Getting Started

The best place to begin the study of any language is by learning how to pronounce the sounds in the language. People tell me that one of the hardest things about the Cherokee language is learning how to pronounce the words correctly and I would agree. There are two pieces to the puzzle of learning to speak Cherokee correctly; pitch and pronunciation. Six vowel sounds and eighty-five other sounds made from the combination of these vowels with consonants make up the language.

In some ways Cherokee is no different than other languages. Like other languages, we have dialects and regional accents. Just as you can probably tell that someone comes from Alabama or New York by the way they speak, Cherokee speakers can tell the general area where someone is from in the same way. I grew up speaking with the “Honey Creek” accent and this is reflected in the way I pronounce Cherokee.

The vowels are : A, E, I, O, U, V. (Click on them to hear how they are pronounced.)

Selected Consonants

The sounds for the other elements of the language are made by adding the sound the vowel makes to the sound of the consonant at the beginning. For example, from Row 3 of the Cherokee Syllabary:

h+a= ha
h+e= he
h+i= hi
h+o= ho
h+u= hu
h+v= hv

Click here or in Row 3 in the syllabary below to hear the pronunciations.

There are certain sounds in Cherokee that new speakers have more difficulty in mastering. These sounds include the ga/ka sounds (Row 2), qua/que sounds (Row 7), dla/tla sounds (Row10), di/ti sounds (Row 9) and the tsa/tse sounds (Row 11). They have no equivalent in English and so must be memorized.

Row 2
Row 7
Row 9

Row 10
Row 11

Now that you have heard some of the sounds in the language, use what you’ve learned to repeat all of the sounds represented in the syllabary beginning with sounds containing the A vowel in each row and working you way across the chart below.

Using the Syllabary

Click on the row number in the syllabary chart below to hear the entire row pronounced in sequence. Listen carefully as each is pronounced, then repeat them.

Row 1 Row 2 Row 3 Row 4 Row 5 Row 6 Row 7 Row 8 Row 9 Row 10 Row 11 Row 12 Row 13