Top 5 mispronounced Spanish Foodie words

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Top 5 mispronounced Spanish Foodie words

Spanish words are tricky to say – first of all, as with all languages, there are numerous regional variations of this language. Secondly there is a massive difference in pronunciation between Spain and in Latin America. Here are the top 5 mispronounced Spanish Foodie words explained (more to follow soon). If you have any other words you aren’t sure of, don’t hesitate to ask about them.

1. Chorizo. Oh dear, oh dear. I have heard seasoned BBC commentators mispronounce this one repeatedly. Even worse, I have seen chefs on TV standing in a plaza in the middle of Spain getting it wrong. The genesis of the problem is in the way the word is usually mispronounced:

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:oops:

Culprits can see that the Spanish ‘z’ does not go the way of the English ‘z’, which is a good start. Then they make a fatal error – they use Italian pronunciation on a Spanish word. In Italian the ‘z’ has a ‘ts’/ ‘ds’ sound – think of ‘pizza’. If ‘chorizo’ were an Italian word, there would be no problem, but chorizo is not an Italian word at all. It is a Spanish word. And the Spanish ‘z’ sounds NOTHING like the Italian ‘z’.

Now it gets a little more complicated – bear with me. In Spain, ‘z’ sounds like the ‘th’ in ‘thin’. In Spanish speaking Latin American countries (i.e. every country except Brazil, where Portuguese is spoken) the ‘z’ is pronounced like the ‘s’ in ‘sit’. Always.

So if you are in Spain, you say:

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and if you are in South America, you say:

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Both are correct.

* For full details on the difference between Spanish from Spain and Latin-American Spanish pronunciation, have a look at my Spanish Hints

2. Dulce de leche. I was going to say that you see this one in the UK far more than in the USA, but it turns out I was wrong – Americans are just as likely to make this error as the British. It’s another example of using Italian pronunciation on Spanish words, and sounds like this:

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:oops:

It gets worse. Instead of writing ‘dulce de leche’, many people write ‘dolce di leche’. ‘Dolce di’ is Italian. ‘Leche’ is Spanish. If you write it this way, you have 2 languages in one term!!! To correctly pronounce ‘dulce de leche’:

in Spain you say:

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and in South America you say:

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3. Quesadillas. When people get this one wrong, at worst it comes out:

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:oops:

and at best it is pronounced ‘keh/sah/dill/ahs. The first thing you have to get right is this: it doesn’t matter whether you are in Spain itself, or in any other Spanish speaking country – double ‘ll’ is NEVER pronounced like an ‘l’. A single ‘l’ is pronounced just as in English, but ‘ll’ is not – ever, ever, ever. It is most usually pronounced like the ‘y‘ in ‘yes’, and this is all you have to remember.

The second thing you have to drum into your head is that in Spanish everywhere, ‘que’ and ‘qui’ are always pronounced ‘keh’ and ‘kee’. Think of ‘mosquito‘ which is a word we get from Spanish.

What this all boils down to, is that the correct way to say ‘quesadillas’ is:

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Technically, if you want to be fully authentic, you should say ‘keh/sah/THEE/yahs‘. If enough people want to know why, I’ll write a separate blog post to explain – in the meantime, see my Spanish Hints for more details. I think ‘keh/sah/DEE/yahs‘ is more than adequate.

4. Tortillas. A lot of people get ‘tortillas’ right. The rest say:

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:oops:

Remember, in Spanish a double ‘ll’ sounds like the English ‘y’, so you say:

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5. Paella. While we are dealing with the double ‘ll’ we may as well drum it in with as many examples as I can think of. ‘Paella’ is most often mispronounced like this by English speakers:

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:oops:

It’s exactly the same principle as before – ‘ll’ has a ‘y’ sound in Spanish, and so you say:

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By now you should be getting rather good at this :).
If you want more details about these words, the following are links to the howdoyousaythatword.com database:

Of course there are many more mispronounced Spanish Foodie words – watch out for the next edition. If you have any comments or questions, please go ahead and add them!

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About the Author

Marie-Ora is obsessed with pronunciation, languages, food, wine, cooking, 4Foots. and chocolate. When she isn't working, she enjoys snacking, sipping on wine, reading and napping, and is currently researching methods to do all 4 simultaneously. Although Marie-Ora has absolutely no vices, she is easily provoked by mis-pronunciations, bad coffee, and unwarranted hype.

5 Comments

  1. JRS  September 25, 2011

    You need to add in jalapeno. Way too many people say it like it’s spelled in English, which just, somehow, sounds obscene, not sure why….

    (reply)
    • Marie-Ora  September 26, 2011

      Consider it done – thank-you so much for the feedback!!!!!!!

      (reply)
  2. Robert Madewell  December 2, 2012

    I think most Americans can get spanish pronounciations right. Especially in the South and Southwest. The only mistake I made was with Chorizo. I used an english /z/. However, I don’t think it’s that bad of a thing to do. Most spanish speaker I come into contact with would understand chorizo with an english /z/ more than they would with an italian /zz/. As a matter of fact, I don’t think there is as big of a difference between the Mexican /z/ and the English /z/ as there are with other spanish speaking countries.

    I know that machismo is not a foodie term, but it is often pronounced with an Italian /ch/ which sounds almost exactly like an English /k/. Like maw-keys-moe. However machismo is a spanish word and the spanish /ch/ is pronounce pretty much like an english /ch/ making it properly maw-cheess-mo. I have actually been corrected by people who should know more about it than me when I pronounce it as a spanish word.

    Habanero! Oh boy! It is Ha-ban-er-o, not Ha-ban-yer-o. It is an /n/ not a /ñ/. The word means that the chili is from Havana, Cuba.

    (reply)
    • Marie-Ora  December 2, 2012

      Hi Robert – you make some great points. Americans are certainly much better at pronouncing Spanish words than the Brits, who having come to grips with some Italian pronunciation inflict it randomly on hapless Spanish words – machismo is another victim of this tendency, as you have found. As for Habanero – correct. It’s interesting that whoever named the chili got that the ‘v’ in Spanish sounds like a ‘b’ in ‘Havana’. Appreciate your insight, hope to hear from you again :)

      (reply)
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