2. The Spanish Vowels

I. OVERVIEW OF THE SPANISH VOWELS

In this chapter we present the five Spanish vowels.  The correct articulation of vowels is essential to achieve accurate or native-like pronunciation.  Unlike in English, the pronunciation of vowels in Spanish is relatively stable across dialects of all regions.  Therefore, what you will learn here applies to any variety of Spanish that you speak.

In this chapter you will:

  • Review how the five vowels are pronounced in Spanish
  • Practice your ability to perceive Spanish vowels
  • Be able to produce Spanish vowels in context

Vowels are an essential element of all languages.  This is also the case of Spanish.  In phonetics, we describe a vowel as a sound that, different from consonants, is articulated without any obstruction in the oral cavity or mouth.


It is important that you understand what you have learned so far.  Please take this quiz before continuing:

II. THE LETTER A

In Spanish, the A is a low central vowel, meaning that the when articulating this sound the tongue is low on a vertical axis and in the middle on a horizontal axis.  Its sound is similar to the “a” in “father;”  not like in “cat,”  “blame,” or “bad.”

 


Let’s now do a contrastive analysis of the English and Spanish “A” in context.  Remember, the letter “A” sounds the same in all contexts.  Listen and repeat these words after the speakers.


ATTENTION: Spanish vowels are TENSE, SHORT, and ABRUPT… and the schwa DOES NOT EXIST!


English Spanish
Transaction Transacción
Bank Banco
Actor Actor
Spanish Español
Access Acceso
Radio Radio
Attention Atención
Mamma Mamá

LET’S PRACTICE!  Repeat these words and phrases after the speaker.

Finanzas
Aval
Amalia trabajaba en una compañía para administrar empresas
Marta amaba a su marido mas el marido amaba a otra
Abraham agarraba plantas en el rancho de su papá
La mamá trabajaba en la fábrica de La Laguna
María hablaba varias lenguas raras cada día en la mañana

Self Analysis Activity

El área del Atacama es una gran atracción para las personas que acaban visitando esa maravilla de América Latina.  La amiga Amada contaba muchas cosas asombrosas al regresar de esa jornada.  Trabajar allá sería fascinante para las personas interesadas en la naturaleza.  Vamos a Atacama.

Listen to your recording and answer the following questions.  Answers will auto-save every 10 seconds.

 

II. THE LETTER E

In Spanish, the E is a mid front vowel, meaning that when articulating this sound the tongue is in the middle on a vertical axis and in the front on a horizontal axis.  Its sound is similar to the “e” in “wrench;”  not like in “hey” or “Pete.”

 

 


Let’s now do a contrastive analysis of the English and Spanish “E” in context.  Remember, the letter “E” sounds the same in all contexts.  Listen and repeat these words after the speakers.


ATTENTION: Feel the tension in your face when you pronounce the “E.” 

English Spanish
Net benefit Beneficio neto
Exports Exportaciones
Letter Letra
Telephone Teléfono
Rest Resto
Super Súper
Mexico México
Excellent Excelente
Eminent Eminente

LET’S PRACTICE!  Repeat these words after the speaker.

Empleador
Empresario
Pelele
Tema
Lema
Cafetería
Café
Mente

Self Analysis Activity

— El banquero requería que el empleado atendiera bien al cliente.
— En el elevador estaré solamente un segundo pues tengo temor de los espacios cerrados.
— Efectivamente, ese herrero es reteque mediocre.
— Tememos a aquellos que tienen la tendencia a ensoberbecerse con semejante estupidez.
— La condescendencia del maestro con sus estudiantes era verdaderamente un elogio.

Listen to your recording and answer the following questions.  Answers will auto-save every 10 seconds..

 

III. THE LETTER I

In Spanish, the I is a high front vowel, meaning that when articulating this sound the tongue is high on a vertical axis and in the front on a horizontal axis.  Its sound is similar to the “i” in “unique;”  not like in “bit” or “bite.”

 


Let’s now do a contrastive analysis of the English and Spanish “I” in context.  Remember, the letter “I” sounds the same in all contexts.  Listen and repeat these words after the speakers.


ATTENTION: The likelihood of pronouncing the Spanish “I” like a schwa is the highest among all vowels.  Beware!  

English Spanish
Interests Intereses
Industry Industria
Crime Crimen
Family Familia
Delicious Delicioso
Thesis Tesis
Important Importante
Unique Único

LET’S PRACTICE!  Repeat these words after the speaker.

Importaciones
Salario mínimo
Iridiscente
Mistificación
Ilegítimo
Minimizar
Ritual
Inteligentísimo
Importantísimo

Self Analysis Activity

 

 

— Emilia estudió contabilidad para medir el rendimiento de las compañías.
— Iris se hirió ininterrumpidamente.
— El sentimentalismo lo hizo increíblemente inútil y ni siquiera vivir podía.
— El vitivinicultor de California insistió en que hiciéramos un recorrido por la isla invadida de                         hormigas.
— Miriam reía ininterrumpidamente.

Listen to your recording and answer the following questions.  Answers will auto-save every 10 seconds.d.

 

 

IV. THE LETTER O

In Spanish, the O is a mid back vowel, meaning that when articulating this sound the tongue is in the middle on a vertical axis and in the back on a horizontal axis.  Its sound is similar to the “o” in “more;”  not like in “Bob,” “done,” or “hope.”

 


Let’s now do a contrastive analysis of the English and Spanish “O” in context.  Remember, the letter “O” sounds the same in all contexts.  Listen and repeat these words after the speakers.


ATTENTION: Don’t utter lazy or glidy o’s.  Spanish o’s are tense and non-glidy!

English Spanish
Opportunity Oportunidad
Operation Operación
Other Otro
Telephone Teléfono
Chocolate Chocolate
Impossible Imposible
Positive Positivo
Actor Actor

LET’S PRACTICE!  Repeat these words after the speaker.

Comercio
Electrónico
Ocho
Colmena
Ordenador
Cocina
Dinero
Horóscopo
Tropezó

Self Analysis Activity

— Los bonos del Banco del Ahorro solucionaron los problemas de Poncho.
— Hubo en el zoológico un robo de lobos.
— Fue horroroso por los estragos que ocasionaron.
— No se oyó nada en los noticieros pero los amigos de mi primo lo comentaron.
— Ahora van a poner protección para los zorros.
— Qué cosas ocurren en el mundo

Listen to your recording and answer the following questions.  Answers will auto-save every 10 seconds.

V. THE LETTER U

In Spanish, the U is a high back vowel, meaning that when articulating this sound the tongue is high on a vertical axis and in the back on a horizontal axis.  Its sound is similar to the “u” in “moo;”  not like in “university,” “burp,” or “but.”

 


Let’s now do a contrastive analysis of the English and Spanish “U” in context.  Remember, the letter “U” sounds the same in all contexts.  Listen and repeat these words after the speakers.


ATTENTION: The likelihood of pronouncing the Spanish “U” as “ew” is high.  Beware!  

English Spanish
Subcontractor Subcontratista
Mutual funds Fondos mutuales
Ultimate Último
Much Mucho
Nocturnal Nocturno
Institution Institución
Duke Duque
June Junio
Consultation Consulta
University Universidad

LET’S PRACTICE!  Repeat these words after the speaker.

Usufructo
Urna
Húmedo
Camuflage
Uruchurtu
Rumbo
Ruta
Amuleto

Self Analysis Activity

— Uruchurtu superaba el umbral y por eso tuvo que pagar muchos impuestos.
— Unos estudiantes tuvieron dificultades con el subjuntivo.
— Algunos otros estudiaron mucho y pudieron superar la prueba durante las últimas semanas.
— Pero en el último grupo el profesor Ugarteburu supo luchar para superar la cuestión.
— La última semana hubo muchas menos situaciones turbias en tus rumbos.

Listen to your recording and answer the following questions.  Answers will auto-save every 10 seconds..

 

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I'm All Ears by Jorge González Casanova is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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