Posted by: janecronin | July 30, 2017


There are certain words in Spanish that cause more problems than others when it comes to pronunciation.  I’ve never quite understood why more than 50% of student say “cochina” for “cocina” and yet rarely make the same mistake with other similar words.  Anyway, that is really a different subject, except for the fact that a majority of students mispronounce the word “bailar” even after lengthy explanations and corrections.

I will now put the explanation down on paper in the hope that it will help to reduce the statistics.  “Bailar” is a two-syllable word. The first syllable “bai” is pronounced the same as the word “by” in English, and the second syllable “lar” is pronounced pretty well as it looks, with each letter pronounced.  It’s really quite simple – but I think people confuse the “ai” diphthong (pronounced like the English word “eye”) and also get muddled about the “l”, maybe because related words in English have a double “l”.

So, with that off my chest, I haven´t actually yet mentioned that “bailar” means “to dance” and therefore is related to the English words “ballet” and “ball”.  The noun “dance” or “ball” is “baile” and a dancer is a “bailarín” (male) and “bailarina” (female).  Although this feminine form is very similar to our classical “ballerina” in fact it refers to any kind of female dancer.   Therefore the correct translation of “ballerina” is “bailarina clásica” and in the masculine it is “bailarín clásico”.  Any other style of dancer would be linked with the word “de”, such as “bailarín de salon” (ballroom dancer) or “bailarina de vientre” (belly dancer).

The only kind of dancer that has a different word is the flamenco dancer, who is a “bailaor” (male) or “bailaora” (female).  If you are one of the majority who find “bailar” difficult to pronounce, you might find “bailaor” and “bailaora” a bit intimidating, but in both cases just remember they start with the same sound as “by” and the emphasis goes on the letter “o”.

There are several other words that are derivatives of “bailar”, but the one I like best “bailable” meaning “danceable”, referring to music that gets your feet moving.  On a more cultural note, many people associate Flamenco as the traditional Spanish dance but in fact it is just one type of hundreds of traditional dances that are still performed at fiestas throughout the country with regional and local variations of all kinds.  A famous Spanish dance is the “jota” which is mainly associated with the region of Aragón.  I think its name derives from the posture of the arms making the body into a “j” (jota) shape.   In Cataluña the “Sardana” is a kind of community dance in which a large number participate and in Madrid the regional dance is called the “Chotis” which is danced in pairs.  The name is a derivation of the word “Scottish” although it arrived in Spain by a circuitous route via Bohemia.


  1. Interesting, Jane. I think that British people see some Spanish words with ‘c’ in the middle as being similar in sound to their Italian equivalents. In the UK, we’re much more used to Italian pronunciation of words connected with food – I still have to stop myself from saying ‘panCHetta’ when I see ‘panceta’! And it’s probably why ‘chorizo’ is still often, and irritatingly, pronounced with a hard Italian ‘tz’ in the UK.

    it drives our Spanish daughter-in-law mad, but long-standing habits die hard and we’ve had more exposure to Italian than Spanish over the centuries! I’m sure that will change with time…..

    As for ‘bailar’, many lower case fonts make it hard to see the difference between ‘IL’ and ‘LL’. So perhaps, because we’re used to seeing ‘ballet’, ‘ball’ etc, we revert to what is most familiar?

    • Hi Sue,

      I totally agree with your insightful comments! The only thing I do find strange is just how much we are influenced by Italian rather than Spanish. I suppose expressions like “dolce vita” and “Cinzano” (!) have taken hold, but when you think of all the historical connections between Spain and Britain, you would expect a bit more than “fiesta” and “siesta” to have taken hold!!! All really interesting points! Thanks, Jane

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: