Russian h sound: master class in pronunciation

I usually deal with a ‘light’ pronunciation of [х], when a student produce it in the throat (similar to the [h] in English). It sounds very ‘gentle’ this way, and students try to make it rougher by adding strange hoarse sounds, but still in the throat. And it doesn’t help them, as Russian [х] is formed not in the throat, but at the back part of a mouth cavity, almost at the same place where we pronounce [к]. Probably, that is why they usually write it as [kh] with Latin letters.

произношение твёрдого и мягкого Х

Hard [х]

We pronounce [г], [к] and [х] sounds at the back of the mouth. The tongue moves back almost in the same way, as for swallowing. Try to take a sip of water, feel, how does the tongue acts.

Do you feel it moving back, straining a bit, sticking to the palate?

Remember this movement. But don’t stick your tongue to the palate when pronouncing [х], as you would do for [г] and [к]. Leave a small slit. Now, breath out through this slit without voice.

If you don’t struggle with [к], try to pronounce it first. Feel the back position of your tongue. Fix it. Now, make a slit between the tongue and the palate, breath out through it.

Exercises

ха: хан, ха-ха, уха, халва, халат, сахар, ехать

хо: хор, хочет, вход, сухой

ху: худеть, хуже, хулиган, тархун, наверху

ах: о зубах, о рыбах, о часах, на ногах, на руках

ох: ох-ох-ох, мох, вдох, вздох

ух: пух, вслух, пастух, петух, воздух

ых: отдых, во-первых, во-вторых

ях: яхта, об идеях, в гостях, в деталях

ех: мех, смех, орех, чех

их: стих, этих, моих, твоих

Soft [х’]

To make hard [х] sound soft [х′], move it a bit forward:

Whereas you felt the airflow at the back of your mouth before, now you will feel it in the middle (check the illustration). And pay attention, that the tip of the tongue looks down (the main feature of soft consonants) and lays near the lower teeth.

Exercises

хе: во мхе, об эпохе, схема

хи: хи-хи-хи, хит, духи, стихи, химик, хитрый, хиппи, Мехико

Хи-хи-хи!

Химик пишет вам стихи,

Хиппи покупал духи,

Хиты пели пастухи.

Did it?

Preparing this article, I used the books:

  • Брызгунова, Елена Андреевна. Практическая фонетика и интонация русского языка : Пособие для преподавателей, занимающихся с иностранцами. – Москва : Изд-во Московского ун-та, 1963. – 306 с.
  • Звуки. Ритмика. Интонация : учеб. пособие / И. В. Одинцова. – 4-е изд. – М. : Флинта : Наука, 2011. – 368 с. – (Русский язык как иностранный)