Spanish pronunciation: Getting your diphthongs right

by Alison Maciejewski
May 13, 2021
friends practising their Spanish pronunciation: Getting your diphthongs right

Spanish diphthongs are two-vowel combinations that have special pronunciation. To say them correctly according to Spanish pronunciation rules, you need to blend the sounds together into a single syllable. We’ve already discussed how to master the 5 vowel sounds in Spanish. Now here is a Spanish pronunciation guide to getting your diphthongs right.

Diphthongs in English

According to Wikiversity, the word diphthong comes from the Greek language meaning “two voices” or “two sounds”. Two vowel sounds are converted into a single syllable. Let’s look at examples of English diphthongs first. 

  • English dipthong EA – great. EA here makes one long-A sound, like in the word ‘slate’ or ‘fate’.
  • English dipthong AI – Thai. AI here makes one long-I sound, like in ‘alive’, ‘buy’, and ‘fire’.

Spanish diphthongs pronunciation

To avoid common errors in Spanish pronunciation for dipthongs in Spanish, it helps to classify vowel sounds into two groups. 

  • Strong vowels: A, E, O
  • Weak vowels: I, U

Strong vowels are dominant in a Spanish dipthong. They decide the main sound of the syllable. Weak vowels compliment the strong vowel sound. Two weak vowels together also make a dipthong. Two strong vowels together do not combine into a dipthong. They maintain a two-syllable pronunciation. 

1. Spanish dipthong: AI

The Spanish dipthong AI says (AY) as in the word ‘I’ referring to myself. It sounds the same as the English word ‘Thai’ or ‘bi-weekly’. Here are examples in Spanish.

2. Spanish dipthong: EI

The Spanish dipthong EI says (EY) as in English words ‘great’ and ‘waist’ and the Spanish word ‘ley’ (law).

3. Spanish dipthong: OI

The Spanish dipthong OI says (OY) as in ‘boy’, ‘coin’, and ‘exploit’. 

  • coincidencia (coyn-see-DEN-sya) – coincidence
  • oigo (OY-go) – I hear (first person singular of oir)

4. Spanish dipthong: UI

The Spanish dipthong UI says (WUY) as in the Spanish word ‘muy’. English doesn’t have an equivalent sound. Try saying ‘gooey’ or ‘buoy’ and shorten it to one syllable as in the English word ‘we’.

  • cuidado (kuy-DAH-doh) – be careful
  • tuit (TWUYT) – tweet, as in a Twitter post

5. Spanish dipthong: AU

The Spanish dipthong AU says (OW) as in ‘ouch’ and ‘flounder’.

  • aunque (OWN-keh) – even though
  • aula (OW-la) – classroom

6. Spanish dipthong: EU

The Spanish dipthong EU says (EOW). There is no equivalent in English but try saying the first half of ‘Beowulf’ in one short syllable. 

  • deuda (DEOW-da) – debt
  • europa (eow-ROH-pah) – Europe

7. Spanish dipthong: IA

The Spanish dipthong IA says (YA) as in ‘yarn’ or saying the first part of ‘Myanmar’ in one short syllable.

  • estudiar (ehs-too-DYAR) – to study
  • infancia (een-FAN-sya) – infancy

Note: A weak vowel is made stronger by adding a tilde or written accent mark in Spanish. The word below has the same ending as above except you can see a tilde on the weak vowel “i” making it stronger. Two strong vowels together are pronounced as two syllables instead of one.

  • carnicería (car-nee-seh-REE-ah) – meat shop/butcher

8. Spanish dipthong: IE

The Spanish dipthong IE says (YE) as in ‘Yemen’ and ‘yell’. 

  • siempre (SYEM-pre) – always 
  • tierra (TYEH-rra) – dirt, land

9. Spanish dipthong: IO

The Spanish dipthong IO says (YO) as in ‘fjord’ or the English pronunciation of the name ‘Bjorn’. 

  • sucio (SOOS-yo) – dirty
  • delicioso (deh-lee-SYO-soh) – delicious

10. Spanish dipthong: IU

The Spanish dipthong IU says (YU) as in the English word ‘you’ and ‘beautiful’.

  • veintiuno (veyn-TYU-no) – twenty-one
  • ciudad (SYU-dahd) – city

11. Spanish dipthong: UA

The Spanish dipthong UA says (WA) as in ‘Washington’ or ‘wallet’. 

  • agua (ah-GWA) – water 
  • guante (WAHN-teh) – glove 

12. Spanish dipthong: UE

The Spanish dipthong UE says (WEH) as in ‘wet’ or ‘twelve’.

  • fuente (FWEHN-teh) – fountain
  • buen día (BWEN DEE-ah) – good day

13. Spanish dipthong: UO

The Spanish dipthong UO says (WOH) as in ‘awoke’ and ‘quote’.

  • individuo (een-dee-VEED-woh) – individual
  • antiguo (ahn-TEE-gwoh) – old

As you read today’s blog post, we encourage you to read aloud. Focus on your Spanish pronunciation rules and use your best Spanish accent. Be sure to bookmark this Spanish vowels list to check on your pronunciation in the future.

Ready to practise pronunciation with a native speaker? Register for a 7-day free trial with Lingoda today. 

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