Pronouncing the double L in Spanish

One of the most recognizable differences between various kinds of Spanish, is the pronunciation of the double L.

Erin is a new student of Spanish Over Coffee. Last week she sent in an e-mail asking about the pronunciation of the double L in Spanish. She noticed that her instructor, who is from Columbia, did not pronounce these letters the same way she had encountered in other written and spoken examples.

Spanish is spoken in more than 20 different countries around the world by more than 350 million people. Because it is such a widespread language, like English, it does not sound exactly the same everywhere that it is spoken. One of the most recognizable differences between various kinds of Spanish, is the pronunciation of the double L.

Historically, the double L sounded similar to the sound in the middle of the English word “million”. It is still pronounced that way in some rural parts of northeastern Spain. For centuries, this was considered the “correct” and “standard” pronunciation.

By far the most common pronunciation of the double L in modern Spanish is more or less like the English letter “Y”. In fact, for most Spanish speakers, the double L and the letter Y have essentially the same sound.

There are other ways to pronounce the double L. In Argentina and Uruguay especially, these letters often sounds similar to the letter “s” in the middle of the English word “measure”, but a bit softer. In some cases, it may even sound more or less like the “sh” sound in the English word “show”.

Another way to pronounce the double L is what Erin heard. Her teacher pronounced it in a way similar to the letter “g” in the English word “page”.

You will notice that when the sound is being stressed, or shouted, especially at the beginning of a word, it will often sound like the “g” in the word “page”, no matter where in the world you are being shouted at.

So how should Erin (and you) pronounced the double L?

It’s probably best to learn to pronounce a new language the same way as the people that you will speak with. If you are learning English, and planning to speak with people in Western Canada, it wouldn’t make sense to develop a perfect South African, Irish, Texan or Australian accent. It would be best to learn how to speak like someone who lives in Western Canada. On the other hand, if you were moving to New Zealand, it would be much better to pronounce English like a New Zealander.

There is no “correct” accent for everyone in the entire Spanish-speaking world.

The Spanish spoken by Erin’s instructor, is a beautiful and educated form of the language. However, since about one third of the world’s Spanish speakers are Mexicans, it would also be fine to learn Mexican pronunciation.Or Argentine, or Peruvan, or…

The fact is, no matter who you learn from, they will speak Spanish better than you, so you can’t go wrong if you follow their example. And the good news is that no matter what kind of Spanish you learn to imitate, you will be understood around the world.

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