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.
How to Pronounce the Hindi Alphabet
Pronouncing Hindi vowels
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!
Pronouncing Hindi Consonants
Just like the vowels, it’s a little easier if you think about Hindi consonants in pairs:
- Aspirated and unaspirated
- Retroflex and dental.
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.
Places Where You Can Listen to Hindi Pronunciation
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.
Learning Hindi Consonant by Consonant
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:
- Wikipedia has audio files of all the Devanagari letters
- My Languages has a native of India speaking the vowels and consonants
- IE Languages also has an audio file.
There are also countless YouTube videos on how to pronounce this language of India!
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Listening to Hindi Phrases
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.
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.
Listen to Hindi being spoken
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 to learn Hindi conversation quickly. You will find your vocabulary increasing dramatically (and all without flashcards!) and you will be internalising Hindi pronunciation without overworking yourself.
If you live in London, simply search for "Hindi classes London" and find many tutors ready to help.
How to Work on Your Hindi Pronunciation
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.
Practising Hindi on Your Own
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.
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Here’s a good way to set up a practice session for Hindi pronunciation:
- First pronounce the sounds individually. When you’re starting out, take about 10 sounds per session to work on; as you progress, focus on those you have trouble with. Listen to a native Hindi speaker, record yourself, listen to yourself, repeat.
- Then pick a few words from a Hindi dictionary or your Hindi vocabulary list and pronounce them. This will help you learn to string the sounds together. Listen to them on a Hindi online dictionary (see the list above) and try and get not just the sounds, but make sure the emphasis is on the right syllable.
- As you progress, pick one or two sentences from a book or, even better, a film, and repeat those. This will help you practice the rhythm of the language. Remember, a language is like a song: each one has its own rhythm, with different syllable emphasised in each word and different words emphasised in each sentence! Take some time occasionally to listen to several different languages with your eyes closed - each one has a different rhythm.
- For advanced students, a challenging exercise might be to look up and pronounce some Hindi tongue twisters!
Improve your Hindi pronunciation with a native speaker
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:
- Find a Hindi language partner through a language exchange website or app
- Hire a private tutor (here on Superprof, perhaps?) to speak to you in Hindi and help with your pronunciation.
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.
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