Do you ever wish that you could read Spanish books to your kids? Or maybe you’d like to be able to help your beginning reader with Spanish books but don’t speak the language? I’d love to help!
My husband has never taken any Spanish classes, and had absolutely no idea how to read a Spanish book to our first baby. I’ve been the one speaking and teaching the target language to our (now three!) kids. BUT, he really wanted to be able to help with the Spanish language input somehow, and children’s books were a great start. I taught him some simple pronunciation tricks so that he could read aloud to our kids.
Several years later, I love to brag for him that he’s picked up quite a bit of Spanish! And even though he doesn’t usually know exactly what he’s reading to the kids (especially as the books get longer and have more vocabulary), it sounds like he does! The great thing about children’s books is that the pictures often tell the story – a picture’s worth a thousand words. Early readers often “read” the book by telling the story through the pictures. So, to be able to help your child, or to read simple Spanish books to your child, I’ll let you know some key pronunciation tips.
As English speakers, we are so lucky that Spanish has almost the exact same alphabet as English (plus one letter- ñ). Most consonants also have the same sounds as in English. AND, vowels in Spanish are so much easier- they only have one sound! So let’s start with the vowels. My printable guide includes an alphabet chart with how to say each letter’s name as you teach them to (or practice with) your child!
If you’re wondering where the previous letters “ch” and “ll” are, check out this article.
- A says /ahh/ like on
- E says /ey/ like hey
- I says /ee/ like eel
- O says /oh/ like toe
- U says /ooh/ like too
Because of how straightforward Spanish vowels are, you can already read countless words correctly! Here’s some practice:
El oso va a comer la fruta en su cueva.
Ehl OH-so vah ah coh-MEHR lah FROO-tah ehn soo KWAY-vah. (The bear goes to eat the fruit in his cave.)
Like I said, most consonant sounds are the same as in English, but there are a few differences you’ll want to know.
- H is silent, just ignore it
- J says the /h/ sound
- Ñ says /ny/ like in canyon (the squiggly line is called a tilde)
- R is typically pronounced as a /d/ sound
- V most often sounds like /b/
- And letter Z sounds like /s/
Here’s some more practice:
El hombre busca la jirafa todo el año.
Ehl OHM-bray BOO-scah lah hee-RAH-fah TOH-doh ehl AHN-yoh. (The man looks for the giraffe all year.)
Los zapatos nuevos del hada son azules.
Lohs sah-PAH-tohs NWAY-vohs dehl AH-dah sohn ah-SOO-lehs. (The fairy’s new shoes are blue.)
Now just a few irregular patterns before you’re ready to go! Just like in English, letters g and c have a hard sound with vowels a, o, and u, and followed by e or i they have a soft sound. So ce and ci are /say/ and /see/, BUT soft g is the /h/ sound- ge and gi are /hey/ and /hee/.
When you see the syllables que and qui, you don’t hear the u sound- they are /kay/ and /kee/. And syllables gue and gui are the same (no u sound)- they say /gay/ and /gee/ like geese.
To make the u sound audible, you make it a ü (the two dots are called a dieresis). So the syllable güe is /gway/ and güi is /gwee/. Let’s try a few sentences:
Las cebras son gemelos.
Lahs SAY-brahs sohn hey-MAY-lohs. (The zebras are twins.)
El cine aquí es gigante.
Ehl SEE-nay ah-KEE ehs hee-GAHN-tay. (The movie theater here is giant.)
El guepardo me guiñó!
Ehl GAY-pahr-doh may gee-NYOH! (The cheetah winked at me!)
¿Puedes creer que éste pingüino es bilingüe?
PWAY-days cray-AIR kay EHS-tay peen-GWEE-noh ehs bee-LEEN-gway? (Can you believe that this penguin is bilingual?)
Some silly sentences, but your little ones might read some sillier ones in their children’s books! So there you have it – a start to pronouncing and reading aloud Spanish with your children. I so hope that this guide will be helpful for you or for families that you work with! Please grab the printable guide I made here and use it as you read with your little ones.