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Reading outloud: the importance of accent marks

Reading outloud: the importance of accent marks

One of the difficulties of reading in English is that when you come across a word you don’t recognize, you can’t always know the right way to pronounce it based just on its spelling. The rules about where to place the stress on words in English are complicated. It’s also hard to know when vowels should be pronounced as short vowels or long vowels, and if you mix them up you end up changing the meaning of the word you want to say. You have to make sure you use the long “e” sound instead of the short one when requesting a “sheet” for example, or you could be in for an embarrassing situation.

Spanish luckily has accent marks which help us know how to correctly pronounce words, even ones we’ve never heard before. It makes learning easier for students studying Spanish as a foreign language, because it lets them know how to read a text in Spanish de manera fetén.

The internet, aside from the fact that it is wonderful and enormously useful while it also contains a vast sea of unidentifiable tonterías, offers a great deal of information on how Spanish accent marks work. All this accent info is quite interesting, but it has just one problem: it is designed for native speakers.

But what if I’m from Vermont? Then you’re out of luck…

No, that’s just not acceptable! Take a look at the following example:

Las palabras normales no llevan tilde (accent mark). Okay, that’s awesome, normal words don’t have accent marks, but what is a normal word?

Well, statistically speaking, in Spanish, a normal word is one that fulfills the following two rules:

  1. The last letter of the word is a VOWEL, an N, or an S.
  2. The stress is placed on the second to the last syllable.

Given these rules, we can come up with 4 possible combinations :

When both rules are fulfilled or both are not fulfilled, there is NO ACCENT

When only one of the rules is fulfilled, then there IS AN ACCENT

Rule 1

Rule 2


Casa (does not have accent because both rules are fulfilled : CA-sa)

Reloj (does not have accent because neither rule is fulfilled: re-LOJ)

Camión (has an accent because fulfills rule 1 but not rule 2: ca-MIÓN)

Árbol (has an accent because rule 1 fulfilled but not rule 2: ÁR-bol)

One thing that’s important to remember is that in Spanish we have diphthongs (2 vowels that are pronounced as one syllable: pAI-sa-je, pUEr-ta, cIE-lo... This is common in Spanish). But when 2 vowels together are pronounced as 2 syllables (which we call hiato), they do need an accent to mark the special situation: pa-Ís, dÍ-a, ba-Úl...

It’s also important to remember that sofá in Spanish doesn’t sound the same as Sofa in German, and that following these rules you can read a text and pronounce each Spanish word, including those you’ve never heard before, the way they’re supposed to sound.