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J in Spanish

J in Spanish

Learn to pronounce the J in Spanish and find out the J sound in Spanish.

One of the Spanish letters that is apparently most difficult for Spanish students to write and pronounce is the letter “j”. The j in Spanish is used in many common Spanish words such as jamón, jefe, jirafa and juego.

In the majority of languages that use the Roman alphabet the letter “j” has a different sound than in Spanish. The Spanish pronunciation of the “j” is more like the Scottish word “loch” or the German words “Bach” or “kuchen”. Many other languages use a similar sound as that of the j in Spanish such as Dutch, Greek, Irish, Welsh, Russian, Serbian, Croatian, Bulgarian, Arabic, Lithuanian and even some Italian dialects. If you are a native speaker of any of these languages, then the Spanish j will not be difficult for you to reproduce. If not, you can easily aspire to pronounce the j in Spanish.

Great, up until now everything seems very simple. Right? Spanish pronunciation is famous for being simple as most words are written exactly as they are pronounced. Isn't that right?

Well, unfortunately that is not always the case, as with most languages there are some exceptions. The sound that the j in Spanish makes can be represented in two different ways:

 

Examples:

Jabón , caja

Jefe , garaje

Jirafa , ojitos

Joroba, ajo

Juntos, ajustado

 

General, agente
Gibraltar, mágico

A bit complicated? Maybe, but when you get used to it you will see how easy it becomes.

The j sound in Spanish is relatively new to the language, coming into use around the 17th century. Previously there were many sounds from different origins that were pronounced similarly to the “sh” sound in English that were represented by many different letters such as the x, j, g, etc. This sound eventually evolved into the actual Spanish j sound. It was in the 18th century that it was decided that the letter x would be used to represent the k + s sound combination, as with in other European languages, such as seen in the words: tóxico, excepto and máximo. It is at the same time that the j in Spanish takes on the sound that we know today.

Since in the past the Spanish j sound was also represented with the letter x, today there are some exceptions to the rules. For example, the Spanish word for the country of Mexico can be written with either the j or the x: Méjico or México. Another example is with the city of Jerez which can also be spelled Xerez. Even if some countries may prefer to write these words with the original spelling (with an X) they still pronounce the sound like a Spanish j. Why change the spelling just because the Spaniards adopted a new method?

In Spain there are many regions where languages other than Spanish exist. These regional languages also offer a wide range of linguistic curiosities to discover. In fact, the Spanish j sound does not exist, except for in words that have been adopted from their Castilian neighbors. As a result, there are several Spanish cities that can be written in more than one way, either maintaining the regional language spellings of the cities or following the Spanish spellings: the city of Sanjenjo or Sanxenxo in Galicia, Gijón or Xixón in Asturias, Játiva or Xátiva in Valencia, among other examples.

In order to remember the characteristic J sound in Spanish, from a country famous for its “jinetes” (horse riders), that incorporates “ajo” (garlic) and “jamón” (ham) into its Mediterranean cuisine and introduced the game of “ajedrez” (chess) to Europe… we challenge you to repeat the following tongue-twister several times as fast as you can:

“El que pasa pisa paja, el que pasó paja pisó.”