///Nasals & Palatals in Spanish

A./n/ in Spanish

Spanish /n/ differs from English n in that it is usually produced against the back of the upper teeth, instead of on the gum ridge above the teeth. In this respect it is similar to Spanish /t/ and / d/. The correct articulation of /n/is not too difficult for English speakers, but there are a couple of combinations of /n/ plus another consonant that create problems.

The cluster /nt/ in Spanish

Listen, Read & Repeat

The close yoking of /nt/ in English in words like the ones above, especially when not pronounced slowly and in expressions like 'I wanta', does not happen in the pronunciation of Spanish /nt/ where the /n/ is clearly resonated through the nose before the /t/ begins.

B. and in Spanish

Speakers from practically all dialect areas can, when they try, make a difference between forms with and those with . It seems, however, that this difference is unimportant from the point of view of its limited usefulness, since the distinction is frequently obscured at normal utterance speed. It is somewhat like the difference between medial tt and dd after stress in words like shutter and shudder: the difference is there, and we can make it if we try to, but we usually do not. In the hierarchy of importance of the various details of learning Spanish pronunciation, this is one of the last.

English , and Spanish , Spanish

Listen, Read & Repeat

The English and Spanish pronunciations of /n/ and /y/ together (columns 2 and 4) do not sound alike largely because in English, the syllable division is after the /n/, but in Spanish it is before the /n/. Column 3 really hardly needs to be given except that purists would be uncomfortable if we failed to indicate that the contrast can be, and sometimes is, made.

C.in Spanish

English and Spanish

Listen, Read & Repeat

The preceding lists are not so much for dri1l as for i1lustration of an important and widespread dialect difference. To distinguish the important dialect difference, the [l] of the forms in column four is placed in parenthesis,,since it drops in all dialects except in some parts of Castile in Spain, in upland Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, and a few other areas. In most of these dialects the minimal difference between [ly] and (the similar forms in columns 3 and 4) can be made, but has the same limited usefulness as the - distinction. For all the other dialect areas, the similar forms of columns 4 and 5 are not distinguished; both have the [y] variant of /y/, described below.

D./y/ in Spanish

/y/ has two variants which are obvious to the English ear because they are like two entirely separate sounds in English. We write these variants with [y] for the one that is the y's of yea, yes, bay, bur, yacht, etc, and with [y] for the one that varies a1l the way from [y] to (J) as in judge. In the English words below, either of the two words on each line begins with a sound that is equally likely to occur in the Spanish items of the right-hand column.

English y and j and Spanish [y]

Listen, Read & Repeat

In Spanish these are variants of the same sound. It often puzzles an English speaker to hear both variants because he does not know which one to imitate. Actually both Spanish variant may be used by a single speaker. The significant difference in English is no longer significant, and you must learn to ignore it.

Not all /y/'s in Spanish can be pronounced both ways: only those which are syllable initial, and especially those which are utterance initial. Another way of saying this is that Spanish [y] will appear at the end of a word or before or after consonants within a word, pretty much like the English y. In other positions the Spanish /y/ varies from a /y/, to sounds English speakers would interpret as the z in azure or the j of judge. As you have probably noticed, we have transcribed this latter variant as /y/, to distinguish it from the /y/ which cannot be pronounced like English j.


There are, be it admitted other difficulties in the pronunciation of Spanish than those which have been pointed out here. One is the handling of juncture - that is, the way words run together in a sequence. We call attention to this by the way in which we transcribe utterances in the text (without spaces separating words). Another is the problem of pronouncing various unfamiliar consonant sequences like /bw/, /trw/, /yw/ etc. These we are inclined to leave to the correction of the pronunciation of complete phrases as they happen to turn up - not on the assumption that they are less important, but because there are no drills which will help the student learn them except repetition of the utterances themselves. If the student has learned to make all the contrasts described in the foregoing material, and to avoid the most serious pitfalls that have also been described, he is well on his way toward accurate pronunciation of Spanish and should find that mastery of the utterances comes much easier than it otherwise would.

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