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Home› Languages› Spanish› Written Language› Graphemes


The Symbols of an Alphabetic Writing System  Graphemes are the symbols of an alphabetic writing system (Fromkin, Rodman & Hyams, 2003). To learn to read in all languages is to learn how the writing system represents language; the writing system is the basic tool for literacy. However, writing systems vary from one language to another.

Romance languages such as Spanish have alphabetic systems characterized by a high degree of correspondence between graphemes and phonemes (Condemarin, 1980), thus indicating that these languages are very predictable at the phonics level.
Although the Spanish and English alphabets have characters from the Roman alphabet in common, the Spanish alphabet has twenty-nine letters (comprised of 5 vowels and 24 consonants), whereas English has twenty-six letters: 21 consonants and 5 vowels.

Not all authorities (or at least, not all textbooks) agree on which letters make up the Spanish alphabet. However, according to the Real Academia Española, the table below represents the traditional consensus about the Spanish alphabet.

The Spanish Alphabet

Print Letter Name in Spanish (From English Perspective) Letter Sound in Spanish
    European-Spanish alphabet
A a /ah/ /ah/
B b /be/ /be/ boy
C c /se/ /s/ song
Ch ch /che/ tch
D d /de/ /d/ dog
E e /eh/ /S/ net
F f /efe/ /f/ five
G g /je/ /height/
H h /ache/ h is silent
I i /ee / /i/ eat
J j /jota/ /x/ jorge
K k /ka/ cama
L l /ele/ /l/ lemon
Ll ll /doble ele/ /j/ tortilla
M m /eme/ /m/ monkey
N n /ene/ /n/ nose
  ñ /eñe/ /ny/ El Niño
O o /oh/ /o/ opinion
P p /pe/ /p/ pig
Q q /cu/ /ku/ quail
R r /ere/ trilled r /r/
  rr /erre/ (strongly trilled r) /rr/
S s /ese/ /s/ sun
T t /te/ /t/ tent
U u /u/ /u/ food
V v be/uve /v/ vase
W w /doble ve/ /w/ watch
X x /equis/ / x/
Y y /i griega/ /y/ yoyo
Z z /seta/ /z/ zero

Note: The letters K and W are only used in words that are borrowed from foreign languages, for example, proper names [such as Willy]. The strongly trilled r or /rr/ is not counted as a true consonant because it never appears at the beginning of words, unlike the consonants ch, ll, and ñ.

Despite recent changes made in the year 2000, whereby various Spanish language authorities agreed to subsume the letters ch and ll under the c and the l respectively, most Spanish speakers still consider them distinct consonants and expect to see them taught as such in educational materials.

Alphabetical Order

Alphabetic order in Spanish may differ slightly from English. This may affect the student’s performance in alphabetizing words in English. It is important to analyze this area from a Spanish-language perspective, when assessing alphabetic sequence of recent immigrants from this language background.

“ . . . for alphabetization purposes in dictionaries, the ch and ll are to be considered as they would be in English or other Romance languages. They're still considered letters in Spanish, but they aren't treated that way for alphabetizing”

(Ager, 2005).

©2005 Maria de Lourdes Serpa.
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