Tips on Pronouncing Nahuatl

Tips on Pronouncing Nahuatl

This page is intended for academic use as a tool to help students hear a native speaker of Nahuatl (Catalina de la Cruz Cruz) pronounce words and phrases. None of the files on this page or the rest of the site should be used without prior consent, and can never be used for commercial purposes.

Esta página fue creada para uso académico solamente con el fin de que los estudiantes del náhuatl pueden escuchar a una nativo hablante (Catalina de la Cruz Cruz) pronunciar palabras y frases. Ninguna parte de esta página o sitio se puede usar sin consentimiento previo y expreso. Ninguna parte se podrá usar para propósitos comerciales.

First rule of thumb, if you speak Spanish, default to pronouncing Nahuatl like Spanish over any other language. Nahuatl has very specific sounds that did not derive from Spanish nor should they be mistaken with Spanish, but the two languages have developed together over the course of the last 500 years. Nahuatl was put into the Latin alphabet by early modern Spanish speakers, thus written Nahuatl is closer to Spanish, than French or English.

With that in mind, open your mind, and get ready to pronounce Nahuatl.

The “C”  Sound

Like Latin American Spanish the “C” in Nahuatl makes an “S” sound when it is followed by an “I” or “E.” When followed by any other vowel it sounds like a “K.”

Ce – One


Cecec – Cold, a cold thing


Caxtolli – Fifteen


Cualli – Good


Cihuatl – Woman


The “X”

In Nahuatl the X is pronounced like the “Sh” in American English.

Xochitl – Flower


Xihuitl – Year, Leaf, Herb


The “Tl,” in any part of a word

What is represented by two letters should be considered a one letter sound that is a “T” sound with air being pushed from both sides of the tongue. This is undoubtedly one of the most difficult sounds to recreate as a student of Nahuatl. There is nothing quite like it in English or Spanish. Listen closely to how Caty ends her words with “tl,” and how the “tl” sound is special in any part of the word, such as, tlacatl

Mazatl – Deer


Tlacatl – Man


Pahtli – Medicine


Etl – Bean


Tetl – Rock


The “Hu” Sound

The Hu produced a sound very similar to the “W” in American English. Let the vowel that follows the “Hu” guide the sound. Hu+a = Wa, Hu+I=We, Hu+e = Wee (as in Wet). Thus, Cuahuitl, sounds like kwa-we-tl

Cuahuitl – Tree


Cihuatl – Woman


Qu, Cu

The “Qu” and “Cu” sounds can cause some confusion because they are similar in apperance. “Que” sounds just like Latin American Spanish’s “que,” or American English’s “Ke” as in “Kelp.” “Qui” sounds just like American English’s “KEY.” “Cui” sounds like the “Quee” in “Queen” in American English. “Cue” sounds like “Coo-eh” in American English. Finally, “Cua” and “Qua” are interchangeable and sound like the “Qua” in “QUADRANT” in American English.

Cueloa – To bend or fold something


Cui – To grab something


Ximoquetza – Get up


Tlacua – Eat


Quiza – Leave, emerge, or exit

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