Frequently Asked Questions

Got a burning question? Perhaps it's already been answered. Please check the list of frequently asked questions below.

Vowel Sounds in Spanish

Spanish is much simpler than English in that it only has 5 vowel sounds that stay the same regardless of the other letters around them. The five sounds are: a, i, u, e, o. You can pronounce them as such: "ah" as in "always", "ee" as in "eagle", "oo" as in "boot", "ae" as in "angle" and "oh" as in "oh my god". Try your best to remember to only use these five vowel sounds and you will have a lot less trouble learning new Spanish words.

How do you pronounce the "h" in "Hola" or "Hombre"?

The “h” in Spanish is silent, so you just pronounce the vowel after the “h” to get a more natural sound. So, “hola” is more like “ola” and "hombre" is more like “ombre”.

¿What's with the Upside-down Question Marks?

Spanish uses two question marks when writing questions: an inverted question mark at the beginning of the question, and a regular question mark at the end. Why do they do it? The inverted question mark lets us know at the beginning of a sentence that a question is coming. As such, before the first sound is uttered, a reader will know that a question is coming. They do the same thing for exclamation points.

What does "usted" mean?

Like French, Italian, German, Japanese and many other languages, Spanish has "polite" and "casual" ways of speaking. "Usted" is a word that you put in place of "tú" (which is causual) to make what you are saying sound more polite. For example, when asking someone's name, instead of saying "¿Cómo te llama?" (casual speech) you would say, "¿Cómo se llama usted?" (polite speech). If you have trouble with this concept, just remember that if the person is older than you or someone's parents, you'll use polite speech. Otherwise, you can pretty much keep it casual.

"¿Cómo estás?" and "¿Cómo está?" -- which is correct??

The difference between these phrases is very simple. "¿Cómo estás?" is more casual and "¿Cómo está?" is more polite. Both phrases are shortened forms of longer phrases. If you see the long form of each phrase you will understand the difference. "¿Cómo estás?" is the shortened form of "¿Cómo estás tu?" As you know, "tu" is a common form of address for the word "you". "¿Cómo está?" on the other hand is the shortened form of "¿Cómo está usted?" This is much more polite and it is used when you're speaking to someone older than you or who outranks you (e.g. your boss, your friend's father, etc.). Like other expressions in Spanish, it is possible to drop the "tu" and "usted" and we get "¿Cómo estás?" and "¿Cómo está?" (Quick reference: Estás => tú // Está => usted).

Encantado vs. Encantada

When meeting someone for the first time, “Mucho gusto” is used by both ladies and men, but “encantado/encatada” is gender-dependent. So if you’re a gentleman, you use "Encantado" with an “o”. And if you’re a lady, you say, "Encatada" with an “a”. By the way, this phrase literally means “I'm delighted”, but you can think of it more like “It's a pleasure to meet you.”

Do you capitalize the names of languages in Spanish?

We don’t need to capitalize the names of languages in Spanish. So "Spanish" is "español" and "Japanese" is "japones". Names of countries, however, are capitalized. For example, "Estados Unidos” for “United States.” It is a really minor writing rule, so if you forget -- don't worry about it!