Each letter in the Esperanto alphabet corresponds to just one sound (or phoneme); there are no silent letters. Words are pronounced exactly as they are spelled, and vice-versa.
The vowels in Esperanto are a, e, i, o and u, pronounced much like the corresponding letters in the English words pa, bet, machine, glory, and rude. A trick for remembering the sounds is the phrase: Are there three or two?
These vowels are “pure” sounds, or what linguists call monophthongs. In English the vowels can often be diphthongs, which “glide” together two sounds in a single syllable. (For example, try pronouncing the word plate very slowly, and listen closely to the sound of the vowel a. In many dialects of English, this vowel begins with the sound of e in bet and ends with the sound of i in machine.) By contrast, the Esperanto vowels have only one sound.
Most consonants in Esperanto have the same sounds as their counterparts in American English: b, d, f, h, k, l, m, n, p, s, t, v, z
But some need special attention:
c sounds like the ts sound in hats.
Examples: facila, celo
ĉ sounds like the ch in chess.
Examples: ĉu, eĉ, maĉi
g sounds like the g in good.
Examples: legas, pagi
ĝ sounds like the g in gem or the j in jerry.
Examples: ĝis, manĝas
ĥ is a very rare sound in most dialects of English, present only in a few loan words. It’s like the guttural ch sound in Scottish loch and Yiddish chutzpah. Very few Esperanto words use it.
Examples: eĥo, ĥoro
j sounds like y in yes.
Examples: juna, sinjoro
ĵ sounds like s in pleasure.
Examples: ĵeti, ĵaluza, aĵo
r is slightly “tapped” or rolled, as in Scottish.
Examples: patro, por, tri
ŝ sounds like sh in shell.
Examples: ŝi, freŝa
ŭ sounds like u in persuade or w in we.
Examples: ŭato, naŭ
Diphthongs (vowel glides)
Diphthongs are formed when a vowel is followed by the consonants j or ŭ. Each letter is pronounced separately, but the sounds are allowed to “glide” together in a single syllable.
aj sounds like ai in aisle.
Examples: pajlo, bluaj
ej sounds like ei in vein or ay in play.
Examples: kafejo, vejno
oj sounds like oy in boy.
Examples: arboj, fojno
uj sounds like uj in hallelujah.
Examples: Germanujo, tuj
aŭ sounds like ow in how.
Examples: ambaŭ, Aŭstralio
eŭ is a tough one for some English speakers. It begins with the sound of e in bet and glides into the sound of oo in boot.
Examples: neŭtrala, Eŭropo
Accent / stress
The stress is always placed on the second-to-last (“penultimate”) syllable. For some students it may help to imagine speaking with an exaggerated stereotype of an “Italian” accent. “MA-ma MI-a!”
Problems for English speakers
Diphthongs where they don’t belong
In English we’re accustomed to using lots of diphthongs, and when speaking Esperanto we tend to use them in places where they don’t belong.
Be especially careful pronouncing the o at the end of words. It should sound like the o in English or. Take care not to make it sound like the o in English tone — which is really two sounds, beginning with the o in or and ending with the oo in boot.
The consonant cluster sc
Because Esperanto c sounds like English ts, the combination sc together make an odd sound: sts. Believe it or not, we do have this sound in English!
A common phrase in Esperanto is Mi ne scias (“I don’t know”). To pronounce ne scias properly, try saying
The birds in the nests see us.
The “tapped” r sound
The Esperanto r sound (what linguists call an “alveolar flap”) can be especially difficult for English speakers because it doesn’t exist in all English dialects. Many students resort to the r in words like American English red (what linguists call an “alveolar approximant”). That’s fine — you’ll have a recognizable accent in Esperanto, but you’ll still be understood.
The names of vowels are simply the sounds those vowels make. Consonants are named by adding -o to each. So the letter b is named bo, c is co, ĉ is ĉo, and so on. If you remember the “Alphabet Song” in English, here’s an Esperanto version using the same tune:
A, bo, co, ĉo, do, e, fo,
go, ĝo, ho, ĥo, i, jo, ĵo.
Ko, lo, mo, no, o, po, ro,
so, ŝo, to, u, ŭo, vo, zo.
Jen la alfabeto, do, kantu kun mi: “aboco” …
Typing the “hats”
Modern computers can usually display the accented characters of Esperanto (the letters with the “hats”) with no problem. But some configuration may be needed before you can type those characters. The details vary with each operating system, and many references can be found online; for example see https://bit.ly/2TDqnMS.
In a pinch, a low-tech workaround is the “x method”: just put an x after any character that takes an accent. So ĉ becomes cx, ŝ becomes sx, ŭ becomes ux, and so on.
Try pronouncing the following words; some are easy, some are more tricky. When consonants or vowels are grouped together, make sure to pronounce each one distinctly, e.g. boato (“bo-AH-toh”), aero (“a-EH-roh”), knabo, (k-NAH-boh), scii (s-tsEE-ee) and to always place the stress on the second-to-last syllable, e.g. familio (“fah-mee-LEE-o”).
amas kaj amuza ataki bone dankon estas fakto naŭ granda imiti kato kio loka muziko nun Parizo por tablo uzi vin venas aero birdo boato blua dentisto devas familio honoro instruisto ĵaluza ideo laboro lerni letero lia lingvoj longa mia ĵus memoras multa patro rapidi saluton tie tre ankaŭ certe ĉirkaŭ ĉu decidas esperantisto Eŭropo ĝuste hejme hodiaŭ ĥoro internacia jes ĵurnalo kiel knabo paco poŝto kuracas neŭtrala kvin scii