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A guide to pronouncing the place names in reports about the terrorist attacks in Catalonia

Journalists have been struggling with the pronunciation of Catalan place names in the aftermath of last week’s tragic events in Catalonia. Strangely, sometimes the names of places in Catalonia and the rest of Spain are pronounced as if they were French, with a nasal vowel creeping in to place names that begin with “Sant”, for instance. This phenomenon is known as a hyperforeignism.

Journalists should not be expected to pronounce place names exactly as they are pronounced in the original language, but the purpose of these tips is to offer the best compromise pronunciation, i.e. a pronunciation that uses sounds that we use in English. In other words, it would sound pretentious to pronounce the r of the French city Rennes out of the back of the throat, like the French do, but it makes sense to avoid pronouncing the final s, since it is easy for an English-speaking person to do so and it does not sound unnatural.

I’ve refrained from using phonetic symbols to make this guide accessible. A linguist will spot inconsistencies in my “transcriptions”, but they’re intended to be read by English speakers as if they were English words. The syllables written in all caps are the stressed syllables. The letters uh indicate a schwa sound, like the initial a in the English word about.

Barcelona: This one’s easy. I think we can consider this one to be Anglicised, like Paris (in which we pronounce the s, even though it is silent in French). So just pronounce it the usual English way. But whatever you do, please don’t pronounce the letter c as a th! It sounds pretentious, and although it is part of the Spanish pronunciation, in Catalan, the c in Barcelona is pronounced as an s, just like in English. Recommended pronunciation: [bar-suh-LO-nah].

Cambrils: Another easy one for English speakers. Read it as written, including the final s. The stress in on the final syllable: Recommended pronunciation: [kuhm-BREELS].

Sant Sadurní (d’Anoia): I’ve put the final part in brackets because, although it is part of the official name, it is usually left out, in the same way that Newcastle-upon-Tyne becomes Newcastle. The pronunciation is quite straightforward. Note that in Catalan and Spanish (unlike in French), accented vowels indicate the stress, so Sadurní is stressed on the final syllable. The only other thing to note is that the final t of Sant is silent in most Catalan dialects. Recommended pronunciation: [SAN suh-dur-NEE (duh-NOY-a)].

Sant Just: Like in the above, you can drop the t, so Sant is pronounced [San] (don’t make it sound like the French word Saint!). The j of Just is pronounced like the s in vision, or the j in words borrowed from French, like jus. Recommended pronunciation: [SAN JOOST].

Alcanar: The main mistake I’ve heard with this one is a stress on the first syllable; it should be on the final syllable. The final r is silent in standard Catalan, but is pronounced in the accent of the people living in that part of southern Catalonia. Recommended pronunciations: [uhl-kuh-NAR] or [uhl-kuh-NA].

Subirats: The important thing here is to place the stress on the final syllable. All the letters are pronounced. Recommended pronunciation: [soo-be-RATS].

Ripoll: No, it doesn’t sound like the English word ripple! The double l produces a sound that doesn’t exist in English and is hard to pronounce. But we can get close enough by pronouncing it like a letter y. The stress is on the final syllable. Recommended pronunciation: [ri-POY].

Vilafranca (del Penedès): There are several places called Vilafranca in the Catalan sprachraum, but since this one is the biggest, Vilafranca del Penedès is often shortened to Vilafranca. The pronunciation of the short form is straightforward; English speakers will even relax the unstressed vowels in the same way that a Catalan would. If reading the long form, the word Penedès is stressed on the final syllable, as indicated by the accented vowel. Recommended pronunciation: [vi-la-FRAN-ka (duhl puh-nuh-DES)].

Pau Pérez: Not a place name, but the name of one of the victims. The first name should be familiar to basketball fans, thanks to Pau Gasol. I’ve written it as “pow” in the recommended pronunciation. Note that this should rhyme with cow, not with bow. In the surname Pérez, the first syllable is stressed, as indicated by the accented vowel. It is a Spanish name, so most Spaniards (including Catalans) would pronounce the z as a th sound, but in other parts of the Spanish-speaking world people would pronounce it as a hard s sound, so this would also be acceptable. Recommended pronunciations: [POW PEH-reth] or [POW PEH-ress].

Have I missed any out? Leave a comment below, or tweet me, and I’ll add any other places you’d like to know how to pronounce.


Pronunciation guide part I: the letter J

This is the first of a series of articles I will post about the pronunciation of foreign names. The articles will focus on famous names in sport that are often mispronounced by sports commentators and presenters.

Commentators and presenters should not be expected to pronounce all foreign names exactly as pronounced in the original language. For instance, it would sound pretentious for commentators to pronounce all French Rs the French way. But they should pronounce names as correctly as possible using phonemes (sounds) that exist in English.

Mispronunciations are often the result of the speaker reading a name as if it were English. But sometimes they occur because the speaker applies the pronunciation rules of one foreign language to a name that’s from another language – usually French, because it is the most familiar foreign language to most people in Britain.

For example, when referring to the controversial Uruguayan footballer Luis Suárez, Liverpool’s manager Brendan Rodgers calls the striker LEW-ee, with a silent S. He does this three times in the following interview alone.

This is a type of hypercorrection, and specifically a hyperforeignism: even though a final S in English words is pronounced, Rodgers believes he is pronouncing the name more correctly by omitting it, when in fact he is not. He almost certainly does so because the French name Louis has a silent S, but final consonants are not silent in Spanish, nor are they in most languages. The correct pronunciation would be LWEES, as a single syllable, but since this is hard to pronounce for an English speaker, an acceptable compromise would be lu-WEESS.

The letter J

Let us look specifically at the subject of this post, the letter J, which is pronounced in a variety of ways in different European languages.

(Since these posts are aimed at non-linguists, I have avoided using phonetic symbols and have written pronunciations in such a way that they can be read as if they were English words. Caps are used to denote the stressed syllable.)

Germanic languages except English (German, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic)

The Germanic languages (except English) pronounce the J like the English letter Y. Examples:

  • Jan Ullrich (German)
  • Luuk de Jong (Dutch)
  • Eiður Smári Guðjohnsen (Icelandic)

French and Portuguese

French and Portuguese use a sound that does not exist in native English words, but with which most English speakers are familiar. It is the same sound that occurs in the expression déjà vu. Examples:

  • Jean Alesi (French)
  • José Mourinho (Portuguese)


Mispronunciations of a Catalan J are invariably a hyperforeignism, since the letter is pronounced the same as in most English words (e.g. in the word jam).

Sometimes commentators wrongly pronounce it like the J found in other Germanic languages (i.e. a Y sound). For example, during the playing days of Jordi Cruyff, who was given a Catalan first name by his parents (his father Johan was a Barça player at the time), the British media usually pronounced his first name as YOR-di. Perhaps commentators assumed his first name was Dutch, but other Catalan names with a J are also mispronounced as a Y, such as Jordi Alba.

Other times they pronounce it like the Spanish J (see below). Here’s a clip of Stephen Fry in flagrante delicto pronouncing the Catalan word menja as MEN-ha, as if it were a Spanish word, when the correct pronunciation is simply MEN-ja.


For the nitpickers, Spanish pronounces the J like the “ch” in the Scottish word loch. But apart from this word the sound doesn’t exist in English, so to simplify matters let’s say that it is pronounced as a H, which is an acceptable alternative for the native English speaker. (Spanish speakers themselves approximate the English H sound, which doesn’t exist in Spanish, like the Spanish letter J.)

An Anglicised pronunciation of the Spanish name Jorge would therefore be HOR-hay. This pronunciation of the letter J (and the letter G if followed by an E or an I) is unique to Spanish, and should not be used for names in other languages, including Catalan.

Spanish, Portuguese or Catalan?

The spellings of Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan names are often very similar or identical (José is written the same in Portuguese and Spanish), so commentators should make sure they know whether athletes have a Spanish, Portuguese or Catalan name so they can pronounce it correctly.

Common Spanish names containing a J pronounced as a H sound: Alejandro, Alejandra, Jaime, Javier, Javiera, Jerónimo, Joaquín, Jorge, José, Josefina, Joel, Juan, Julia, Juliana, Julio.

Common Catalan names containing a J pronounced like an English J: Jaume, Jeroni, Jordi, Joaquim, Josep, Joel, Joan, Júlia.

Common Portuguese names containing a J pronounced like a French J: Jaime, Jerónimo, Jerônimo, João, Joaquim, Jorge, Josefina, Júlia, Júlio.


Finally, Juventus is a special case. In Italian, the letter J is only used in words borrowed from foreign langauges. Otherwise, the J sound (as in jam) is always represented by the letter G (Genova) or by the combination “GI” (Giuseppe). The name of the Turin-based club is derived from the Latin iuventus, meaning youth, and is pronounced yu-VEN-tus.


How to say “Camp Nou”

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When a foreign word is used in the media, journalists are normally advised to pronounce it as closely as possible to the original pronunciation, but using English phonemes. So when Real Madrid is said in the English-speaking media, the word Real (which means royal) is pronounced as two syllables and not like the English word real.

But journalists never seem to have got the hang of the name of FC Barcelona’s stadium. Apart from the fact that the words Camp and Nou are often switched round in the English-speaking media, the word Nou is invariably pronounced noo.

Some journalists realise this is not the correct pronunciation and try to pronounce it the proper way, but end up pronouncing it like the English word now. English speakers often produce the same vowel sound when pronouncing other Catalan words, like the name of the popular beach resort Salou. You even hear the same sound for Catalan words ending in eu, like Bernabeu in the name of Real Madrid’s stadium, probably due to influence from German, in which the eu is pronounced this way.

However, this ow vowel sound would be written au in Catalan, and appears in words like palau (palace).

The correct pronunciation of ou contains English phonemes, but it is the combination of phonemes that feels unnatural to English speakers. To pronounce the word nou properly, first pronounce the short o sound that appears in words like hot or cod. Now pronounce the sound written as oo in English, as in boo and coo. Now pronounce one straight after the other quickly, and you’ve got it!

Since this combination of sounds feels unnatural to English speakers, we could use a compromise pronunciation. But I would suggest the best compromise would be to pronounce the word nou as no, rather than as noo or now.

Finally, in the word Camp, the letter p is silent in the variety of Catalan spoken in Barcelona, although it is pronounced in some other varieties of Catalan.

If you’re still confused, why not listen to a couple of natives pronounce it.

And if you’re still confused, just pretend it says “Cam No”, as that’s a pretty close approximation.