Pronouncing Vowel Sounds in Spanish

In English, we have 12 different vowel sounds, but they don't always match up with the 5 vowel letters. For example, "hey" has the same vowel sound as "bay" even though they are different letters. On the other hand, "hey" and "the" have the same letter but different vowel sounds. English learners have to memorize the correct pronunciation when they learn a new word because the letters you see don't always match the sounds you hear.

Luckily, in Spanish, vowel sounds are almost entirely regular! That means that the letters you see will almost always be pronounced the same way. We say "almost" because there are always exceptions, but as a beginner you don't need to worry about that.

Here is how the five vowels are pronounced in Spanish:

Vowel sound English sound exampleSpanish word example
/a/ = "ah"law, fathermama, agua, mañana
/e/ = "eh"date, met, café* enero, cereza, bébé
/i/ = "ee"see, meat, pizzasí, difícil, iglesia
/o/ = "ow"phone, sootoño, no, loco
/u/ = "oo"new, loot**fútbol, tú, mucho

*Note: the /e/ sound varies a little bit. At its most pure, it is like the "a" in date. At the beginning of a word, it is closer to the /e/ in met. At the end of the word, it is more like the /e/ in café.
**Note: When the /u/ comes between g/q and e/i, it is silent. For example:qué [what], quién [who], guerrero [warrior]. If the letter "u" should be pronounced, an umlaut it placed above. For example: vergüenza [shame].

If two or three vowels are next to each other in a word, their sounds can blend together to create a dipthong or a tripthong. It is easy to figure out what a dipthong (2 vowels) or a tripthong ( vowels) sounds like because the sound is basically just made up of each vowel pronounced quickly. So, when /u/ comes before /a/, the two sounds (oo+ah) combine to sound something like in the English word water. For example: cuaderno [notebook]. And, when the /i/ comes before /o/, they form a sound similar to "yo," for example in radio and Acunción.

Related Links:
Spanish Interrogative Pronouns
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Spanish FlashCards

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