The best way of learning a language is to master it first in the spoken form. When you listen and repeat hundreds of sentences, you get the language, and you speak correctly. It does not matter if you make mistakes when you start making your own sentences in your speech. A logical and meaningful sentece is bound to be grammatically correct. Study of grammar is essential in perfecting oneself in speech and writing.

What is required along with learning to speak is a knowledge of the sounds of the language. You should know how the sounds peculiar to the particilar language are uttered. English is an unphonetic language, and, Kannada is 99.9 percent phonetic. You read exactly what you write. For example, you see the two letters ಮ and ರ, and you read ಮರ (tree) , but in English you see the letters tree and read tree [tri:].

There are 15 vowels in Kannada.

They are: ಅ, ಆ, ಇ, ಈ, ಉ, ಊ, (ಋ) ಎ, ಏ, ಐ,  ಒ, ಓ, ಔ, ಂ, ಃ

Here is an easy way of identifying most of them with the help of the universal words. If your mother tongue is not English, you may also write these words in your mother tongue and compare the letters of Kannada with those of your tongue. This will help you identify the letter and its pronunciation faster.

ಅ – ಅಮೆರಿಕ America
ಆ – ಆರ್ಮಿ Army
ಇ – ಇಸ್ರೇಲ್ Israel
F – ಈಜಿಪ್ಟ್ Egypt
ಉ    ಉರ್ದು ಭಾಷೆ Urdu language
ಉ – ಉರುಗ್ವೇ Uruguay
ಊ – ಊಟಿ Ooty
ಎ – ಎವರೆಸ್ಟ್ Everest
ಏ – ಏಷ್ಯ Asia
ಐ – ಐನ್‌ಸ್ಟೈನ್ Einstein
ಒ – ಒರಿಸ್ಸಾ Orissa
ಓ – ಓಟ್ಸ್ -Oates
ಔ – ಔಟ್‌ಹೌಸ್ Outhouse

Note (1) : Though the following sounds are classified as vowels, phonetically their sound value is different.

(i) ಋ is similar to single trill [r] as it occurs as the first syllable of a word in English, e.g., ring, rat, run, rot, wrap, ruin

In combination with vowels ಋ is written as follows: ಕೃಷಿ (agriculture) ವೃದ್ಧಿ (increase) ಪೃಥ್ವಿ (the earth)

(ii) ಂ is ನ್ in: ಕಾಂಗ್ರೆಸ್ (Congress) ಅಂಗೋಲ (Angola) , and ಮ್ in: ಮುಂಬಯಿ (Mumbai) ಕಂಪ್ಯೂಟರ್ (Computer)

(iii) ಃ is the symbol respresenting strong aspiration in syllables such as ದುಃಖ (sorrow) ಬಹುಶಃ (perhaps, mostly) ಪುನಃ (again)

Note: (2) ) (i) The Kanada sound as in ಗೆಲ್ಲು (branch) ಬೆಲ್ಲ (jaggery) ನೆಲ್ಲು (paddy) ನೀನು ಎಲ್ಲಿ ಇರುವೆ? (where are you?) etc. is not same as the English sound [e] as in net, pen, test etc. But the Kannada sound in words like ಇರುವೆ (ant) ಕೆರೆ (lake) ಕತ್ತೆ (donkey) ಎಣೆ (papallel, comparison) ಕಲೆ (art) ಕಪ್ಪೆ (frog) etc. is similar to the English [e]

The sounds ಏ is different from the diphong [ei] in English, e.g., Asia, age, tale, tail, eight, pain. In Kannada, ಏ is lengthened ಎ,

e.g., ಏನು? (what?) , ಏಡಿ (crab) , ಏಣಿ (ladder) .

Note: (3) (i) In English phonetics, ಐ [ai], and ಔ [au] are diphthongs

[ai]: nine, mine, wine, pine, shine;

[ai]: out, stout, bout, noun, out;

 A diphthong is a combnation of two vowels. The following diphthongs are not present in Kannada:

[ei]: sail, tale, tail, pain, pane;

[ou]: coin, join, point, hold, shoulder;

[Di]: coin, join, point, noisebpoli;

[Cu]: hold, cold, sound, bone, known;

[iC]: near, tear, sheer, reer, beer;

[uC]: sure, poor, tour, pure cure.

Note: (3) The vowels [æ] as in bat and [D] as in college are not present in Kannada. They are pronounced in a variety of ways in different parts of Karnataka.




(i) Though you can learn pronunciation by listening, you need to know sounds peculiar to the Kannada language. You have to pay special attention to the way those sounds are produced. All the consonants are pronouced vowelled. Unvowelled form is used especially, when English words are used as such. But the Kannadisation is also common with the addition of the vowel [u=ಉ]. For example, ಇಂಗ್ಲಿಷ್-ಇಂಗ್ಲಿಷು, ಫ್ರಾನ್ಸ್-ಫ್ರಾನ್ಸು, ಆಮ್ಲೆಟ್-ಆಮ್ಲೆಟು, ಬ್ರೆಡ್-ಬ್ರೆಡ್ಡು, ರೂಮ್-ರೂಮು, ಸ್ಕೂಲ್-ಸ್ಕೂಲು.

(ii) Of the 39 consonants in Kannada 7 are not present in English. They are, ಙ, ಞ, ಣ, ಷ and ಳ.

ಙ is not used in modern Kannada.

ಞ occurs only in ಜ+ಞ combination: e.g., ಜ್ಞಾನ, ವಿಜ್ಞಾನ, ಕೃತಜ್ಞ , ಸರ್ವಜ್ಞ .

ಣ and ಷ are very common consonants:

e.g., (ಹಣ=money) (ವಿಷ=poison) (ಸರಳ= simple) .

You will come across these letters/ sounds in most of the lessons that follow.




(i) Of the other 34 consonants, 20 consonants have two forms of pronunciation, unaspirated and aspirated. Both the pronunciations are represented by different symbols. The following examples through words are for introducing the sounds. You will have ample opportunities to practise them in the lessons that follow.

ಕ – ಕಾಬುಲ್, ಅಮೆರಿಕ
ಗ – ಗಂಗಾ, ಗುಜರಾತ್                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  ಛ- ಛತ್ತೀಸ್‌ಘಡ್
ಚ – ಚಂಬಲ್, ಚಿಲಿ
ಜ – ಜರ್ಮನಿ, ಜಮೈಕಾ
ಟ – ಟರ್ಕಿ, ಟೆಹರಾನ್
ಡ – ಡಬ್ಲಿನ್, ಡೆನ್ಮಾರ್ಕ್
ತ – ತೈವಾನ್,
ದ – ಉದಯಪುರ
ಬ – ಬಂಗ್ಲಾ ದೇಶ್

ಖ – ಖತಾರ್, ಖಾರ್ಟೂಮ್
ಘ – ಘಾನ, ಅಫ್ಘಾನಿಸ್ಥಾನ
ಛ – ಛತ್ತೀಸ್‌ಘಡ್
ಝ – ಝಾನ್ಸಿ
ಠ – ಪೀಠ=seat
ಢ – ದೃಢ (steady)
ಥ – ಥಾಯ್ಲೆಂಡ್
ಧ – ಸಿಂಧ್
ಫ – ಫಲ್ (fruit)
ಭ – ಭಾರತ್


 (i)  Please take note of the following 5 sounds (ಕ, ಚ, ಟ, ತ and ಪ) that are similar in Kannada and English. But there is a small difference in the way are produced. In English, when these are the first sounds of a word, they are produced with a small amount of aspiration, but not so much as for ಖ, ಛ, ಠ, ಢ, ಥ, ಫ. In Kannada, they are called Mahapranas. There are no Mahapranas  in English.  

[k] king, pick, kettle, care, queue, mixt

[tI] chair, catch, choice, poach, reach

[t] tea, teach, take, tray, brittle, mantle

[`] think, truth, thought, healthy, filthy , breath, cloth

[p] pen, paper, pot, trap, develop, envelope

 (ii) The sound [f] in English (as in fool, food, fair etc.) is the same as it is in Urdu.  ಸಾಯಿ (cleanliness) , ಸೇದ್ (white) . In Kannada it is [ಫ-the Mahaprana form of  ಪ: ಫಲ (fruit) , ಸಫಲ (successful) . In Kannada (as in Tulu) there are thousands of words of Persian origin, and most of them are in daily use. But Kannada and Tulu speakers normally use  ಪ instead of [ಫ: ಸಪಾಯಿ, ಶಿಪಾರಸು

 (iii) The sounds and in Kannada are produced by the tongue on the middle of the palate, hitting harder than you do for the English [t] and [d]. Similarly is also produced further up on the palate where is produced without hittin hard. 

 (iv) The sounds and are produced by the tip of the tongue on the palate just above the upper set of teeth. Corresponding English sounds [q] and [ð] as you find them in think and this, are produced between the tongue and the upper set of teeth.

 (v) The sounds [f] [v] in comparison with the Kannada  sound  [:

[f]: is produced between the upper set of teeth and the lower lip forcing air out: fine, fool, food, roof, refer, suffer

[v]: is produced in the same way without forcing air out: vine, vest, river, love, heavy

[w]: is produced by rounding the lips: wine, water, shower, bowel

[ವ: The Kannada sound  [ವ is produced almost as the English sound, but with lips only slightly rounded:

ವನ (forest) , ಹವೆ (weather) , ಕವಿ (poet) , ಕಾವ್ಯ (poetry)



The remaining 9 consonants ನ, ಮ, ಯ, ರ, ಲ, ವ, ಶ, ಸ and ಹ are the same as in English. Of course, the English [r] is soft or single trilled, but the Kannada ರ is strong or double trilled. ವ is produced by rounding the lips as you do for [w], but by half-rounding. However, it is not like the sound [v] in English, which is produced between the lower lip and the upper set of teeth.

ನ- ನಮೀಬಿಯ – Namibia

ಮ- ಮಿಯಾಮಿ – Miami

ಯ- ಯೆಮೆನ್– Yemen

ರ- ರಶ್ಯ – Russia

ಲ- ಲಂಡನ್ – London

ವ- ವಿಯೆಟ್ನಾಮ್ – Vietnam

ಶ- ಶಾಂಘಾಯಿ – Shanghai

ಸ – ಸಹಾರ– Sahara

ಹ – ಹವಾಯಿ– Hawaii



Two English consonants are used in spoken Kannada:

1. [f]: face, fool, cough, laugh etc.

2. [z]: zoo, zeal, lazy, easy, dose etc.

On account of their having become familiar, in the spoken language, they are generally pronounced correctly. In writing ,they are shown as follows:

ಫ-ಆಫೀಸ್ (ofiice) ಫಿಲಿಪೀನ್ಸ್ (Philippines) , ¥  ಫೈನಲ್ (final) ,

ಜ – ಜೂ (zoo) , ರೇಜರ್ (razor) , ಈಜಿ (easy) , ಬಿಜಿ (busy) ;

Note: The Kannada sound, aspirated ಫ as in ಫಲ (fruit) , ಸಫಲ (success) , ವಿಫಲ (failure) , ಕಫ (plegm) is different from the English [f] though ಫ is the letter used for both the sounds.