I've always preferred languages like Spanish, German, Japanese, with pronunciations that you can easily predict (yeah, German has a few irregularities, but they're not that numerous, the only major examples I can think of are a handful loan words from French). I've never been able to make any progress with French or Russian, because you can't determine how a word is pronounced purely based off of how its spelled (unless you maybe you have a Russian book that indicates where the stress falls on every word).

I have been thinking about taking a jab at one of the Scandinavian languages, but their irregular spelling deters me. Also, I personally can't really 'hear' the language (Danish literally just sounds like gargling noises to me, even though I can recognize a large chunk of the language in writing thanks to my being an intermediate in German).

How does one go about this? I've never been able to figure it out.

2 Answers 2


I know some people who consider the English pronunciation hard to predict. I guess it depends on the languages they are familiar with, including the logic behind the correct spelling, as you mention.

This logic can be difficult to follow sometimes, since it may reflect a pronunciation that ceased to be used centuries ago (or a pronunciation of a dialect less prominent nowadays) or follow conventions unique to that single language (j [spelled as i] written as g in Swedish and older Czech).

I am a Czech (West Slavic language) native speaker and our spelling of consonants in the endings is influenced by the flection heavily. So people usually pronounce the first case (nominative) 'led' (ice) and 'let' (flight) the same, but you can hear the difference in other cases where the teeth consonants are followed by a vowel.

Little children learn their mother tongue(s) unable to read, so one approach may be to focus heavilly on the listening and dialogue excercises. Another may be building up a large vocabulary, including checking the IPA pronunciation transcription of each word in a dictionary, so one learns correct examples and acquires some kind of 'feeling' eventually. Both tend to be rather time-consuming. I would begin with fairly simple excercises where I know most of the pieces by heart. In case of Swedish and French vowels or Chinese tones this might be the only way.

On the other hand, you may need to listen and talk a lot, about anything you are deeply interested in, even with minor mistakes, just to grow a 'muscle', to get the momentum. If you can not find an easy topic you are passionate about, begin by describing actions you do every day and what those make you feel like - if it does not deter you, even talking to yourself might actually help.

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    Exactly. native speaker can think instantly about the different example (like your Czech examples: "s ledem" vs "s letem", different case, pronounced differently) to get the feeling what correct spelling is, even if both "led" and "let" are pronounced the same. Of course, this option is much harder for language learner. Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 19:46

I am reasonably fluent in English and currently learning Danish. My native language can be pronounced almost exactly as written.

I like to read and start doing so early, so I usually have a fairly large passive vocabulary. Writing is not a problem after that, given some practice. My suggestions assume this background and these preferences. I don't know if this will work for anyone else.

Learn the alphabet

Pronouncing each letter in the word often gives some kind of approximation, though often a poor one, for pronunciation. Also, this teaches you how to make the different sounds of the language.

Learn how you would pronounce wrong

Now that you have a baseline, it is easier to remember the correct pronunciation by comparing with what you would say. Often you can derive (a probably false) history for the pronunciation by considering which sounds are combined. Note that these are mnemonic devices, not linguistic research.

Pronounce the words when reading

You can do this in your head, or out loud if reasonable. This will not teach you to make the correct sounds, but will teach you which sounds you should be capable of making, and when.

Speak with input

Get input from someone who has some idea for how to pronounce the words. Native language speaker is the best, but another learner with good ear is also helpful.

Listening should also help

I have never been a huge fan of listening, because I find reading much more interesting in general. But one would assume that listening would be a superior way of figuring out the correct pronunciation for a given word.

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