The alphabet. Letters h, v, z… and j.

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].

j (jota)

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.

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