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Hindi pronunciation tips - 1 (vowels)

It is not that it is difficult to learn passable Hindi. You can pick up enough from here and there, and from movies, to successfully communicate all that you need, to a native Hindi speaker. However, to speak Hindi in a standard accent and rhythm with correct grammar, to use socially correct pronouns (with agreement of verbs) and to perform well in Hindi as a school subject, a foundational approach to learning is required.

In the present series of posts, I am sharing helpful suggestions that will be of use to parents who want to understand some concepts of Hindi better for themselves before they help their child learn Hindi.

In the present post, I have shared a very nice video from Shikshaa Deekshaa YouTube channel, which explains the sounds of the vowel letters of the Hindi alphabet.

I am sharing some tips on a few key letters and sounds that create doubts and confusion for non-Hindi speaker parents teaching the Hindi alphabet to little humans. 

For knowing more on the Devanagari Alphabet in brief, this article is also very helpful.


इ, ई, उ and ऊ

These vowels are taught in the beginning to the children as chhoti i and badi i, chhota u and bada u. When they have learned these well, we can teach them how to demarcate clearly the pairs of these similar sounding vowels so the length of the chhoti i and chhota u are slightly shorter than the longer badi i and bada u.

इ and उ short vowels
ई and ऊ long vowels

This helps them to pronounce words with the similar vowel sounds of इ and ई, and उ and ऊ differently from an early age. This is useful for good enunciation during reading as well as learning the correct spellings with less effort because they will remember the words in terms of the correct matras*.

When talking fast in real life, the difference between the vowel lengths is not always apparent for many words. But the difference is important for many words, without which the words don't sound right. The difference becomes important for non native speakers whose mother tongues do not differentiate so greatly between the lengths of these vowels. For example, in Bangla, both इ and ई sound like long ee sounds.

Many Indian languages pronounce  as ri and many as ru. Without going into the origin of letters, we should accept that culturally, both are correct. So the child should learn what is prevalent in the society where they will do their schooling.

In Sanskrit, especially for recitation and chants, the correct pronunciation of ऋ is important. The correct pronunciation of ऋ is a kind of rr, that arises from further back of the mouth and the tongue retroflexed pushed against the back of the roof of the mouth, as compared to र which involves the tongue tip nearly touching the ridge behind the upper front teeth. When that rr is used in pronouncing ऋषि (sage), Rrshi nearly sounds like Rishi to some and Rushi to some.

This video demonstrates the pronunciation of the Sanskrit ऋ


In Hindi, ऋ in words is commonly sounds like "र" or "r", and it is alright if the child cannot differentiate between the sounds of ऋ and र as long as they can remember spellings correctly and how they are added in conjunct situations like

कृति (क् + ऋ) and क्रिया (क्रि = क् + र + इ). 

अं and अः

There are two letters among the vowels, the anusvāra and the visarga ः (called अं aṃ and अः aḥ) which are actually consonantal diacritics. They add a certain consonant sound to other consonants when added as matras* Although the names of the two vowels are mentioned as anusvāra and visarga, it is up to you whether you want to tell your child these difficult names. They will however learn these names in Hindi or Sanskrit in higher classes. In preschool age, it is sufficient to call these vowels as "ang" and "aha". 

Visarga, while being very important in Sanskrit, is not very common in Hindi except in a few words - and your little child will not come across those words anytime soon. 

Anusvāra अं on the other hand is very important and common. It is also often used incorrectly and it is good to learn the rules (described in this post) that dictate the correct use of the anusvāraअं, while reciting the varnamala, is pronounced as "ang" in Hindi commonly, but some people may say it as "um". Again, you can teach what is acceptable to you in your culture. 

चन्द्रबिन्दु (ँ)

The chandrabindu is not written as a part of the varnamala, but you will come across this symbol frequently. For preschoolers vowels are only from अ to अः (a to aha). The chandrabindu is taught only as the symbol of a cresent (chandra = moon) and a dot (bindu) - hence "chandrabindu" - written on top of a syllable to turn it into a nasal sound. In the International Phonetic Alphabet, this nasalization is denoted by ◌̃

कहा (kaha) means "said". Like  "उसने कहा | मैंने कहा |" - meaning - "He said, I said".
कहाँ (Kahan or [kəɦãː] means "where". Like "तुम कहाँ रहते हो?" Tum kahã rehte ho?", meaning, "Where do you live?". 

A video on chandrabindu - (In Hindi)

Learn more about the nasalized vowels in an easy crash course on this page by George Stone. 

ऍ  and ऑ

There are two more vowels, ॲ or ऍ and ऑ which are not taught at school but which are useful in transliterating English words in Hindi. These letters exist in Marathi and Konkani but are not actually part of the Hindi Devanagari Alphabet. They are now used to denote English sounds.

ऍ represent [æ], similar to the RP English pronunciation of <a> in ‘act’, 'ban' and 'had'. 

ऑ represents [ɒ], similar to the RP English pronunciation of <o> in ‘cot’, 'log' and 'top'. 

These two vowels can be taught to children when they are already able to read simple Hindi sentences. 

Note: *matras  = diacritics or marks that denote a vowel has been added to a consonant


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