The Spanish Inquisition (learning the language, Pt. 2)

In part 1, we took a look at a few general aspects of the effort to learn Spanish. Here in part 2 we’ll take a look at the language itself and some things that might help to get a grasp of the language. These are things I found helpful and I hope they may be of use to others.

Tip # 1: Learn how vowels sound in Spanish. Well sure, you say. But it’s surprising how often this seems to be a problem even with those who have an otherwise excellent command of the language. It’s something a beginner can master. Here is a quick lesson. Note: the English equivalents are the mid-American equivalents. If you are from certain parts of Texas or London, try to imagine how Tom Hanks might say it.

‘a’ in Spanish is ALWAYS pronounced ‘ah’ like the ‘a’ in ‘papa’ It is NEVER pronounced like the ‘a’ in ‘rage’ or ‘fate.’ It is also never pronounced like the ‘a’ in ‘fat’ or ‘cat’ (with the exceptions noted above)

‘e’ in Spanish is ALWAYS pronounced like a long ‘a’ in English, like the ‘a’ in ‘rage’ and ‘fate.’ (again, imagine Tom Hanks)

‘i’ is always pronounced like a long ‘e’ in English, as in ‘peel’ or ‘eel.’ It is never pronounced like the ‘i’ in ‘pirate’ or ‘time.’ Neither is it pronounced like the ‘i’ in ‘pit’ or ‘fit.’

‘o’ is always pronounced as a long ‘o,’ like the ‘o’ in ‘pole’ or ‘cobra.’ Never like the short ‘o’ in ‘pot’ or ‘hot.’

‘u’ is always pronounced as ‘oo’ like in ‘pool’ or ‘tool.’ It does not include the ‘y’ sound as in the English ‘putrid’ or ‘cute.’

‘y’ as a vowel has the same sound as the Spanish ‘i,’ that is, like a long ‘e’ in English.

Here is a site that gives pronunciation of the entire Spanish alphabet, with audio examples:

That was pretty simple wasn’t it? The trick is to actually pronounce Spanish words using the Spanish and not the English sounds. For example, let’s take the famous ‘city by the bay,’ San Francisco. We know how it sounds in English, but that’s not how it’s pronounced in Spanish. ‘San’ and ‘Fran’ do NOT rhyme with the Tom Hank’s ‘pan’ or ‘can.’ It rhymes with ‘on’ and ‘gone.’ ‘cisco’ doesn’t rhyme with ‘disco’ but with ‘fleese-co.’ It takes getting used to. Practice, practice, practice.

Tip #2, stress: Spanish words tend to be longer and have more syllables than English words. Every word will have one syllable stressed/emphasized. Most often it is the next to the last syllable. ‘Burrito’ and ‘Enchilada’ are good examples. For an explanation of the exceptions, check out this site:

If you work on those two sites and get it down, you will be able to pick up any book in Spanish and read it aloud to Spanish speakers and they will believe you speak Spanish until question and answer time comes. By then you should have had time to locate the nearest exit…

It looks like I’m going to need one more installment to cover the rest of what I want to cover. You won’t really know any more Spanish after I’m done, but you will have a framework on which to build your vocabulary and grammar. Until then… (hasta luego)

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