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Learning Spanish diphthongs: Strong and weak vowel formation

When learning Spanish as a second language, it is often unanticipated how to pronounce certain vowel combinations. Spanish grammatical rules indicate that diphthongs are essential in pronunciation and reading. But what are diphthongs in understanding Spanish?

Diphthongs are combinations of two vowels that can sounds almost as one.

It is best defined as …known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets. That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel.

And for this reason, it is always recommended to learn Spanish in an immersion way, to be completely thinking and speaking the language.

In Spanish diphthongs, there are two vowels, either one strong and weak or both weak, in the same syllable. There are 14 total diphthongs in Spanish.

The weak vowels are i, (y), and u.

The strong vowels are a, e, and o.

In each syllable, you might encounter weak-strong or weak-weak diphthongs. In each case, it will tell you whether the syllables can be split or not. As a general rule, diphthongs in Spanish are not split unless the syllables have an accent or tilde on a weak vowel.

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Here are some examples of Spanish diphthongs:

Weak combinations

ciudad = city

buitre = vulture

muy = much

Weak-Strong combinations

paisaje = landscape

baile = dance

peine = comb

miedo = scare

cielo = sky

puerta = door

puente = bridge

agua =water

lengua = tongue

Accent combinations

do = ear

día = day

tía = aunt

When practicing pronunciation of Spanish diphthongs, try to sound out the syllable combination. Although it may not be easy to distinguish the break between syllables, it is always best to use either clapping of your hands to clearly sound them out. For young children, the use of maracas or tambourines is an excellent way to demonstrate syllable combinations.

Barbara Mascareno

Barbara is an educational writer, teacher, and instructional designer. She loves to write K-12 education content, teaching strategies, bilingual education approaches, and foreign language.

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