Are you a native Hindi or Urdu speaker who:
- struggles with pronouncing the American R sound in words like world, very, and correct, and instead use a trilled or tapped R (when the tongue tip touches the roof of the mouth)?
- has difficulty using the correct American English intonation patterns?
- is confused about how to pronounce the W and V consonants in American English, like in the words went and vent?
American English Pronunciation for Hindi and Urdu Speakers: Top 5 Pronunciation Challenges
If you are a native speaker of Hindi or Urdu and you struggle with American English pronunciation, then this resource is for you. Here you’ll learn 5 of the most common pronunciation challenges that native speakers of Hindi or Urdu experience when speaking English, and you’ll learn how to improve your pronunciation of American English.
Read about the top 5 pronunciation areas below, and then watch the free English pronunciation video lessons to learn how to pronounce each sound. Don’t forget to click here to download your free Guidebook to the Sounds of American English, too!
Hindi/Urdu Challenge #1: Intonation
Hindi/Urdu uses an intonation pattern that can be described as "curly" and "rolling," with lots of highs and lows in pitch throughout the sentence. Hindi/Urdu speakers may also add upward intonation on the final word of a thought group or sentence. The intonation patterns found in American English, however, are very different.
Raising the pitch (i.e., the intonation) of a stressed syllable is one of the most salient ways that stress is indicated in American English, so when native speakers of Hindi/Urdu place too much intonation on words throughout a thought group (i.e., too many ups and downs in intonation on too many words), this can make it difficult for a listener to identify which words are stressed.
Using the correct intonation pattern is vital to being clearly understood in American English, as intonation is just as important to the meaning of a sentence as using the correct words, vowels, and consonants.
How to Pronounce American English Intonation
In typical American English intonation, the highest pitch is placed on one or two focus words per thought group, and the rest of the words are pronounced with lower intonation and pitch. The final content word of a sentence may also have stress; though be aware that this does not always equal the final word of a sentence.
To learn more about American English intonation patterns, watch the videos below. Or you can read about American English intonation by clicking here: American English Intonation of Statements and Questions; Sound Natural and Native with Intonation Templates; 3 Powerful Techniques to Boost your Intonation.
Hindi/Urdu Challenge #2: Stop Consonants P/B, T/D, K/G
There are many more ways to pronounce stop consonants in Hindi/Urdu than in American English (last time I counted, there were eight ways to pronounce the initial T in Hindi/Urdu!). Since there is much more variation in the Hindi/Urdu pronunciation of this group of consonants, these speakers may struggle to know how to pronounce them accurately in American English.
Aspiration is one the key ways that native speakers of American English distinguish between the P in pear and the B in bear; the T in two and the D in do; and the K in came and the G in game. This makes the process of aspiration quite important in American English pronunciation!
When native speakers of Hindi/Urdu fail to pronounce the aspiration properly in words like pear, two, and came, these words may be heard as bear, do, and game. This type of pronunciation pattern can create confusion for the listener.
Another area of challenge is the tongue placement of the T and D consonants. In Hindi and Urdu, the T and D consonants can be pronounced with a retroflex tongue position, which means the tongue tip is curled up/back and the underside of the tongue tip makes contact with the roof of the mouth when pronouncing these sounds. This is a very different tongue placement than how the T and D are pronounced in American English, which uses the tongue tip.
How to Pronounce American English Stop Consonants P/B, T/D, K/G
To learn more about how to pronounce the American English stop consonants P/B, T/D, and K/G, watch the videos below. Or you can read about American English stop consonants by clicking here: How to Pronounce the P /p/ and B /b/ Consonants; How to Pronounce the T /t/ and D /d/ Consonants; How to Pronounce the K /k/ and G /g/ Consonants.
Hindi/Urdu Challenge #3: The American R /ɹ/ Sound
The American R /ɹ/ sound can function as both a consonant and a vowel, depending on where it occurs in a word. When the R /ɹ/ comes at the beginning of a word or syllable or is part of a consonant cluster, like in the word bread, the R /ɹ/ functions as a consonant. When the R /ɹ/ comes after a vowel in the same syllable, like the word party, the R functions as a vowel. Both the consonant R and the vowel R can be challenging for native speakers of Hindi/Urdu to pronounce in American English.
When pronouncing the American R /ɹ/ sound (both the consonant and the vowel R), the tongue tip NEVER touches the roof of the mouth. However, in Hindi/Urdu pronunciation, the R sound is typically tapped or trilled, which means the tongue tip makes quick contact with the roof of the mouth as the R is pronounced.
While most native speakers of American English are used to this type of tapped/trilled R pronunciation (it is used in many languages like Spanish, Arabic, and Portuguese), it can distract your listener from your message and lead them to think, "Hmm, I wonder where that person is from?"
How to Pronounce the American English R Sound
The key to pronouncing the American English R is in the tongue position. The tongue is wide, with the sides of the tongue bracing against the inside of the upper back teeth or gums. The tongue tip is typically neutral and pulled into the tongue body (called the bunched tongue position) or it may curl up (called the retroflex tongue position), but either way, the tongue tip does not make contact with the roof of the mouth.
To learn how to pronounce the American R sound, you can watch the videos below. Or you can read about the pronunciation of the American R by clicking here: How to Pronounce the R /ɹ/ Consonant; How to Pronounce the ER /ɝ, ɚ/ Vowels; An Introduction to R-colored Vowels.
Hindi/Urdu Challenge #4: V /v/ and W /w/ Consonants
In Hindi and Urdu, the W /w/ and V /v/ represent the same sound. They can be used interchangeably in pronunciation, or they can be pronounced with a different sound that is somewhere between V /v/ and W /w/, the labiodental /ʋ/. This labiodental /ʋ/ has qualities of both V /v/ and W /w/, where the top teeth nearly make contact with the bottom lip, but without enough pressure to actually stop the airflow.
This can result in native speakers of Hindi/Urdu reversing the V /v/ and W /w/ when they speak American English, so a word like very sounds like wary. This type of pronunciation pattern can create confusion for native speakers of American English because this type of substitution can create many real word pairs in English, such as west/vest, very/wary, and went/vent.
How to Pronounce the V /v/ and W /w/ Consonants in American English
The key to pronouncing a clear V /v/ and W /w/ is the lip position. There should be no contact with the lips when pronouncing the W /w/ consonant, and in fact, you should think of positioning your lips as if you're going to say the OO /u/ vowel, like in the word "blue". When you pronounce OO /u/, you should feel your lips round into a circle and push away from the teeth. The lips do the same thing when pronouncing the W /w/ consonant.
When pronouncing V /v/, the upper lip moves up to expose the upper teeth. Then the upper teeth come down to lightly touch the inside of the lower lip, and that is where the V /v/ consonant is made. Teeth to lower lip; not lip to lip.
Watch the pronunciation videos below to learn more about how to pronounce the V /v/ and W /w/ consonants. You can also read about their pronunciation by clicking here: How to Pronounce the F /f/ and V /v/ Consonants; How to Pronounce the W /w/ Consonant.
Hindi/Urdu Challenge #5: AA /æ/ and AH /ɑ/ Vowels
The AA /æ/ vowel exists in Hindi/Urdu pronunciation; however, it does so in English loanwords, and therefore isn't very common in Hindi/Urdu pronunciation and may be challenging for these speakers to pronounce accurately in American English.
AA /æ/ is an open, front vowel in English, and it's found in words like apple, last, and class. It's common for native speakers of Hindi/Urdu to pronounce this vowel with lips that are too rounded and a tongue position that is too low, which causes a vowel more similar to AH /ɑ/ to be pronounced instead. This means the phrase last class sounds closer to lost closs. This type of pronunciation pattern can create confusion for a listener who is a native speaker of American English, since many real-word pairs are created by substituting AH /ɑ/ for AA /æ/, such as lost/last, gloss/glass, and moss/mass.
How to Pronounce the AA /æ/ and AH /ɑ/ Vowels in American English
To improve your pronunciation of these vowels of American English, watch the videos below. Or you can read about their pronunciations by clicking here: How to Pronounce the AA /æ/ Vowel; How to Pronounce the AH /ɑ/ Vowel.