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Teaching Spanish pronunciation
Teaching Spanish pronunciation

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3 Nasal (nasales)

Spanish has three nasal phonemes:

  • The bilabial nasal /m/ [m] mama (mum), cama (bed)
  • The alveolar nasal /n/ [n] no (no), cana (grey hair)
  • The palatal nasal /ɲ/ [ɲ] ñandú (rhea), caña (cane)

English does not have a palatal nasal. It is commonly compared to the intervocalic sound in words like onion and canyon. Native speakers of English generally need a fair amount of practice before they master “la eñe”.

The distribution of nasals, however, is somewhat deficient in Spanish. In word-final position only the alveolar nasal is present. So borrowings that end in /ɲ/ or /m/ are generally adopted into Spanish with a final n, e.g. Adam -> Adán, champagne -> champán. In some varieties in Western Spain and in the Caribbean, word-final nis pronounced velar [ŋ], the sound at the end of singing.