Tricky Sounds: Saying the Letters B and V in Spanish
These letters have probably been the most frustrating for me. As a native English speaker, my brain is so wired to pronounce the strong /v/ sound when I see the letter "V" in a word. I've had several conversations now with native speakers in different countries and everyone seems to feel a little differently about how to think of the way these letters are pronounced. Why the picture of my kitten? I promise I will get to that in just a moment!
My friend in Spain explained to me that these letters are pronounced very similarly in Spanish. B is bilabial meaning that it is a sound created with both lips together (like P), but sounded. V on the other hand is labiodental, meaning the sound is formed with our teeth up and lips down. She explained to me that while theoretically there is a difference, they are pronounced identically. As a child, she remembered feeling like she would never be able to tell when she was supposed to spell a word with a "B" or a "V" letter. It reminded me of my daughter's latest spelling mix-ups in English. Now that she has learned the phonogram "ph" she keeps spelling words with "ph" instead of just "f." I think there must be little tricks like this in every language!
A while back I had drawn the same conclusion that "B" and "V" are both pronounced /b/. Then I was corrected by a native Spanish speaker in Mexico. She explained to me that while the sounds are very similar, she wouldn't consider them exactly the same. The "V" is pronounced as a softer /b/ than the "B" letter's /b/. She would describe making the "B" sound as putting your lips together as if to block the air and then releasing the sound. The "V" sound can be thought of more as though you are trying to feel your top teeth touch your lower lip as you push the sound through.
I think I was being told the same thing by both of my friends, it just depends on how you want to think of the sounds. Technically, the /b/ and /v/ sound in Spanish are different. For practical purposes, I think you can consider them as both making a /b/ sound. Especially if you are working on breaking yourself of the English /v/ sound.
Here is an amusing story for you: When I was in the midst of writing Volume One, we got a new kitten. Nobody could decide what to name her, so I finally decided on Vida. Why? So I could force my kids and I into practicing the Spanish "V" sound!
Meet Vida (bee-dah):