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Lesson Transcript


JP: Hello everyone and welcome! You’re listening to Pronunciation Series. This is Lesson 2 and this is JP.
Fernando: Hola a todos, soy Fernando. Last week in Lesson 1, we talked about the five vowels in Spanish.
JP: [a], [e], [i], [o], [u]
Fernando: We also talked about the sounds in Spanish that are similar to the sounds in English.
JP: Right and there were a lot of them.
Fernando: Today, we’re gonna talk about another set of sounds. We’re going to talk about the sounds in Spanish that are slightly different in Spanish than in English.
JP: Okay. Now Fernando, you’re Mexican, so are the sounds we’ll talk about today going to be especially Mexican?
Fernando: I am Mexican, but what you’ll hear today is going to hold true for standard Spanish all over the Spanish-speaking world, including Mexico, Spain, the Carribean, Central and South America. Shall we get started?
JP: Okay.
JP: What do we got first?

Lesson focus

Fernando: Let’s start with b/de burro, which is the English letter “b.” So, for example, el burro.
JP: El burro. Now, that’s “the donkey,” el burro. So, when you have la b that starts a word, you get exactly the same “b” sound as in English. I think in Spain, they call that la b de Barcelona, right? “B as in Barcelona.” Now, the trick about la be de burro is that most of the time, it doesn’t start a word. Most of the time, you find la b between vowels. And when it’s between vowels, it’s pronounced as a bilabial fricative which is a sound we don’t make in English. So, to make the bilabial fricative, try making the English “v” sound, but use your two lips, instead of your lips and your teeth, right? So, /b/.
Fernando: So, when you say tomaba or estaba and you pronounce that [b], it’s not the hard [b] as burro or Barcelona. Listen, tomaba, estaba.
JP: Okay, tomaba, right?
Fernando: Yes.
JP: /b/. Okay, so what’s the next sound?
Fernando: Next is la v, v de vaca.
JP: Okay, v de vaca, this is like the English letter “v” as in victory. Now, for the vast majority of Spanish speakers, v/de vaca does not make the English “v” sound. Instead, it sounds exactly like b/de burro. This means that it makes the same hard [b] sound at the beginning of a word like vamos and it makes that same soft bilabial fricative when it’s between two vowels like cava or lavar. Now, for some reason, it’s hard for people to believe that b/de burro and v/de vaca make exactly the same sound.
Fernando: For me, they’re different, JP. I say [b] and [v].
JP: I was just gonna say, usually when I meet people that makes separate [b] and [v] sounds, I usually ask if they grew up in LA.
Fernando: Well, I’m from LA.
JP: Yeah, I know. There’s also people who pronounce b/de burro and v/de vaca exactly the same way except they pronounce them both as [v], so they’d say “vurro” or “Varcelona.”
Fernando: Really?
JP: Oh, yeah, yeah. I usually ask them if they’re from Chile.
Fernando: Is that a Chilango thing?
JP: I think it is, but you never know, I could be wrong. Actually, it’s kind of hard to get to the bottom of this because there are a lot of times when Spanish speakers don’t perceive the difference between [b] and [v] that we hear as Americans. You know, it kind of all sounds the same them. If you ask a Spanish speaker, do you say [v], all the time? They’d answer, yeah, I say [b] all the time, so what? Right? ‘Cause it sound the same. Anyway, the only time Spanish speakers really have to care about whether something is b/de burro or v/de vaca is when they’re spelling, which is why we’ve been saying b de burro and v de vaca, because that’s really how we tell them apart. What we’re saying is “b” as in burro and a burro is a donkey and everybody knows that burro begins with a “b,” right, with la b. And then we say v/de vaca which is “v” as in vaca which vaca means cow. So, either “b” as in donkey or “v” as in cow. And people really say that, b de burro and v de vaca.
Fernando: Yes. Actually, it’s Mexicans who say b de burro and v de vaca. So when I’m on the phone and I’m giving out my last name, I’ll spell it out O-L-I, V as in victor, A-S.
JP: Okay. So that way, you’re specifying that it’s “v” as in victor.
Fernando: Exactly.
JP: Okay. This is the same phenomenon, right? This is v de vaca means “v” as in victor.
Fernando: Yeah. For example, over the phone in Mexico or in a Spanish-speaking country, I give out my name, O-L-I, V de vaca, A-S. You’ll also hear belgrade and bechico. Belgrade is the “b” and bechico is the “v.” In Spain, they say [b] for “b” and [uve] for “v.”
JP: Okay. So right, you can see that different regions have different ways of coping with the fact that the “b” and “v” sounds sound exactly the same to them. Unless of course you’re one of those few people that makes a difference between the two.
Fernando: Like me.
JP: Like Fernando. Okay then, what’s the next sound?
Fernando: d, d/de dedo. This si like the English letter “d.”
JP: Here’s the trick to the Spanish [d]. When it starts the word, it’s a hard [d], just like in English, right, for dumb or Dobby, right? Okay. In Spanish, let’s take the word for “Sunday.”
Fernando: Domingo
JP: Domingo or drama, right? Or the word for drug addict…
Fernando: drogadicto
JP: Drogadicto. So that’s when you pronounce the hard “d.” But a lot of the time, you’re gonan get [d] between vowels. And in that case, that [d] is not hard at all. In fact, you should think of it as like a “th” sound like /th/ like in the English word “they” or “whether.”
Fernando: So like todo or mirada. It’s not htat hard “d” that you might expect if you’re an English speaker.
JP: No. In fact, in casual speech, even that /th/ sound gets softer and sometimes, you don’t hear it all, right? So, you can say todo or you hear people say todo, right? Mirada or mirada, right, Fernando?
Fernando: Right!
JP: Okay. What’s next?
Fernando: What we have next is the [x].
JP: Yeah, we talked about the [x] last time that this is the English letter “x” that makes /x/ sound, like in exportar, explorar, extinguir.
Fernando: Right, but what we didn’t talk about is when the [x] makes the [h] sound, like in México, México.
JP: Okay. Why does it do that?
Fernando: In this case, we’re using the [x] to stand for a sound that comes from Nahuatl.
JP: Okay. Nahuatl is the language of the Aztecs and it’s what everyone was speaking before the Spanish came.
Fernando: Right. So that [x] in México is more of a historical [x] than anything else. Finally, the last letter we’re going to look at today is H. The thing about [h] is that it’s never pronounced. It’s totally silent. So, even if a word begins with an [h] like hai, helado, or hierbabuena...
JP: There’s no trace of any “h” sound.
Fernando: Exactly!
JP: Okay, [h] is also a historical letter. In this case, [h] reminds us of the Latin words that these Spanish words derived from.
Fernando: Which is kind of useless if you didn’t study Latin. So in that case, you just have to remember that [h] is silent.


JP: Okay, that’s a lot of material that we covered today. Fernando, is there anything else?
Fernando: No, that’s it for today. We’ll have more in the next lesson though.
JP: We’ll see you in the pronunciation series, Lesson 3. For now, it’s time to go. ¡Hasta luego!
Fernando: ¡Hasta luego! Bye!