The pronunciation and written patterns of letter g in Spanish

Getting to know the correct way of pronouncing and using the different written patterns in which letter g is used can be an arduous task for the beginner learner of Spanish.  In my classroom experience I have found that most students can get quite confused about the correct pronunciation of the sounds represented by this letter. Most of their confusion tends to arise from their lack of a detailed knowledge regarding the phonological nature of g.

Letter g possesses three basic sounds: /g/ / γ/ and /x/ – represented here in the International Phonetic Alphabet (API) symbols. It requires a good amount of classroom work for the beginner student to get to correctly use these three sounds.

In general terms, /g/ is used when letter g is found in the written patterns: ga, go, gu, gue, gui, güe, and güi placed in initial positions like in gato, goma, gula, guerra, guiso, güero and güisquil. This sound can also be found in structures where the written patterns we are referring to here are preceded by a consonant sound as in the words ángulo, gorgojo or engalanar.

The sound / γ/ can be found in the written patterns that have been described above -  ga, go, gu, gue, gui, güe, and güi – when they are preceded by a vowel as in the words agarrar, egoísta, cigüeña and gigante.

Letter g is pronounced as /x/ when it is found in the written patterns ge and gi, like in the words gemela, ángel or ingeniero.

The /x/ sound for g as used by Spanish is mainly an unfamiliar sound connected with this letter, as for the majority of speakers of other languages learning Spanish, the phoneme /x/ is applied to other letters. On top of this learners must also come to terms with the sound of letter j in Spanish, which is also/x/.

The triple phonological values of the Spanish g – two of them quite often unknown for beginner learners – and the complexities of the written and sound patterns of the structures, in which they are found, contribute to make the learning of the correct usage of this letter quite difficult, according to my own classroom experience.

Students of the Spanish language at the beginner level need to learn to use these sounds with the help of a professional language teacher or a linguist that can provide them with sufficient oral practice and written exercises of each sound.

Without an early intervention, learners may acquire wrong phonological traits when making use of the sounds of g in their oral language. I have taught many students that even though they may be quite fluent in their spoken Spanish, still do repeatedly improper use of the sounds of this letter.

Getting to master the written patterns of letter g and their accompanying sounds, is without doubt one of the most difficult hurdles that the beginner learner needs to get through in order to be able to become a competent user of spoken and written Spanish.

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About L. A. Pinel

I'm the founder and Director of Tres Culturas Spanish Language Studio, a specialist Spanish language school in Melbourne, Australia. As a teacher of Spanish I view the study of issues about the nature of the Spanish language in particular and of applied linguistics in general with great passion. I’m also an avid language learner, my other languages are Italian, Portuguese and French; at the moment I'm studying Latin and Mandarin Chinese.

Posted on June 25, 2009, in Education, Foreign Language Learning, Language, Language learning, Learning Process, Phonetics & Phonology, Second Language Learning, Spanish, Spanish Language Learning. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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