The Sounds of the Letters C and Z in Spanish (Part 1)
The pronunciation of the letters ‘c’ and ‘z’ sometimes causes difficulties for non-native Spanish speakers learning the language due to the distinctive regional variations. One variation comes from Latin America, Andalusia and the Canary Islands; the other from the rest of mainland Spain.
“… and one rainy, windy morning this week, just by the time I was finishing this blog, the computer decided to die of a cyber stroke. Fortunately, a back up copy was done the night before. I am still mourning the sudden departure of my longtime friend and work companion. Computers, contrary to diamonds, are not forever.”
The Spanish language is spoken by over 400 million native speakers and it is of no surprise that regional variations occur. I believe that these differences enrich the language and do not provide any real obstacle in effectively communicating across the different regions.
In most of Spain…
When the letter ‘c’ is followed by the vowels ‘e’ and ‘i’, the sound is similar to a soft “th” sound in English , for example: c + e: cerrado, la cerradura c + i: gracias, fácil/difícil, el cisne Similarly, the English sound ‘th’ is applicable to the letter z followed by any vowels, for example: z + a: la zanahoria z + o: marzo, el buzón, el zorro/la zorra z + u: el azúcar, (el color) azul Please note: there are only a few words with the combination ‘z’ + ‘e’ and ‘z’ + ‘i’, eg.: z + e: el zenit, Nueva Zelanda z + i: zigurat
In Latin America, Andalusia, the Canary Islands and…
The English sound “th” does not exist in the Spanish spoken in Latin America, Andalusia and the Canary Islands. The letter ‘c’ followed by ‘e’ or ‘i’ or the letter ‘z’ followed by vowels are pronounced as the sound ‘s’ in English . The Real Academia Española, the Spanish Royal Academy, states that this variation also appears in certain areas of Murcia and Badajoz and in rural areas of Galicia. It is also used by some social groups in Valencia, Catalonia, Mallorca and the Basque Country, when they speak in Spanish and not their local dialect. This is completely accepted in the “norma culta”, the standard norm, in Latin America, Andaluzia and Canary Island .
A curious student asked me: but what happens when the letter ‘c’ is followed by the vowel ‘a’, ‘o’ or ‘u’? Curiosity is a great thing, when learning, it should be something we all encourage. I mentioned the letter ‘c’ followed by ‘e’ and ‘i’ and their variables according to the regions. Now, in this instance: When the letter ‘c’ is followed by the vowels ‘a’, ‘o’ and ‘u’ it has a similar sound as the sound of the letter ‘k’ in English , for example: c + a: la casa, la calabaza c + o: el coco, comer c + u: cuatro, la cuchara, el cuchillo
 This variation is known as ceceo.  This variation is known as seseo.  See: Diccionario panhispánico de dudas ©2005 – Real Academia Española – http://lema.rae.es/dpd/srv/search?id=IIUwJDU07D6XC2xEky  phoneme K