The biggest mistake people make when pronouncing Buddhist words is with the letters TH. In English those letters are either pronounced with a soft, hissing sound like in the word think, or a harder buzzing sound like the word that. But in all Indian languages such a Pali (the Buddha’s language), Sanskrit, Hindi, and Sinhala, the H is basically silent. It’s actually pronounced with a strong out breath, but you are better off just ignoring it.
This is also the case for kh, gh, ch, jh, ṭh, ḍh, th, dh, ph, and bh. The ph is always just pronounced like a p, never an f. And both c and ch are always pronounced a a hard ch sound, like church.
So this means that Theravada (Teaching of the Elders) is pronounced like “tear a piece of paper” not “therapy.” The other commonly mispronounced word is Tathāgata (a title of the Buddha). The H in both cases is completely silent.
The technical term for these letters is mahaprāna. Other examples of words that use them:
- Sangha–the order of monks and nuns
- jhāna–deep state of meditation
- Dhamma–the Buddha’s teaching
- phala–fruit or result