Introducing the Consonants
Las consonantes (the consonants) are sounds that can only be pronounced with the help of vowels, and letters representing these sounds make up the rest of the Spanish alphabet. Most Spanish consonants are very similar to their English counterparts. This chapter will examine the Spanish consonants by breaking them down into smaller groups.
The Consonants B and V
There's some disagreement about the Spanish pronunciation of consonants b and v. Some Spanish guides will tell you these two letters represent the same sound, while others maintain there's a subtle (or not so subtle) difference in pronunciation. For the purposes of this book, it will be assumed that there is a difference.
B is a consonante labial (labial consonant, or consonant formed by the lips). It is formed at the union of one's upper and lower lips and is a clipped version of the American English “b.” (M and p also belong to the same category.) V, on the other hand, is a consonante dentolabial (a dentolabial consonant, formed by the lips and the teeth). It is formed at the union of one's upper front teeth and lower lip and is similar to though softer than the American English “v.” (F also belongs to the dentolabial category.) Track 20 gives examples of pronunciations for both b and v.
Practice Pronunciation of Consonants B and V
In regions where b and v are equivalent, the letters follow additional rules. At the beginning of a word or following the letters m, n, or ñ, the softer b sound is employed. However, when located within a word, the b sound is harder and closer to the v sound.
The Consonants C, K, and Q
C (except in the combinations ce and ci), q, and k share the American English “k” sound. For the two c exceptions, read on to the following section. The letter ch is also covered separately.
Practice Pronunciation of C, Q, and K
The Consonants C, S, and Z
You might have noticed that natives of Latin America who learn English have difficulty with the “th” sounds in words like “thin” or “thought.” That's because this sound does not occur in Latin American Spanish.
Practice Pronunciation of Ce, Ci, S, and Z
The Combination Ch
Ch (cheh) sounds like the American English “ch” in “church.” Dictionaries published before 1994 listed ch as a separate letter after c. Now words that begin with a ch can be found under the letter c, between ce and ci. Use the following table to practice words with ch.
Practice Pronunciation of Ch
The Consonants D and F
The Spanish D is a dentolingual consonant. As such, it is pronounced a little more like “th” in the English words “the,” “this,” or “that,” than like the “d” in “dad” (with clenched teeth). Try to practice saying the Spanish d by placing the very tip of your tongue between your teeth and saying English words that begin with “d.”
However, if you can't hear any difference between the Spanish d and the English one, don't worry too much about it. It's not crucial—you will be understood if you don't pronounce it exactly the right way, though of course your gringo accent will be unmistakable.
Practice Pronunciation of Consonant D
Another dentolabial consonant is the f, pronounced just like the English “f” in “food.” In English, this same sound may be spelled out with the combination “ph,” but in Spanish, equivalent words are modified in spelling. For example, the English word “telephone” becomes teléfono in Spanish.
Practice Pronunciation of Consonant F
The Consonants G and J
When g is followed by any consonant or a, o, or u, it sounds like the American English “g” in “golf.” In combinations ge and gi, it carries a sound not found in American English—an overemphasized “hh” that starts at the back of the throat.
Practice Pronunciation of Consonant G
The letter j represents the same “hh” sound as the one you'd just heard in combinations ge and gi. Note that the sound combination of “j” in “Jack” does not occur in Spanish.
Practice Pronunciation of Consonant J