Turkish pronunciation and sound production

Some notes on improving Turkish pronunciation. Part of my Turkish notes.


Forvo is a great site for hearing authentic Turkish pronunciation. If you use a desktop/laptop, I strongly recommend learning how to use “keyword searches” or “site searches” with your browser:

  • Firefox - open up your bookmarks library, and add a bookmark with these properties:
    • Name: Forvo Turkish
    • URL: http://forvo.com/search/%s/tr
    • Keyword: f
  • Chrome - open up settings, find “Manage search engines and site search”, and add a “site search” with these properties:
    • Name: Forvo Turkish
    • Shortcut: f
    • URL: http://forvo.com/search/%s/tr

With this in place, I can type f şeftali in my browser address bar and go straight to https://forvo.com/search/şeftali/tr (for example).

Learn to make sounds

Most teachers don't know how to teach pronunciation! It's very difficult to actually teach. When I was doing my CELTA course I got some help with this from my sister who is a speech therapist, and started to learn more about it.

One of the keys is to become aware of how your mouth and voice box actually produce sounds, which is a strange process. I was astonished how little I consciously knew about what my tongue does automatically!

Exercise 1:

For every consonant, write a description of how to produce that sound to someone who has never heard spoken English. You can assume:

  • they are a human being, with physical faculties for speech etc.
  • they understand written English

But you cannot use the name of the letter or any comparisons to other sounds. You must describe the consonants only in terms of movements of lips, tongue, jaw and activation of the voice box.

Here is an example — if I’ve done it correctly, you should be able to work out which letter of the English alphabet is typically used for this sound:

Do not use your voice box at all for this sound. Close your mouth. Keeping your lips closed, slightly build up the pressure inside your mouth, that is, attempt to blow out slightly. Release the pressure in your mouth by suddenly moving your jaw down to fully open your lips/mouth.

Exercise 2:

Do the same for vowels (this is harder still, I can't do it).

Exercise 3:

Find different patterns in the consonants, and different ways of grouping them.

Exercise 4:

Teach a Turk (or a French person) to say a "th" sound (either the voiceless variant as in "thin", or the voiced variant as in "this"), using your ability to describe what your mouth is actually doing.

Really do the exercises above, at least number 1 for a handful of consonants!

Turkish sound harmony

After you've done the exercise above, you can understand certain features of Turkish much better - especially consonant softening and consonant harmony. (Some textbooks talk about this well, others don’t)

Consonants are sounds made by constricting the air flow coming out of mouth. They can be "voiced" (when you activate your voice box) and "unvoiced" (when you don't).

Vowels are made from a mouth that is open and air flows out freely (mostly), with your voice box making sound.

We can then write the Turkish alphabet like this:

Unvoiced consonants   p ç t   f k h     ş             s      
Voiced consonants   b c d   v g       j l m n     r z     y
Vowels a       e   ğ   ı i         o ö     u ü  

Try saying each of the consonants, putting your hand on your throat and feeling the difference, and the similarities between the voice/unvoiced pairs.

For example, p and b are both made by putting both lips together, and pushing air through them explosively as you open your lips. For a "b" sound, you also use your voice box.

In consonant softening, words that end in one of the "hard" consonants (unvoiced), are "softened" by making them voiced.

  • kitap, onun kitabı (book, his/her book)


The unusual one is ğ - "yumaşak g". Here, the "k" softens even further to almost "nothing", (in comparison to other consonants) hence it is called "silent g". However, normally the voice box is active and it sounds essentially like one of the other vowels.

  • yürek, onun yüreği (heart, his/her heart)

Here ğ is pronounced basically like a "y". In other words it can be like a "w" e.g soğan.

The choice of ğ to represent this is very good - it's a "k" that got softened to a "g" and then softened some more.

In consonant harmony, we choose a consonant that already matches in terms of "voicedness". So, for example, we have:

  • salon, salonda  (lounge, in the lounge) - n is voiced, so is d
  • kitap, kitapta (book, in the book) - p is voiceless, so is t
  • oda, odada (room, in the room) - a is vowel and is voiced like all the vowels, so matches the "d"

We have consonant harmony in English! It just doesn't appear in our spelling.

For example, say:

  • fizz, fizzed
  • miss, missed

Now say "mist". You'll find it sounds exactly like "missed". In this word, the pronunciation of the voiced "d" changes to a voiceless "t" to match the voiceless "s". In "fizzed", however, the "d" stays as a "d", because it already matches the voiced "z"

If you try to say these words with consonant disharmony (missD, fizzT), you'll see how hard it is, and how natural consonant harmony is. Put your hand on your throat to feel you voice box as you do this.

Learn to hear

Our brains want neat boxes for each sound we hear, so we tend to miss when something is actually significantly different. We often just use the closest English sound to what we’ve heard, not realising that we haven’t heard correctly at all. I don’t know in general how to correct this, but here are some examples:

Soft v

The Turkish v varies a bit with accent, but usually is significantly softer than the English sound, although close enough that we often fail to hear this.

I think a Turkish v is formed like this:

  • Put your mouth in tight “o” shape, like when saying a “w” in English.
  • Touch the lips together slightly while activating the voice box (i.e. attempt to say a v sound without moving your lips too much)

This is unlike an English “v”, in which most people touch their bottom lip to their top teeth. The resulting sound is softer, and sometimes can be almost as soft as an English “w”. Example: the v in övgü in this pronunciation of the phrase Birçok övgü aldı.


The e in ben and some other words often sounds about half way between English short "a" and English "e", depending on regional accent I think.

Unlearn how to make sounds

Blended consonants

Turks are very “bad” at blended consonants (like “pl”, “st” etc). In contrast to the tight blend that adult English speakers are able to do, Turks generally either:

  • add a vowel to the beginning, and this may appear in the spelling, for example:
    • istasyon (from French ‘station’)
    • izmir (from ancient ‘Smyrna’)
  • add a vowel between the consonants, often a short sound like a schwa (close to ı in Turkish), or another sound vowel according to vowel harmony. For example:
    • kral is often pronounced as kıral (and sometimes even written that way, incorrectly)
    • spor is often pronounced closer to sıpor or sipor
    • ‘Steve’ is pronounced as sitiv

So to sound more Turkish, you should unblend your consonants.

Unlearn how to finish words

A common defect in English speakers, both American and Brits, comes from the way that we seem to have an irresistible desire to “close” our vowels. By this I mean that at the ends of words instead of leaving the mouth open, so the vowel sounds the way it should be said, we shut down our mouths to produce a very different sound.

The most obvious and common is words ending in e, such as bence, içinde and many others. The word should be finished with the mouth open, but English speakers seem to want to close it, producing a “y” dipthong - “bencey”, “içindey”.

To hear examples of the difference, compare the sounds at the end of şey and endişe.

Another example is words ending the u sound: as native English speakers we seem to want to close our mouths into the “o” shape we make for a “w”, like the sound at the end of “too” or “boo”. So instead of “oldu” or “konu”, which finishes with a round but fairly open mouth, and seems very “unfinished” to English ears, we instinctively say something like “oldoo” or “konoo”.

A last example is words ending in i. Like with e words we tend to close to a y, so that instead of saying iki we say ikiy. This one is the trickiest to correct — the Turkish i I think is not as short as the short English i, but probably about half way between English short i and long ee. If you can say “ship” or “sheep” to maximise the confusion of an English person listening as which one you mean, you are saying it right. (“There is a sheet on the bed” is also a fun one!)

Unlearn English-derived words

Words that look like the equivalent English, or close, can appear to be friends amidst a sea of unfamiliar faces. But watch out - they are false friends! They help you for reading comprehension, but pronunciation is a different matter, and you are likely to pronounce them far worse than other Turkish words.

  • Step 1 is to remember that English words are rarely written phonetically
  • Step 2 is to remember that even when they are, letters just have different sounds in Turkish
  • Step 3 is to remember that many European words have entered Turkish via French and not English.

So the best way is to treat them as if you have never seen them before when it comes to pronunciation — made easier by the fact that Turkish is almost always written phonetically.

Another technique is to write English words phonetically using the Turkish alphabet, listening to the sound you are actually making/hearing and writing it as if a Turk was, and then compare to the Turkish word, and see how different they are.

For example: üniversite

Compare it with the English "university". If we write that word phonetically in Turkish, we get something like: yünivırsitiy

Look how different it is! And how strange compared to the normal pattern of vowels you find in Turkish. The English pronunciation of this word sounds extremely foreign to a Turk. You need to forget you ever knew the word, and read the Turkish word as written: ü-ni-ver-si-te

There are a few very recent words that have entered Turkish from English and are both written and pronounced fairly similar to English - like "email" - but these are rare exceptions, you can usually rely on the Turkish spelling.