I want to write a software program that will "Americanize" the pronunciation of Spanish text (using Mexican pronunciation) so that it is easier for English speakers learning Spanish to be reminded of how to pronounce the words.

For many letters (b, d, f, etc.) no changes are needed.

For others (vowels, for instance) the equivalent sound is consistent.

But in a couple of cases, the letter can be pronounced differently (c and g).

Here is what I have in mind (remember, Mexican pronunciation of Spanish is what I'm looking for):

a = ah
c = ? (s or k)
e = a
g = ? (g or h)
h = [silent - nothing]
i = ee
j = h
ll = y
ñ = ny
u = oo
q = k
y = ee (if standalone, as in " y ")
z = s

Are there any rules I could build into the software that would enable me to know when "c" is to be pronounced as "s" and when as "k"?

Similary, are there any rules I could build into the software that would enable me to know when "g" is to be pronounced as "g" and when as "h"?

Some time later, I wrote a programming tip that incorporates some of this knowledge in A Snippet that Transforms Spanish Text into Simple American English Phonetics.

  • 1
    Note that when S or Z appears before a voiced consonant, it will become voiced. Other than that, your table looks good. Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 19:31
  • Spanish is Spanish and the major differences in pronunciation are: Iberian Spanish, Latin American Spanish (in general) and Cono Sur. There is no such thing as "Mexican pronunciation"; only vocabulary and usage. And I doubt this is a good idea, anyway. This question is not about Spanish. It's about English spelling for Spanish spelling. And there is no such thing a simple American English phonetics at all. Finally, the main issue for Americans is over aspiration of vowels.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 26, 2023 at 15:58

7 Answers 7


When a C or G is followed by either an I or E, then the pronunciation changes.

Ga - gah

Ge - heh

Gi - hee

Go - goh

Gu - goo

and.. c

Ca - Kah

Ce - Say

Ci - See

Co - Koh

Cu - Koo

This can present a problem when a new Spanish learner is trying to spell.. If you are looking to create the sounds Gay and Ghee, then you will need a u

Gue - Gay

Gui - Ghee

The letter C will require the use of Qu

Que - Kay

Qui - Kee

Additionally, if you want to actually pronounce the u, then you need only put a dieresis as Emilio pointed out in the comments.

Güe - Gooway

Güi - Goowee

and C

Qüe - Kooway

Qüi - Koowee

In the end, you have a table like this to use as a cheat sheet.

 - Ca = Ca
 - Que = Ke 
 - ( Ce = Se ) <-- same in English
 - Qui = Ki
 - ( Ci = Si ) <-- same in English
 - Co = Co
 - Cu = Cu

 - Ga
 - Gay ( or Güe = Gway ) or ( Ge = Heh )
 - Gui ( or Güi = Gwee ) or ( Gi = He  )
 - Go
 - Gu
  • and there is the Diéresis like pingüinos Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 16:56
  • And I recall that sometimes "g" is pronounced as "w" as in "agua = ah-wah" Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 16:57
  • but the diérisis is in the case you want to pronounce like w but in the güe and güi in spanish agua always sound like awa, the diferent with gue and gui Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 17:00
  • 3
    I'm sorry but all those gah, gey, ghea, hee, ... are totally confusing. Even knowing the rules, I don't really understand your answer. Why don't try something like "When C is followed by A, O or U, it's /k/[correct IPA-I don't know it] as in [English example word here with very similar or identical pronunciation]." Put this four times (C+I,E;G+A,O,U;G+I,E), add the 'exceptions'. Eventually, give Spanish examples. "Cocina", eg, has both pronunciations.
    – Em1
    Commented Jun 6, 2014 at 7:59
  • 3
    I also want to mention that I don't know any word in spanish that uses qüe or qüi. If you want to pronounce c sound with ui, you write cui, not qüi (the same with cue). e.g. cuidado, cuello
    – itziki
    Commented Jul 28, 2014 at 13:56

When C is followed by A, O or U, the C is pronounced as [k], similar to English k in key [ki].

Example: casa [ˈkasa] (velar) or quiero [ˈkjeɾo] (palatal)

When C is followed by E or I, the C is pronounced as [θ], similar to English th in think [θɪŋk].

Example: cebolla [θeˈβoʎa]

When G is followed by A, O or U, the G is pronounced as [ɣ]. In the beginning of a word or after N the G is pronounced as [g].1 It's similar to English g in guitar [ɡɪˈtɑr].

Example: pagar [paˈɣar] or gafas [ˈgafas]

When G is followed by E or I, the G is pronounced as [x]. This is identical to the letter J. I don't know an English example but if you're familiar with German, it's similar to the pronunciation of ch in Bach [baχ].

Example: general [xeneˈɾal] or [χeneˈɾal]

If there's a U between G and E or I, respectively, the pronunciation is [g]. The U is not pronounced.

Example: guerra [ˈgera] or guitarra [giˈtara]

If the U should be pronounced as well, it is written Ü. It does not affect the pronunciation of G further and the rules given above are applied.

Example: lingüística [liŋˈgwistika]

Note, in some regions the pronunciation may differ.

Velar: formed with the back of the tongue touching or near the soft palate
Palatal: formed with some part of the tongue near or touching the hard palate posterior to the teethridge

1 Note that [ɣ] and [g] are allophones. The differences is too little to be distinguishable and you can consider them to be phonemically the same. An Example in English would be the t sound in hit, tip and little.

  • I'm neither a native speaker nor expert in the studies of pronunciation. I just summarized what I learned and gathered further information to provide IPA. It might still be incomplete or even flawed, so at all native speakers: let me know of any issues so that I can fix it.
    – Em1
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 11:05
  • You can provide IPA any time; Anderson Valley/Booneville Brewing or Lagunitas preferred. Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 15:12
  • @Em1 : Good answer, but the IPA for a trill (rr or initial/final r) is [r]. The flap (intervocal -r-) is [ɾ]. Also, few English speakers would pronounce guitar with [r], rather instead the ar would be [ɑ˞] or [aɹ]. (the a may be lengthened or not, and may have other realizations by dialect). Only Indian, Scottish, and Welsh English will do a flap/trill instead of a alveolar approximate or rhoticization. Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 7:18
  • @guifa So, it's [ˈgera] and [giˈtara]? Did I get that right?
    – Em1
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 7:32
  • @Em1 Yup! Also (because I know it's hard to see these when you're editing because of the default fonts) it'll be [xeneˈɾal] or [χene'ɾal] for general. Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 7:49

Here's everything presented in a table (/x/ may be realized as [χ], [x] or [h] depending on dialect, and /g/ may be [g] or [ɣ] depending on position).

│     ║   A   │   E   │   I   │   O   │   U   │
│ J   ║  xa   │  xe   │  xi   │  xo   │  xu   │
│ G   ║  ga   │  xe   │  xi   │  go   │  gu   │
│ GU  ║  gwa  │  ge   │  gi   │  gwo  │  gwu* │
│ GÜ  ║   —   │  gwe  │  gwi  │   —   │   —   │
│     ║       │       │       │       │       │
│ Z   ║ θa/sa │   —⁑  │   —⁑  │ θo/so │ θu/su │
│ C   ║  ka   │ θe/se │ θi/si │  ko   │  ku   │
│ QU  ║   —   │  ke   │  ki   │   —   │   —   │

(*) Hypothetical, I don't know any words in Spanish that have -guu-, but there may be one or two out there.
(⁑) Imported words maintaining their original orthography can use ze, zi, but pronouncing them as ce/ci.

Notice how the E/I columns appear to be shifted down a row, with je/ji being completely redudant in modern Spanish


Pronunciation rules in Spanish are very consistent.

Letter “C” has three different sounds, depending which letter comes next.

  1. Before E and I, it sounds SSS, like in Celsius, Civil
  2. Before H, sounds like Chalk, Challenge.
  3. Before anything else, like K.

Likewise, letter “G” has consistent rules:

  1. Before E and I, sounds like Him, Her.
  2. Before anything else, like Goat, Gun.
  • You forgot Ü.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 15:45
  • 1
    @Flimzy No, ü is included; read again: "Before anything else, like Goat, Gun".
    – multiculti
    Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 20:27
  • 1) Goat and Gun are not Spanish words, so they don't really apply. 2) You still didn't address ü.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Jun 15, 2014 at 20:00
  • Wrong. In dialects with the ceceo C before E or I does not sound like an English S. (And, for that matter, an S in those same dialects often does not sound like an English S.) Moreover, G before E or I does not sound the same as an English H. Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 0:27
  • @MichaelWolf - First, I wonder if you can find a more respectful way to disagree? Second, OP specifically said Mexican pronunciation. Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 19:24

Yes, they are pronounced as follows (for seseo speakers replace the /θ/ with /s/):

enter image description here


** qua, quo only appear in some set Latin phrases and unnativised English loanwords:

  • exequatur, nequaquam, quadrivium, quater, sine qua non
  • quad, quark, quasar, squash

* gwo, cuo very rare:

  • aguosidad, aguoso, ambiguo, antiguo, contiguo, exiguo, languor, pinguosidad, santiguo

* ze, zi very rare, mostly loanwords. The majority have doublets with ce, ci orthography.


It's very simple.

K sounds [like cat] are:

  1. Ca = Kah
  2. Que = Keh (The U is silent)
  3. Qui = Kee (Silent U)
  4. Co = Kow
  5. Cu = Koo

S sounds [like sun]:

  1. Ce = Security
  2. Ci = Seal

Th sounds [like thor] [ONLY in spain]:

  1. Ce = Theh
  2. Ci = Thee

G [like garlic] sounds are:

  1. Ga = Gah
  2. Gue = Ghe (like Spaghetti)
  3. Gui = like GIMP
  4. Go = Goh
  5. Gu = Goo
  6. Güe = Here you do pronounce the U
  7. Güi = Here to like in Penguin

And the letter Y is pronounced as J when followed by vowels for example:

  1. yuca = Joo-kah
  2. cayo = kah-joh

and other cases as EE:

  1. Carey = Kah-rey

Note: Someone said that G is pronounced as W, yes, but that's because sometimes spanish speakers hear diptong with U and GU as the same sound, we can hear the difference but when speaking we don't notice that.

  1. GÜEVO [incorrect spelling] and HUEVO [correct spelling] can be pronounced both WE and GÜE but the "right" one.
  • missing Diéresis ü Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 0:52

The rules for the pronounciation of C and G are both consistent. When C occurs before I and E, it makes the [s] sound or the [th] sound depending on dialect. ex: "Cero" pronounced "se-roh" or "the-roh". For the [k] sound, you write C i most cases except before I or E where you use Qu instead since using C would create confusion since it represents a different sound in those cases and Qu is always consistent (ex: Queso pronounced "keh-soh"). As to why we don't Qu before A, O or U is probably because, it produces a [kw] sound in those cases instead of a plain [k] sound. For the [kw] sound, you write "Cu" (ex: Cuidado pronounced "cwi-dahdoh").In all other cases, it's pronounced [k], ex: "Claro" pronounced "clah-roh". When it is followed by H, it creates the "ch" sound as in English (ex: Concha pronounced "con-chah"). For the [th] sound, you use C before I and E and Z in all other cases (ex: Zapato pronounced "thahpahtoh" and Cena pronounced "thehnah"). Similarly, G always sounds like a [g] in most cases (ex: Gancho pronounce "gan-choh") except before I and E when it makes the [x] sound (ex:Ecología pronounced "ecoh-lohhia). In those cases, it sounds like a J. Unfortunately, there is no rule when to use G and when to use J. But to make things simpler, we could probably use J only before A, O and U and G for that sound before I and E just like we make a rule for the C vs Qu vs Z distinction. Jincho and Coraje could really be spelled "Gincho" and "Corage" respectively since J before those vowels is redundant. Hope this helps!

  • That does not seem to add anything to the current answers. Can you edit to say what you think it brings to the site?
    – mdewey
    Commented Nov 26, 2023 at 14:22
  • 1
    @mdewey While it may not bring anything to the site, it still clearly explains the rules of Spanish pronounciation/spelling Commented Nov 26, 2023 at 18:43

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