Spanish Pronunciation Guide: Vowels and Vowel Combinations

Level: All Levels

The most asked question in learning Spanish is, “How do you pronounce the words?”  The great thing for learners of Spanish is the words are pronounced just like they are written for the most part. This should be music to your ears since English is nothing like that.  It is much more complicated. Take the words “pear” and “beard” for example. The “ea” in both these words sound different. In Spanish this doesn’t happen. There are only a few tricky things to remember but they are easy and most sounds that exist in Spanish you can already pronounce. Sound good so far?

I have decided to break down pronunciation into categories so you can focus at it one piece at a time. So for this post we focus on vowels. Just like in English there are single vowel sounds and vowel combinations. In Spanish there are many less combinations though. A couple notes before we begin, this post is meant as a reference. Come back to it to help you pronounce words, but the guide alone will not teach you to pronounce Spanish words without actually speaking the words to someone. This is a starting point the only way me or any other English speaker learned to pronounce Spanish was by speaking and speaking a lot.

The other thing to note is if you wish to speak with as little accent as possible then realize there are slight differences between English and Spanish. The way you use your tongue, roof of your mouth and lips is different. Native Spanish speakers touch the tip of their tongues to the roof of their mouths (el taladar) often. In English we form many words with our lips and nasal passages. We also tend to unconsciously blow while pronouncing many of our words for example when we say Tom or even the word “pronounce” there is a quick, soft blow between the “T-o” and “p-r”. To eliminate your English accent in Spanish you do not blow.

The Basic Vowels

These vowel sounds are always the same.

a              Sounds like the  short “o” in the English words October,  robot, socks.  Here’s how to pronounce some Spanish words with “a”:                            tanto /TAN-toe/, basta /BA-sta/, Pablo /PAH-bloe/

e             Sounds like the short “e” in the English words bent, deck, rest. In Spanish you will see the letter “e” in the words momento /mo-                        MEN-to/, evento /e-VEN-to/, episodio /e-pee-SO-dyo/

i               Sounds like the “ea” vowel combination like in the English words each, rear, seat. You will find this in the Spanish words iglesia /ee-                   GLAY-see-ah/, siglo /SEE-glo/, comida /ko-MEE-dah/

o             Sounds similar to the long “o” like in the English words born, for, bone. In Spanish you will find it in the words sonido /so-NEE-do/,                     fondo /PHONE-do/, Jose /HOAS-ay/. Please note that this “o” sound is cut short at the end of words. The word “go” ends with a                         long “o” sound that gets pronounced a split second longer than the final “o” as in the words above sonido and fondo.

u             Sounds like the sound you make if you got punched in the stomach “oo” or as in the double “o” as in food or boot. In Spanish you                   will find this letter in the words mudo /MOO-do/, ruta /ROO-tah/, fruta /FROO-tah/.  Please note it does not sound like the double                   “o” as in the word good. In “good” the sound is too short.

Vowel Combinations

Two Syllable Vowel Combinations

There are two kinds of vowel combinations: 1) with accent mark; 2) no accent. Grammar books with break them down more into more categories, but I do not think it’s a good idea for students to read too much about pronunciation. Pronunciation is best learned from listening and speaking.

  1. With Accent

The accent mark over a vowel means you stress that vowel sound.  In other words, that’s where your intonation goes up.

Vowel Combinations with Accent Marks

a              pronounced /ah-EE/,   /ah-OO/ as in “food”

e             /eh-EE/,   /eh-OO/ as in “food”

i               ía /EE-ah/,  íe /EE-eh/

o             /oh-EE/

u             úa /OO-ah/ as in food and the same for the rest of the double “o” sound here,  úe /OO-eh/, úi /OO-ee/, úo /OO-oh/

Vowel Combinations without Accent Marks

These combinations do not have any stressed syllables. They are just run together to make one sound. These pronunciations are close but not exact.

a              ai /ya/   au /ow/

e             ei /ay/ like in the word “day”,  eu /ayoo/  “ay” as in “say” and “oo” as in “food”

i               ia /eeya/,  ie /yeh/,  io /ee-oh/,  iu /yu/

o             oi /oy/

u             ua /wa/,  ue /weh/,  ui /we/, uo /wo/

More Vowel Combinations without Accent Marks

These combinations have two syllables but do not have accent marks written above them; therefore, no stressed syllables.

a              ae /ah-ay/,   ao /ah-oh/

e             ea /eh-ah/,  ee /eh-eh/,  eo /eh-oh/

o             oa /oh-ah/,  oe /oh-eh/,  oo /oh-oh/

 

Spanish Vocabulary Memorization: My Flashcard Technique

It’s been a while since I used flashcards because at this point I truly see the same objects and actions in both English and Spanish. To me a table is a “mesa”, a street a “calle”, a cat a “gato”, to eat is “comer” and so on. They’re all the same and you will get there too. I’d bet you’ve already gotten there with some words. Here’s a technique you may like that I used to build Spanish vocabulary fast. I used picture flashcards as much as possible.  I mention in another one of my posts about building vocabulary fast through images instead of translating with the use of picture dictionaries and picture flashcards.  Here  I will show you how I did it.  I am not an artist, but I can draw a little. So I used to draw images of actions and objects on one side of an index card and the Spanish word on the other. Don’t worry if you cannot draw at all I will recommend some other ways to get around it. Try these exercises.

Create Your Own Flashcards with Drawings

I. Create the cards

1. Buy some cheap index cards.

2. Cut them in half to save on cards.

3. Choose a category like your bedroom.

4. Draw various objects on one side of each card until you have a pile of 10-15.

5. Look up the word in a Spanish-English dictionary, phone app or electronic translator.

6. Write the word on the opposite side of the drawing.

II. Memorization Technique

1. Look at all the cards one at a time. DO NOT try to memorize through the first run.

2. Next turn all the cards with the drawings facing up. And one-by-one attempt to say the word on the other side. DO NOT stop just look    at each card one time.

3. Create two piles. Put the cards you don’t know in one pile and the ones you do know in the other.

4. Repeat these steps until you get all the cards correct.

5. The next step is to complete one run without getting any incorrect.

6. The final step is to randomly pull cards out of order to see how well you know them. In your free time randomly repeat this exercise to     increase the likelihood you memorize your new words. Here’s my most important tip though. Upon learning any new word or phrase to       ensure you memorize it for the long term you must use them at least three times within two weeks of learning them.

Tips to Create Flashcards for People that Do Not Draw

1. Search Images on Bing, Yahoo or Google.  Do a search for the category of free printable Spanish flashcards, for example, zoo animals,         colors, vegetables, etc. Just know that it may take several minutes to find exactly what you want.

2. Clip Art and Tables in Microsoft Word.  If you are comfortable working with Word then create tables and fill them with text first then the    images.

Bonus Spanish Flashcard Exercise for the Home and Office

This is the easiest exercise and perhaps most effective. Use index cards to create flashcards with just the words (no English translation please) for the objects in your home and office. Then simply tape them to the objects. Keep them posted up for several weeks. Please take the extra step to actually look at them and say them aloud. You will automatically associate the words and objects together and you won’t have to drill yourself to learn them because you will just casually look at them as you go through your day. Years from now you that image of your microwave with the card “microondas” will be stuck in your head!

Spanish Pronunciation and Fluency Practice

Speaking Skills: Intermediate Level

One of the biggest compliments you could get regarding your Spanish is a native speaker telling you that your Spanish accent was so good that they thought you were either a native yourself or that you have Latin roots. You will probably never speak just like a native, sorry, but it still feels good to know you are doing something right, something better than the average speaker of Spanish as a second language.

Speaking with a thick American or other non-native accent is not the end of the world though. In fact, I don’t think it is very important for communicating effectively.  However, speaking with little or no accent does have many benefits, namely earning respect of native speakers and providing them more confidence in your ability to hold a conversation with them.  Although a strong accent doesn’t mean someone doesn’t speak well, it can impede effective communication. It certainly be difficult to understand. Think about it. Remember that time you asked someone for help at a local supermarket or a tourist asked you for help and they had a rough accent, what did you think? My first thought usually is, “Wow, I wonder if they understand what I’m going to say.”

This can become a distraction.

A trick I learned to achieve more fluency in my speech was to run words together, like native speakers do rather than separate them too much.  For example, in English as you are speaking with your girlfriend or boyfriend you might say, “I think about you all the time.” In normal speed this may sound like many words stuck together, something like, “Ithinkaboutyou – allthetime,” two words, right? Well in Spanish it’s no different. Instead of separating the words so distinctly start combining them. So translating what we just said in English to Spanish you get, “Te pienso todo el tiempo,” (five separated words). Let’s combine them and make it, “Tepienso  – todoeltiempo,” again changing the word count to two.

Let’s try smaller words clusters. Consider changing the following examples.

Spanish                                                                English

Tus ojos               tusojos                 “your eyes”

Te quiero             tequiero              “I love you.”

Te lo digo             telodigo               “I’ll tell you”

Te extrano          teextrano            “I miss you”

This technique is especially helpful when you advance is your grammar and you say sentences like the these:

Spanish                                                                          English

Me lo dió.              Melodio.                                      “He gave it to me.”

Me lo regaló.      Meloregalo.                               “She gave it to me (as a gift)” (Literally- She gifted it to me.)

Se lo dijeron.     Selodijeron.                               “They told him (it).

Lo, la, le, se are examples of indirect and direct objects. Some of the examples are “it”, “me”, “them” and so on in English. What’s makes it tough is the order is backwards in Spanish. It forces you to think a few extra seconds to get it right. “Wait, um, ‘Dio lo me,’ no , I mean, ‘Lo me dio,’ no!” When you do start to get how to say them in the correct order you will probably separate them too much, thus sounding a little rough. I’ve heard other English speakers creating too many pauses in between the words. That’s why I recommend blending the words together.

Spanish Vocabulary: Days of the Week…and how to memorize them

Learning vocabulary is the foundation of learning any language. Accepting that you need to take it one step at a time and start from the beginning will be vital  to managing your emotions and expectations while you improve your knowledge and skills to speak and understand Spanish.  In the beginning I tried to learn as much vocabulary as possible. I focused on the sets of words and phrases that would come in handy most. Describing time is extremely important. Let’s take a peek at the days of the week first and how to remember them. Then do not forget your free downloadable flashcards.

The week in Spanish starts with Monday. Let’s start there. Days of the week in Spanish are NOT capitalized.

Days of the Week in Spanish

  • lunes /LOO-nace/                            Monday
  • martes /MAR-tace/                        Tuesday
  • miércoles  /MEER-ko-lace/          Wednesday
  • jueves   /HOOAY-vace/                 Thursday
  • viernes  /VEEAIR-nace/                 Friday
  • sábado /SA-ba-do/                         Saturday
  • domingo /do-MIN-go/                  Sunday

Let’s break the week into 3 parts.

The first half of the work week: lunes, martes, miercoles

The second half of the work week: jueves, viernes

And the weekend: sábado, domingo

Focus on each part by repeating the days of that part over and over until you memorize them.

Another way to memorize them is come up with clues to remembering them, sort of like memory joggers.  So let’s try it.

  • Lunes” starts the work week and when that happens you “lose” sleep. The “lu” part of lunes and “lose” have similar vowel sounds. Sounds stupid, but trust me this stuff works.
  • Marti gras”, the holiday, or big party in New Orleans, means Fat Tuesday.  Marti and martes are very similar since both of their roots come from Latin, and both have to do with Tuesday.
  • Once you get to the middle of the week the first half is in the rearview “mirror”. So miércoles is the rearview “mirror”. Miércoles, mirror. Again the first part of the word sounds similar.
  • “Who’s” going to the party tomorrow? Tomorrow is Friday night so you would like to know “who” is going to be there. Who, jueves.
  • Don’t “veer” off now, the weekend is here. “Viernes” is finally here.
  • Saturday and sábado start with the same two letters “sa”. It’s the only day of the week that starts the same both in Spanish and English.
  • Tomorrow you will start making “dough” again. Today is “domingo” but tomorrow begins the work week when you start earning money again.

All of these clues are just ideas on how to help you memorize them. Any vocabulary you learn will eventually become second nature and you will not have to use goofy clues to remember them.

Get your days of the week PDF. Use card stock in your printer to print off sturdy cards and your days of the week reminder exercise.

Improve Your Spanish Listening Skills with Music: Bailando por Ahí- Juan Magan

Skill Level: All Levels

Listening skills are every important when learning another language. You can learn how to speak by predominantly studying the written language, but focusing too much on the written language can cause problems when someone is speaking to you. Sure you will still be able to understand them fairly well, but in the end if you understand what someone says then you can communicate your message even with basic Spanish sentences.

If I had to learn all over again I would have taken more time practicing with music. Nowadays with the internet it is very easy to access good materials to help you practice. The song I have chosen here has a good, catchy chorus and is upbeat. It’s currently being played often a lot on the radio stations in Orlando. Keep in mind you must listen to songs over and over again before you can effortlessly comprehend the lyrics. In Spanish lyrics are referred to as “letras”. So if you want to find a song’s “letras” you could either do a search like “bailando por ahi con letras” or simply go to my favorite site for lyrics www.musica.com.

So here is how we are going to approach and complete this exercise…

INSTRUCTIONS: Spanish Listening Skills Exercise

I. Objective. Improve your ability to hear and comprehend Spanish without translating to English.

II. Goal. Learn and memorize phrases and words by hearing them.

III. Steps.

1. Listen to song 3x- do NOT look at lyrics.

2. Listen to song 3x- look at lyrics.

3. Listen to song 2x- look at lyrics, repeat phrases, sentences or words from list.

4. Listen to song 2x- do NOT look at lyrics, repeat phrases and words from list.

(Download and print the Spanish listening exercise for this post.)

First, read the instructions above then click on the video link below. The video is a lyric slideshow. Listen to the song and follow along with the words. You can print off the complete lyrics down below as well, I got them from the “letras completas” shown link below. You will learn the song’s chorus and so I have highlighted the chorus in the printed version throughout the song.

I like this song below for this exercise because besides sounding good the chorus is catchy and simple to learn. Music is a great way to allow Spanish to be ingrained in our minds without having to translate or depend too much on the written words. My favorite website for Spanish-song lyrics is www.musica.com. They are completed by volunteers on the site and sometimes are not completely accurate, but they are more than sufficient to help us improve our Spanish listening skills.

BAILANDO POR AHÍ

Juan Magan

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4RxUJCZaqg

Letras completes (lyrics): http://www.musica.com/letras.asp?letra=1932054

Expresiones/Oraciones (Phrases/Sentences)

Significados (Meanings)

Ayer la vi bailando por ahí con sus amigas en una calle de Madrid.

Yesterday I saw her dancing there with her friends in a street in Madrid.

Tan linda como en el día que la conocí
Fueron los días más felices para mí

(She was) as beautiful like the day I met her. (Those) were happiest days for me.

BAILANDO POR AHÍ

Juan Magan

(Lyrics from www.musica.com Meant only for educative purposes.)

(Ayer la vi)
Ayer la vi desde hace mucho tiempo y..
( con sus amigas en una calle de Madrid)
Me arrepiento tanto de haberte dicho adiós
( fueron los días más felices para mí )

Coro: 
Ayer la vi bailando por ahí
Con sus amigas en una calle de Madrid
Tan linda como en el día que la conocí
Fueron los días más felices para mí

Ayer la vi bailando por ahí
Con sus amigas en una calle de Madrid
Tan linda como en el día que la conocí
Fueron los días más felices para mí ‘

Ella es loca por ritmo latino
Se prende en la pista bailando conmigo
El aroma, se toca, me mira
Y yo electrónicamente encendido
No me atrevo oh oh a decirle na’ ah
Me hago el duro pidiendo una copa
Sentado en la barra del bar ah ah
Me acerco a su lado, le cojo el pelo
Le canto canciones al oído
Tu quisieras una cita conmigo
Te sigo en el Twitter si quieres te escribo
De repente tra tra llegó su novio ya ah
Si no la vas a cuidar échate pa’atras tra

( Ayer la vi)
Es inevitable verla, una pareja se pierde en la rutina
Las cosas cotidianas de la vida
Y por eso deberías regalarle
cada día una sonrisa a tu bebé