Sure, pronunciation is not something you can easily explain in writing, but it’s useful to know what to expect and how to improve it when you learn a language.
This is why in today’s post I give you a few ideas and tips about the Greek pronunciation, which I hope will make your language learning a bit easier and more interesting.
I even include a bonus recording at the end of the article!
Greek Alphabet sounds
First of all, how do we pronounce the Greek vowels and consonants of the Greek alphabet?
To reply to this, we need a tool such as the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), to help us read the sounds. We also need examples of how each letter is being used; also the different sound or sounds each letter produces e.g. when there’s a specific letter/sound next to it.
The following list of such examples is by no means extensive. To explore all the sounds of the Greek language in detail, we would need much more than a blog post.
Therefore, we focus on the foundation - the Α to Ω ; the Alphabet.
Let’s take a closer look:
Greek Alphabet Vowels
α [a] as in ακόμα
ε [e] as in έλα
η, ι, υ [i] as in μήλο, σπίτι, ύφεση
ο, ω [o] as in όταν, ώρα
Greek Alphabet Consonants
β [v] as in βήμα
γ [γ] as in γάτα, [j] as in γη, γένος
δ [δ] as in δέμα
ζ [z] as in ζωή
θ [θ] as in θέλω
κ [k] as in κάνω, [c] as in κιλό, κενό
λ [l] as in λάθος, [ʎ] as in λιώνω
μ [m] as in μήλο
ν [n] as in να, [ɲ] as in νιώθω
ξ [ks] as in ξανά
π [p] as in ποτέ
ρ [r] as in ροή
σ [s] as in εσένα (but written as ς at the end of a word e.g. άλλος)
τ [t] as in τότε
φ [f] as in φέρνω
χ [χ] as in χάνω, [ç] as in αρχή, χελώνα
ψ [ps] as in ψήνω
Learning how to pronounce
As you can see above, in most of the cases there are hardly any surprises;
There are only a few sounds which, when combined with some vowels, they produce a slightly different variation; for example κ /k/ when combined with the sounds [i] and [e] gives [c] as in κιλό, κενό.
1. Obviously, listening to the sounds and then repeating them is the usual exercise for pronunciation learning (and you can do this with the recording at the end of the post!).
2. A nice activity found in most course books and Beginners lessons is to hear or read and then say aloud each consonant sound in a syllable, e.g. βα, βε, βι, βη, βο and so on.
This way, learners start learning actual parts (syllables) of words; when for example you see the word βάση, the syllable βα will pop into your mind. Another benefit is that by practicing the different combinations, you get to practice again and again the sound you’re focusing on each time.
You'll then realize that Greek is based on a vowel-consonant-vowel-consonant kind of repetition.
3. Beyond the beginners level and as you continue learning Greek - therefore, being exposed to more words - an activity you can try on your own is shadow reading. I learned this exercise from Cara Leopold at Leo Listening.
You can do this by:
- listening to a short dialogue or part of a speech or anything else you find suitable and at your level,
- having a transcript,
- reading the transcript while listening to the person speaking - so you basically try to read simultaneously.
Cara admits it’s hard (there's a video to understand how to do this here) and I definitely believe her since I’ve tried this with French.
It’s a fantastic exercise where you can practice your pronunciation in a fun and fast-pace way. Of course, fast-pace may not suit you and that’s perfectly fine! Slow the recording down if you prefer and gradually speed it up.
4. A fourth exercise is the classic one “repeat what the teacher (or whoever you’ve been listening to) says”. To do this successfully, pay attention to the speed. This is like “acting” because you’re mimicking what you hear.
Try your best to follow the speed and rhythm. It’s hard, no doubt. But I know you can do this!
5. Lastly, don’t be afraid to use your imagination! When I was learning French, I found out I could only say a particular sound while ...smiling. So smiling I did. (Yes, I was funny, but I did it! If you know French, it was the -in- syllable).
With time, I got used to it and I was able to say it right. Smiling also helped me to connect the tricky sound with an action and this created a brain connection which made remembering easier.
A very important note for all the exercises above is to get a good feedback.
Of course, if you’re working with a tutor or in a class, you’ll have many opportunities to get a great feedback from them.
When receiving feedback, write it down or even better, record yourself repeating the sound. Track your progress.
And here’s me reading the Greek alphabet with the pronunciation examples from above.