Please sign in to post.

Spanish Language Question/Help Me, Spanish Speakers! (LOL, er, at least chuckle)

We're headed to Madrid next spring and I am determined to be able able to speak some passable Spanish beyond hola and adios. The question I have has actually bugged me well before I decided to learn Spanish in the last couple of weeks. My issue/question: it seems to me that the letter "e" actually has two pronunciations--"ay" (as in say) and "eh" (or close, as in get). F'rinstance, the word "de" seems to me to rhyme with "day", but the first two letters of the word "enchilada" seem to be closer to "ehn"chilada than "ayn"chilada. Same with "en" Madrid, etc. It doesn't sound like "ayn" Madrid (as contrasted with "de" ("day"), it sounds more like "ehn" Madrid.

Square me away, por favor! Gracias in advance!

And yes, I know enchiladas are not a Spanish dish. They are a Mexican (an American dish, too, now) dish. I live in the US southwest and the pronunciation of that word has bugged me for a long time.

Posted by
10344 posts

There are several native Spanish speakers who are regulars here, but due to the time difference the ones now in Spain are probably sleeping now, but hopefully they'll see your question tomorrow.

Posted by
3753 posts

First off, you cannot assume consistent pronunciation. We don't have it in English, you can't assume it elsewhere. Also, look at the location of the 'e'. One at the beginning, the other at the end of the word.
Not sure how you are learning, but the verb tables actually help. Boring, but useful. Also, the only time I seemed to retain a language best was Swahili using Pimsleur. You don't see a word written until numerous lessons along. Perhaps ignoring wrotten word for mow will fet you comfortable with pronunciation regardless of spelling? Particularly for adults, feeling comforravle speaking is the hardest. We often rely too much on a book. I know I use it as a crutch.

Posted by
2554 posts

In Spanish there are only five vowels: a,e,i,o,u so no "two 'e' pronunciations", it should be the same all the time.

Note however that Spanish is just one of the languages spoken in Spain. There are four different cultures: Catalan, Galizian, Basque and Spanish, each one with its own language, and even dialects too.

Some of these languages have different "sounds", for example, in Catalan (spoken in Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands) there are eight vowels: a, open e, closed e, neutral e, i, open o, closed o and u. Thus, a native Catalan speaker speaking in Spanish might pronounce e's and o's differently from a native Spanish speaker.

Same goes with, for example, Galizia -where they speak "galego"-... they have seven vowels, and it so happens Madrid if full of residents originally from Galizia, so you might find some "madrileños" that pronounce Spanish rather different from the autochthonous die-hards, so to speak.

Important: for political and historical reasons, language has always been a very delicate subject in this neck of the woods, so make sure you understand that the languages mentioned above are languages on its own right and not dialects or sub-divisions of Spanish so to avoid upsetting locals (and also looking like a fool) if mentioned in a conversation

Aaaanyhow.... regarding Spanish: contrary to some other languages (ie Russian) where a slight variation in pronunciation might yield a completely different meaning or some others (you know who you are!) where native speakers are rather "snooty" --and if you, as a foreigner, don't pronounce "exactly as it's supposed to be" they frown upon you claiming they don't understand--, Spanish is quite flexible and Spanish speakers quite understanding when a non-native speaks this language. What I mean is that you'll be "understood" even if you don't nail it when pronouncing a word.

Posted by
1233 posts

Just pronounce it as a flat e like at in wet or eh? in Yorkshire English. Just as with English, there are different accents, affectations, dialects, and mispronunciations used, but everyone normal will understand eh. The ay sound seems more like the ai or ei diphthongs.

But then I'm not a native speaker.

Posted by
3041 posts

Barring accents, all the vowels in Spanish should be pronounced the same all the time. It’s not the same as in English.
E is pronounced A, like “ay” in say, and I is pronounced E, like “ee” in need.

Posted by
129 posts

OK, this is my "story" (--and I'm sticking to it. LOL) I am listening to/watching a video Spanish course. The "teacher" is a university professor/PhD. The teacher emphatically states that each vowel makes one, and only one, sound. Nonetheless, as I listen, it is very clear to me that "e" AS HE SPEAKS IT has basically two different sounds. Perhaps the most clear example is when the teacher says "ustedes". It clearly comes across as "oo-stehd-ays". Now, neither "e" is quite as "plain" as I've typed it, but, to an English speaker, I've provided the closest approximation to the literal sound as makes sense. The sound of the verb "ser" as he says it is the same. Instead of "sayr", it sounds like "sair". RS's Spanish language book reinforces my point--not that I think RS is an expert Spanish speaker, but, as a conscientious person trying to convey the way to speak the language, RS definitely distinguishes between the "ay" and "eh" sounds of "e" in a large number of words covered in the book. The differences may seem unimportant to a native Spanish speaker, but to someone trying to learn the language, they stick out like a sore thumb.

I am NOT trying to refute or disrespect the native Spanish speakers that have posted here, but, seriously, speak the words, listen carefully to your pronunciation, and then try to tell me that there aren't any differences. Do you say "sair" or "sayr"? Do you say "oo-stay-days" or "oo-stehd--ays"?

FWIW, I have decided that, as one poster told me (his/her post doesn't show now), I'll be understood regardless.

Posted by
1824 posts

The post I deleted was mine, it was quite confusing. Personally I hear a slight difference between 'e' sounds in Spanish depending on stress and surrounding consonants BUT my Spanish grandparents come from near the Portuguese border, so other comments from folks who actually live in Spain made me think the difference I hear must be some Portuguese/Gallego/Asturiano interference. Phonetic transcriptions of Spanish make no difference. And in any case the difference is very slight. Much less noticeable than in French or Portuguese.

Posted by
4556 posts

Willy,

I applaud you for trying to learn Spanish before your upcoming trip!

Learning a new language takes much practice. I’m a Spanish speaker ( from México) and as explained by Enric above, there are slight differences depending where one is from, however,
your teacher is correct when he says that each vowel only has one sound.

The teacher emphatically states that each vowel makes one, and only one, sound. Nonetheless, as I listen, it is very clear to me that "e" AS HE SPEAKS IT has basically two different sounds. Perhaps the most clear example is when the teacher says "ustedes". It clearly comes across as "oo-stehd-ays".

When I say “ustedes”, both “e’s” sound exactly the same. The “e” sounds as in the words “elephant” or “bed”.

When you listen to the word, “ustedes”, is it possible that your teacher is emphasizing the final “s”, and thus you hear a slight difference in the “e” preceding that final “s” ?

BTW, I’ve not experienced any problems understanding, or being understood, while traveling in Spain.

Keep on practicing, and have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
255 posts

I agree with Priscilla. I'm a Spanish speaker too, and there are no differences in how I pronounce the 2 "e" in ustedes, maybe your teacher is emphasizing the sound so everyone understands, or something like that.

And the "ay" sound you refer to doesn't exist in Spanish. If someone asked me to spell ustedes phonetically I would write "us-teh-dehs".

Posted by
4292 posts

I wouldn't worry about the correct pronounciations when in Spain. As Enric has already pointed out, the Spanish are quite laid back when it comes to people fumbling over their attempts and are very accommodating. My Spanish is quite rudimentary and with a heavy English accent yet I've pretty much always been understood.

This is in stark contrast to the two French policemen at Paris Orly airport when asked the directions to the Hertz depot was met with blank expressions, multiple attempts to rephrase the question simply resulted in quizical shrugs until with the demonstation of driving a car, making noises and saying "Hertz" I eventually achieved a reply of "Ah, you mean Hertz (pronounced with a silent H)"! Grrrrr, I was certain they were making it deliberately difficult.

Posted by
1824 posts

That French policeman anecdote made me chuckle... Really not deliberate on their part, even for me, if you ask about Hertz, sounding almost like "hurts", it'll take me a while to realize you're talking about what I call "errts" in my native language.

Posted by
4292 posts

Yes, but surely when in an airport and faced with a clumsy "place de voiture hertz" you'd expect the assumption to be that I'm not looking for place to be hurt by a car!

Posted by
3753 posts

An anecdote. I am a Western Canadian. My exposure to French language training was 2 years at school. One teacher from Germany, another a 'canadian'. When I moved to Ottawa in '93 and started taking French night classes, it took 6 or 7 classes to understand my teacher's verbal French. She was from Quebec. I continued to preserver through classes but the biggest challenge was every class had a teacher from a different country/province. Everything from French Caribbean, French African, Quebec, Franco-Ontarian, New Brunswick (Acadian) and from France. So, if you try a different tape, it might sound different again.
In short, roll with it. Your American accent is going to come through regardless of how you say it, so do your best but don't agonize about any one way to pronounce a word.
Oh, and if it is crucial, like an address, write it down to show people. Or just default to that if communication isn't going well.

Posted by
2114 posts

In Madrid they will have heard all manner of different foreign accents and pronunciations in Spanish, we are very understanding people, in both senses of the word.

Now, I would personally focus on your own comprehension of Peninsular Spanish, be especially prepared for all manner of accents you will find in Spain, a heavy Andalucian accent can be quite difficult to understand for Foreigners, due to the lack of enunciation. I've seen Americans on this forum describe Peninsular Spanish (Castellano) as "Machine Gun Spanish", not sure why though, they should try Chilean Spanish! Lol

Posted by
126 posts

Native Spanish speaker here, the "e" is simply "e". Try to hear the same word in different accents. Maybe is the accent your professor has...? I tried saying ustedes and ser out loud and to me the "e" sounds the same :)

I applaud you for learning another language and try to nail the pronunciation, but don't stress too much about it. I know people you speak to will be glad you're speaking in their native language.

Posted by
129 posts

Thanks all. I DO appreciate your comments. Bottom line for me now--don't worry about it.