When learning the Hindi language, it’s important to know how to pronounce Hindi words correctly or you will not be understood.
Have you ever stood flummoxed while someone tried to speak English – asking for directions or trying to understand the Underground – and you couldn’t understand what they were saying because of their accent?
If you don’t want to find themselves in their situation, you will need to perfect your Hindi pronunciation. We will be looking at standard Hindi pronunciation. It can be slightly different depending on the dialect – Urdu, the Hindustani spoken as the official language of Pakistan is slightly different in both vocabulary and accent.
Hindi has a series of vowels that can be paired into short and long. Hindi vowels are pronounced further back in the throat than most English vowels, which are spoken more towards the front of the mouth. You close your throat more for the short ones and open it more for the long ones. Hindi also has some diphthongs.
The vowel pairs are:
|Transliteration from the Devanagari alphabet: short vowel||Sounds like English||Transliteration from the Devanagari alphabet: long vowel||Sounds like English|
|o||home, but shorter||au||hot|
Some vowels are nasalised (they often have one or two dots on top in transliteration) – try to speak through your nose as you say them!
String all these sounds together to read a sign like this one out loud – in Hindi. Photo credit: Slumdog Thousandaire on VisualHunt
Just like the vowels, it’s a little easier if you think about Hindi consonants in pairs:
The difference between aspirated and non-aspirated is that between the English “th” (aspirated) and t (non-aspirated). For the aspirated consonants, try saying the normal sound while adding an “h” expiration at the same time.
Retroflex consonants are pronounced with the tongue on the roof of the mouth, whereas dentals are spoken against the teeth.
|Transliteration from the Devanagari alphabet||Approximate English sound|
|Q||more in the back of the throat than k|
|Kh||k aspirated as in the Scottish “loch”|
|ǥ||deeper in the throat|
|gh||as in doghouse|
|c||as in the start of "chop", but position your tongue as for a “t”|
|jh||aspirated form of “j”|
|ț||pronounce the English “t”, but as much at the tip of the tongue|
|d||pronounce the English “d” but let your tongue make a little dip in the middle while pressing it against your palate|
|ŗ||is slightly trilled, but not as much as a an Italian “r”|
|ņ||is pronounced slightly further forward in the mouth than the English (closer, but not quite against the teeth)|
|t soft||as in “soft”|
|d soft||as in “breadth”|
|n||as in “anthology”|
|ph||an even more aspirated version than in “pin”|
|r||as in “roll” but ever so slightly trilled|
|v||somewhere between an English “v” and “w”|
|l||instead of pushing off the palate, push the sides of your tongue against your teeth|
|ś||as in “ship”|
This article explains exactly how to pronounce the Hindi t and d.
To help you learn how to pronounce Hindi, it is helpful if you can listen to Hindi words and phrases spoken by natives. In fact, in the beginning, it helps if you can even just listen to the Hindi alphabet spoken by native speakers.
The basics of learning the Indian language called Hindi start with the way each of the letters is pronounced. There are several sites that offer audio files of the Hindi alphabet spoken by a native speaker:
There are also countless YouTube videos on how to pronounce this language of India!
The second step in learning how to pronounce your Hindi vocabulary to hear whole words and phrases pronounced correctly. There are various online Hindi dictionaries that pronounce the words for you. For example, boltidictionary.com offers English to Hindi and Hindi to English and provides a pronunciation for the Hindi words.
Get the right spice for your dish by pronouncing Hindi correctly! Photo credit: patrikmloeff on VisualHunt.com
Another Hindi-English dictionary is Shabdkosh, which also has the pronunciation of the words available by a native speaker.
Bab.la also offers an English-Hindi dictionary with sound files for the Hindi translation.
You will definitely need to be able to read the Hindi script to use these dictionaries!
For short sentences, Rocket Languages offers a series of Hindi phrases such as greetings as audio files.
The next step up is to free yourself from linguistic crutches and immerse yourself in Indian language and culture. Dare to listen to Hindi radio, watch Hindi video blogs and Indian TV shows and have a Bollywood movie night with friends. You will find your vocabulary increasing dramatically (and all without flashcards!) and you will be internalising Hindi pronunciation without overworking yourself.
Of course, it’s one thing to hear someone say “Namaste!” and quite another to pronounce it right yourself. When learning a foreign language, it takes a lot of dedication to learn to speak like a native.
Of course, when you learn Hindi it’s easy to think you know how an “l” should go and quite another to have to pronounce it. Whether you are practising your alphabet or have moved on to grammar and vocabulary and longer phrases, it’s always useful to hear yourself speak.
Use the record-setting on your phone, speak into a mike on your PC or even take out your old cassette recorder – it’s always useful to hear yourself speak. Don’t worry about your voice sounding funny – we hear our own voices through the amplifier of our own skull, which is why we have trouble recognising it when we hear it in recordings. Focus instead on the way you are pronouncing new words and where your weaknesses lie.
Learn the names of all these tools in Hindi – and how to pronounce them! Photo credit: Rajesh_India on VisualHunt
Here’s a good way to set up a practice session for Hindi pronunciation:
Another way to practice is to speak with a native Indian – someone from Delhi or Kolkata who grew up with Hindi as a mother tongue. There are several ways you can do this:
Proper pronunciation is an advantage when ordering food in India. Photo credit: Saad.Akhtar on VisualHunt.com
The first has the advantage of generally being free. However, it’s more likely that life might prevent you from getting together as often as you need to in order to really learn a language. With a private tutor, your teacher will work around your schedule and, if they or you need to skip a class, they will try to make it up (after all, it’s money they would lose otherwise). A tutor will also be more aware of the problems you might encounter when trying to pronounce Hindi.