Learning a language is an unending and challenging. To put it briefly, language learning is a natural process which endures for your entire lifetime. Good pronunciation is usually the first thing we pay attention to when listening to a language learner.


А а

З з

Ө ө

Һ һ

Ю ю

Ә ә

И и

П п

Ц ц

Я я

Б б

Й й

Р р

Ч ч


В в

К к

С с

Ш ш


Г г

Қ қ

Т т

Щ щ


Ғ ғ

Л л

У у

Ъ ъ


Д д

М м

Ұ ұ

Ы ы


Е е

Н н

Ү ү

І і


Ё ё

Ң ң

Ф ф

Ь ь


Ж ж

О о

Х х

Э э



The Kazakh language, unlike other languages, has its peculiarities that may cause certain difficulties to which learners must adapt. There are in total 42 letters in the Kazakh language; and twelve of which, have specific sounds that require a lot of practice.


In this article, I would like to draw your attention to the pronunciation of the most important and difficult sounds. Initially, it is worth introducing the alphabet of the language consisting of 42 letters, based mainly on the Cyrillic type of writing. Having read the article, you will become familiar with the way native speakers pronounce certain challenging vowels and consonants.


1. Ә ә


Firstly, this sound is a vowel. Secondly, it sounds like the English "schwa'' sound, though there is a slight difference between them. We pronounce the sound by opening the mouth a bit wider and putting the tongue to the lower teeth. Let's take a look at some examples below. This sound will be indicated in the transcription as a ''schwa'' sound because the articulation of these two sounds are similar to some extent.




  • Әткеншек - (aswing) - [ətken'shek]
  • Ән (a song) - [ən]
  • Әке (father) - [əke]
  • Әділет (a male name) - [ədi'let]
  • Әрқашан (always) - [ərķa'shan]


2. Ғ ғ


This is a consonant sound. It is articulated, to some degrees, like the French consonant r in the word merci. The ғ sound is meant to be formed in the throat. Anyway, they are not alike but similar sounds.


Try to read these examples:


  • Ғарыш (a space) - [ga'rish]
  • Ғалым (a scientist) - [ga'lim]
  • Ғаныш (a plaster) - [ga'nish]
  • Ғалия (a female name) - [ga'lia]
  • Жағрапия (geography) - [ʒagrapia]


3. Ё ё


This letter takes the ninth position in the Kazakh alphabet and is one of the vowels. It is worth noting that this is a common letter both for the Kazakh and Russian languages. Nonetheless, there are no Kazakh words beginning with the letter ё, and it is not even found in the middle or final positions of words. But it is still a member of the alphabet. In order for learners to be able to pronounce the sound, we will mark it with the transcription as an [io] diphthong, so that you can easily get used to it.


4. Й й


As you might notice, this sound is similar to the letter и that precedes it. There are two differences between them though: firstly, the sound й is a consonant and has a phonetic “hat”, whereas и is a vowel and has no such sign above. Secondly, the sound й is usually separately pronounced as қысқа и, which means “a short и”. We will mark it as a [y] sound in the transcription.


Here are some examples for you:


  • Лайық (deserving) - [la'yiķ]
  • Қайық (a boat) - [ķa'yiķ]
  • Жайық (the name of a river in West Kazakhstan) - [zha'yik]
  • Торғай (a little bird) - [tɔr'gay]
  • Тоғай (a tree) - [tɔ'gay]


*Bear in mind that there are no Kazakh words beginning with this letter.


5. Қ қ


On the previous five examples (in #4), the first three have the consonant қ. One must be very careful when pronouncing қ and ғ. These consonants have two similarities: they are both produced in the throat and are hard sounds.


Have a look at some examples:


  • Қант (sugar) - [ķant]
  • Қан (a blood) - [ķan]
  • Қария (an old man) - [ķa'rya]
  • Тарақ (a comb) - [ta'raķ]
  • Сақал (a beard) - [sa'ķal]


The above mentioned sound was transcribed by a similar phonetic sign ķ.


6. Ң ң


This letter can be characterized as the most difficult sound in the Kazakh language. And even most native Kazakh speakers confuse this sound with the similar sound of н. However, there is a certain difference between them: the ң sound is articulated, to some extent, like the English nasal sound ŋ; whereas we pronounce the н sound by just putting the tongue close to the palate.


Let's give the next examples a try:


  • Қаңғыбас (a vagabond) - [ķaŋgi'bas]
  • Саңырауқұлақ (a mushroom) - [saŋi'rau]
  • Меңіреу (calm; a bush) - [meŋi'reu]
  • Мең (a small dark spot on the body) - [meŋ]


7. Ө ө


The letter Ө is articulated by keeping your tongue in a low position and narrowly rounding your lips. It is important that you do not confuse the sound with the English о vowel which is articulated more widely.


Read some examples:


  • Өрік (a raisin) - [ɵ'rik]
  • Өмір (life) - [ɵ'mir]
  • Өтірік (a lie) - [ɵti'rik]
  • Көлік (a car) - [kɵ'lik]
  • Мөр (a stamp) - [mɵr]


In the transcription, the sound Ө will be marked by a similar phonetic sign.


8. Ұ ұ


This sound, at first sight, may seem to be quite difficult to pronounce; but after practicing it a lot, you will certainly be able to distinguish it from other vowels. This is especially true for the vowel ү considered in the next paragraph.


To correctly articulate the sound ұ, you should move your lips forward and round them more broadly than in the case of pronouncing the ө sound. We will mark it in the transcription as the u sound because of the absence of an adequate phonetic sign.


Take a peek at the examples:


  • Ұн (a flour) - [un]
  • Тұқым (a seed; a generation) - [tu'kiim]
  • Құн (a price) - [ķun]
  • Мұң (a sadness) - [muŋ]


If you are learning Kazakh, then ask your teacher to pronounce this sound. Listen carefully to the way it is articulated, and repeat it a lot. It is hardly possible to learn master this sound within the span of reading one article.


9. Ү ү


Everyone should notice the difference between the previous vowel (#8) and this one. If you want to master Kazakh, you must be able to clearly differentiate these two vowels, including the ү sound. This sound is produced mainly by moving your lips forward and leaving a narrow space between two leaps. Compare this sound with the previous three: when pronouncing ұ, ө, and о, there is a broad space between two leaps.


Here are some examples for you:


  • Үкі (an owl) - [uki]
  • Түн (a night) - [tun]
  • Күн (the sun) - [kun]


The same phonetic sign is used here, but it is better to listen to native speakers. Anyway, consult your italki teacher or community tutor.


10. Һ һ


Some Kazakh letters are similar to each other but different at the same time. The above letters are no exception. It comes after х and produces a sound similar to the English h sound to some extent. This letter mainly takes the middle position in words, such as қаһарман (hero), қаһар (vengeance), and жауһар (brilliant).


11. Щ щ


The Щ sound can certainly be difficult for learners to pronounce, because when articulating it, the back of your tongue will slightly touch your palate. The difference between Ш and Щ is that the former is produced by putting the tip of your tongue close to the front teeth but not touching them. It should be noted that there exist only two words containing this letter: ащы (sour) and тұщы (salty).


12. Ъ ъ


There is no existing words beginning with this voiceless sound -- and it requires a lot of practice. This sound, as a rule, is met in the middle of a foreign word, such as подъезд (doorway). But words with this sound are rare in Kazakh.


13. Ы ы


The vowel ы is usually articulated with the help of both leaps. In this case, you do not round your mouth, but open it a bit wider than you do for ұ, ө, and о; and your tongue takes the low position, plus there will appear a space between your teeth. We will transcribe the letter with the ii sound. Again, it is strongly recommended to consult a Kazakh speaking teacher or tutor to master this uneasy sound.


Let's analyze these examples:


  • Ыстық (hot) - [iis'tiķ]
  • Ынтымақ (peace) - [iin'tiimaķ]
  • Тышқан (a mouse) - [tiish'ķan]
  • Момын (self-effacing) - [mo'miin]


14. І і


The letter І is one of the most frequently heard sounds in Kazakh. When articulating, the leaps and the tongue remain in a lower position. Do not confuse this sound with the English I sound!


These examples will be useful for you.


  • Ірімшік (cheese) - [i'rimshik]
  • Із (a trace) - [iz]
  • Әтір (perfume) - [ə'tir]
  • Бәкі (a small knife) - [bə'ki]


15. Ь ь


This sound is also voiceless like it’s counterpart -- the ъ. These two voiceless sounds are neither considered vowels nor consonants. They are met mainly in such foreign words as ферзь (queen in chess). As we have stated above, such words are only used occasionally.


16. Э э


Some foreign words, especially those from Russian, consist of this vowel. It is articulated by keeping your tongue in a low position and opening your mouth a bit wider, like when you pronounce the vowel e in the interjection “Hey”'.


  • Экскаватор (an excavator) - [ekskava'tor]
  • Электр тоғы (an electric circuit) - [elektr] [tɔgii]


If you are new to learning Kazakh, then despite being a long article, this one is for you! Remember to skyrocket your Kazakh vocabulary and read a lot.


For a better understanding of the way we pronounce these sounds, I shared a video where you can go to at any time and practice your pronunciation.


The Defining Dictionary of the Kazakh Language.


Hero Image by 4tuneQkie (CC BY-ND 2.0)