The letter G is probably the least favourite letter for English speakers of Spanish. There are two reasons for this; one is that it represents a sound that doesn’t exist in the English language,
so therefore is a bit hard for us to grapple with, and the other is that it is one of the few letters that has more than one pronunciation depending on where it appears in the word. Having said that, it’s really not that scary, we just have to remember a few basic principles.
First of all, the rule about the two sounds, which is very similar to the letter C rule. Here it is: if the G is followed by the vowels “e” or “i”, it is pronounced like a noisy, throaty “h”. The sound is the same as the Scottish pronunciation of “loch”. Now this is hard for a lot of people, but there is some leeway. The important thing to remember is that this sound is made in the throat. If you put your hand to your throat and say “loch” the Scottish way, you should actually feel the movement there. If you find it hard to produce a sound with that much friction, then notice that the English “h” sound is produced in almost exactly the same place. If you can manage a sound anywhere between the English “h” and the Spanish “ge” or “gi”, you’ll be fine. Even the Spanish themselves vary this sound slightly from the full strong sound to a lighter, almost “h” sound, depending on the area they come from and other factors. This sound appears in words like gente (people) and girasol (sunflower).
If the letter G appears before any other letter, the sound is similar to the English “g” (as in goat), although rather lighter. At the beginning of a word, for example, gafas (glasses) it is very close to the hard English “g”, whereas in the middle of a word such as agua (water) it is much lighter, and in some accents disappears completely giving us a sound a bit like “awa”.
Well, having thoroughly confused you all regarding the pronunciation of the letter G, let’s move boldly forward and look at some similar words between our two languages beginning with G. Amongst many we have: garantía (guarantee), gas (gas), general (general), gol (goal), gradual (gradual), grupo (group). Out of these examples, you will see that only one makes the throaty “h” sound, and that is general.
Here are a couple of “estranged cousins”; that is words that are similar in both languages but different in meaning. The Spanish word guardar means “to keep” or “to put away” rather than “to guard” which is vigilar. Likewise the Spanish word grabar means “to record” and not “to grab” which is agarrar.
A very common word in Spanish beginning with G is that lovely word guapo meaning handsome, or guapa pretty. The Spanish use these words for much more than just describing someone’s physical attributes. Guapo or Guapa may be called out to someone who is performing on stage, or in the bullring, to encourage them in their performance. It might be said on the street to a stranger. These sort of compliments to strangers have a name in Spanish – “el piropo”, which is part of the “latin” culture. We also use these words just to be nice to people we know. I have a friend who always answers with “¡Hola Guapa!” when I phone her on her mobile. Maybe she thinks I’m particularly pretty, or maybe she says it to everyone; I’m not sure! Going back to pronunciation just for a minute – the “gu” combination at the beginning of a word does in fact make for a very light sound, so guapo almost sounds like “wapo”. That is how it is spelt in Spanish texting – although we really don’t want to go there!
Well, if you’ve got this far and are still with me, I’ve got a very nice little saying for you containing a G word. It is “sobre gustos no hay nada escrito”. The literal translation is: “About tastes there is nothing written” or in other words: “There’s no accounting for taste” and I think we can all agree with that!
Jane Cronin, Spanish classes and talks.
www.janecronin.eu Tel: 968 18 32 58