The letter W is not actually a native Spanish letter. The name of it in the Spanish alphabet is “uvedoble” and the few times it does appear it is pronounced in the same way as the “uve” or V – that is, as a soft B sound. All the words in Spanish containing W are imported words. For example, we have “whisky”, “walkman”, “walki-talki”, and “windsurf” and that’s about the lot! I suppose we could now add to that the commercial name “Windows” which will inevitably sound like “bindows”.
The most surprising W word for us English speakers is “water” which means “toilet”, as in the actual object, rather than what you ask the way to in a restaurant. This comes from “water closet” but the pronunciation sounds totally different in Spanish – something like “vattair”. Of course, with the advent of the World Wide Web, the Spanish are stuck with loads of Ws whenever they have to say their website address. You will hear them on radio and television adverts rushing to get out “uvedoble, uvedoble, uvedoble” as quickly as they possibly can. Sometimes they say “tres uvedobles” and one can almost hear a slightly irritated tone of voice at such an imposition. Well, let’s face it, World Wide Web doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue in English either!
There is a similar sound in Spanish to the English W sound and this is made when other vowels have the letter U in front of them. For example, “jueves” (Thursday); “puedo” (I can); “guapo” (handsome) all sound to English ears as though they contain a W. In the case of words which actually start with this sound you will always find the letter H written at the beginning, as in “huevo” (egg) or “huele” (it smells). Occasionally the letter O is used to the same effect as in the word for “west” which is “oeste”. The difference in sound is really quite subtle, especially to the ears of non-Spanish people.
Even more subtle is the fact that the initial G sound in these combinations practically disappears altogether. This can be illustrated by the way the letter W has crept into “text speak” and by extension onto the graffiti that appears around us occasionally. You may have seen the word “wapo” or “wapa” painted across some wall somewhere, which is the text spelling of “guapo” and “guapa”. Occasionally I have witnessed Spanish children learning English spell the number “one” as “guan”. This looks very incongruous to us, but does actually express the sound the Spanish hear every time we say “one” in English!
Strangely enough, there is one particular name beginning with W which seems to have found its way into Spanish society, and that is “Wenceslao” (as in the good King of the Christmas carol). Although the name is originally Bohemian, there is a small sprinkling of Spanish men called Wenceslao, particularly among the older generation. If your name begins with a W, I’m afraid you have to take the rough with the smooth. Wendy in a Spanish accent sounds more like “Bendy”, whereas William has a good Spanish translation “Guillermo”.
To conclude this letter I’m afraid I have no sayings with W words in them, unless you can think of one that includes whisky and walkmans!
The X is usually pronounced in a similar way to English (a “ks” sound) in words like ‘taxi’, although because of the Spanish tendency to soften consonants when spoken at speed, the X sometimes comes over as more of an S sound, that is, the K part lightens or can even disappear.
There are a few words with X which tend to throw learners of Spanish into confusion and one of these is “connexión” which is the correct spelling of the word meaning “connection”. Most non-Spanish people would probably expect it to be spelt “conección” and therefore end up putting a “th” sound into it somewhere, but this is incorrect. The pronunciation is “coneksion” – in other words, a standard X sound. The same thing happens with the word “complexión”. This word has the additional status of being a “false friend” or “estranged cousin” as it does not mean “complexion” as in quality of skin. “Complexión” means build, as in the shape and size of someone’s body. The correct way of describing a person who is of “medium-build” is “de complexión normal”. You also hear phrases like “de complexión fuerte” (well, or strongly built) “de complexión delgada” (slim built) and so on. Whenever you hear a description of a suspect criminal or escaped prisoner on the news, there is always a reference to his “complexión”.
X is a common letter in the official language of the Valencian region called Valenciano. In this language the X makes an English “sh” sound – a sound incidentally that does not exist in Castilian Spanish. The commonest example is the name of the bank “Caixa” which is pronounced like “kysha”. You can also see it in place names like the Valencian version of Elche, which is Elx, pronounced “elsh”. The X commonly appears in names from a number of Spanish regions where other languages are spoken, for example the name Xavier (a version of the Castilian Javier) exists in Catalan and Galician, whilst Basque names include Xabat, Xabier, Xanti and Xarles.
Another interesting point to note about the X is that it represents “by” or “por” in Maths and also therefore in measurements, so that 2 by 2 is 2 x 2, which is said: “2 por 2”. This is very useful when you are buying floor tiling and the like. From this use of X it has come to represent the word “por” in general texting language, so that “por favor” would be written in texting as “xfa”. Confusing, I know.
Finally, just two words in standard Castilian Spanish that begin with the letter X. These are: “xilófono”, “xenophobia”. I will leave you to work the meanings of these words out for yourselves!