Having dealt with the “bilabials” /m/, /p/, and /b/, we now work our way back in the mouth – to our next three consonants /f/, /t/, and /d/.
As a consonant, /f/ is in a group of its own. Make the sound “fffffff”, and feel the position of your mouth. You should have your top teeth against your lower lip. /f/ is known as a “labio-dental” – meaning that a combination of lips and teeth are used to produce the sound.
Fortunately for us, this is one of the easier consonants to learn. If you are a native English speaker, there are no differences between Spanish /f/ and English /f/, and the rules for spelling are consistent as well. The sound /f/ is only represented by the letter “f”. Pretty easy, right?
Listen to the following words, which use the sound /f/:
What to avoid
In English, we have the occasional tendency to make the letter “f” sound like /v/, as in the word “of”. We might be tempted to pronounce the word “gafas” as “gavas”.
One way to avoid this is to imagine that the Spanish letter “f” always represents “ff” – as in “off”. This will ensure that we use the right sound, and don’t revert to the “v” sound.
Tap the tongue against the back of the top teeth, and repeat this:Now do the same, saying the word “tonto”: Now, try these other words with /t/:
You may find that last word, “triste”, a little tougher to pronounce. This is because it’s a Spanish rolled /r/ sound, and is also in combination with another consonant – making it doubly difficult. We’ll deal with the rolled “r” sound later in the course, along with all of these difficulties!
To get used to the mouth position of /d/, we’ll use a similar exercise as for /t/. Listen to these exercises, and do them whenever you have a spare moment (we suggest doing them when no one else is around!). Feel your tongue tapping against the back of your upper teeth – slightly further forward than we do in our English /t/:
Now listen to and repeat these words, ensuring that the /d/ sound is produced as a “dental” sound:
Listen and repeat
It’s also used when the letter “d” comes at the end of the word (in fact in some accents it can disappear entirely):
We’ll look at this phenomenon more later in the course (these variations are known as “allophones”), when we find out exactly where and when these sounds are used.
In the next chapter, we’ll look at the consonants /s/, /n/, and /l/.