h, v, z
- h (hache): the letter h is always silent. So, hola (“hello”) sounds exactly like ola (“wave”).
- v (uve): unlike in english and many other languages, in spanish the letter v must be pronounced exactly like the letter b (bilabial, not labiodental). So, yes: vaca (“cow”) should sound exactly like baca (“roof rack”).
- z (zeta): depending of the dialect, it is pronounced:
- as th in thin (central and northern Spain): voz [boz] (“voice”).
- as s in sin (pretty much everywhere else): voz [bos].
The sound of the letter j may be somewhat familiar to you. It is pronounced:
- like the ch in the Scottish word “loch“.
- like the ch in “yech!” (exclamation of disgust).
If you don’t know how to pronounce it, try this: say the word “key” several times, each time stretching the sound /k/ a bit more:
key, kkkey, kkkkkkkey.
In fact you’d be pronouncing something like:
key, kjjey, kjjjjjjey
That’s because the sounds /k/ and /j/ are articulated in the same place (the soft palate). the difference is that the /k/ sound is produced by obstructing the airflow (and then releasing it), and the /j/ sound is produced by simply constricting it. The less you constrict it, the more it becomes the English /h/ sound (as in hat).
In fact, there are places where the letter j is pronounced precisely as the h in hat. These places are mainly Colombia, Venezuela, all Central America and some areas of Peru, Bolivia and Spain.
Next: The alphabet. Letter ñ and the digraph ll.