Grasping the accent is one of the toughest parts of learning a new language – especially one with a different alphabet that comes with unfamiliar sounds.
The Devanagari script makes this process a little easier: Hindi is entirely phonetic, and each letter represents a syllable.
This is the first in our ongoing Hindi pronunciation tip sheets. Follow along and learn to speak like a native. Each sound is paired with vocabulary and a Bollywood song link to help jog your memory later. See if you can identify the vocabulary word in the lyrics!
Master the retroflex and dental forms of t and d.
DENTAL: Your tongue should be against the back of your upper teeth.
त ta. Say the “t” in tea or time, but move your tongue a bit forward. In English, you use the little ridge behind the upper teeth. In Hindi, you use the teeth themselves. Also, since this is non-aspirated, you won’t produce a puff of air.
Tāla / ताल – (noun) rhythm
Song: Taal se Taal Mila
थ tha. This is the aspirated form of t. Keep everything the same as above, but this time make a puff of air.
Saath / साथ – (adverb) together
Song: Hum Saath Saath Hain
द da. This is like the “d” in dream or drew, but again, pronounced with the tongue against the upper teeth, and without any puff of air.
Deewana / दीवाना – (noun, adj.) loony/crazy
Song: Teri Deewani
ध dha. This is the aspirated form of da.
Dhūma / धूम – (noun) noise/uproar/boom
Song: Dhoom Machale
RETROFLEX: These are all pronounced with the tongue curled backwards, away from the teeth. If the dental consonants are pronounced “further up” than their English counterparts, the retroflex are pronounced “further back.”
ट ṭa. Say the English try or trim, and notice that your tongue is further back than when you say tie or Tim. The Hindi retroflex is just a little bit further back still. And since this is non-aspirated, be careful not to produce a puff of air as you say it.
Ṭūṭā / टूटा – (adj.) broken
Song: Allah Ke Bande
ठ ṭha. This is the aspirated form of ṭa.
Ṭhaṇḍā / ठण्डा – (noun, adjective) cold/cool
Song: Thanda Thanda Pani
ड ḍa. Say the English dream or drum, and then slide your tongue back a bit further. Be careful to say this without any aspiration.
Ḍōla / डोल – (noun) sway
Song: Dola Re
ढ ḍha. This is the aspirated form of ḍa.
Dhol / ढोल – (noun) drum
Song: Nagada Sang Dhol
Want to learn more Hindi? Check out our Online Hindi course.