lot of time trying to learn Spanish, and has learned a little German.
Thomas grew up in suburban Massachusetts, and moved to New York City for college. He studied English literature and linguistics at New York University, but spent most of his time in college working for the student paper. Because of this, he has really hard opinions about AP Style. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and getting angry about things on Twitter. He's spent a lot of time trying to learn Spanish, and has learned a little German.

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