So I've been trying to write down each word as I learn it (I'm currently learning Danish) with IPA, so that I can revise wherever I am, and make sure that I am pronouncing everything right. Here's the problem: What I hear doesn't match what I read. Here's what I'm using as reference:

  • site ordnet.dk where I get each Danish word written in IPA (I also use another one that gives the same result for every word, but can't post more than two links because I'm new here)
  • sites where I hear each word pronounced: google translate, duolingo, youtube and forvo.com

I compare the pronunciation, but no matter the slight differences each source gives, none of them match the phonetic transcription I get for that word. For example, the word kvinde (woman) - IPA on both sources insists it is /k v e n ə/, and there is just no way in hell that is correct. The "i" in kvinde is NOT pronounced as the IPA "e" (as seen in "met"). It would be more like /k v ɪ n ə/ with "ɪ" (as seen in "hit"). This is not the only word or the only letter I've found wrong, it's the case for the vast majority (nearly all) the words I've looked at.

Are my sources wrong/unreliable? Which sites should I use? What am I doing wrong? Please, help!

  • 2
    Well, what you've run into is a clash of transcription conventions, as outlined by the answers below. In fact, the IPA [e] does not represent the vowel in "met" precisely: the more exact symbol for that is [ɛ]. Using /e/ in English transcriptions is a notational shortcut. More generally, vowels can be placed anywhere on a continuous vowel space, but there are only a discrete number of IPA vowel letters, so they can only ever indicate the approximate phonetic quality. Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 18:07

3 Answers 3


Don't panic, your sources are great.

The problem is that typically dictionaries use some sort of their own transcription, usually the one conventional for the given language. These transcriptions are not IPA (even though they resemble it -- for obvious reasons). Thus, you need first to study what their particular symbols mean. In your case, the Ordbog explains their conventions here (or click the blue "hjælp" button next to the "play" button).

On that page there is a table that gives a symbol of Den Danske Ordbog, example word, their transcription, and an IPA correspondence. Find the line with DDO e: you see that it corresponds to the IPA raised e. If you're unfamiliar with IPA diacritics, google any "ipa diacritics chart" -- that's it. Held og lykke!


I would additionally suggest Hans Basbøll's monograph The Phonology of Danish. The ratio of chat to data is a bit high for my taste, but I think it would be helpful in getting a handle on the orthography to phonetics mapping. He provides detailed IPA phonetic transcriptions. Along with the Danish word index and forvo samples, this would help to concretize the spelling system. Recorded examples are especially important, since the conventional IPA transcription of Danish doesn't (didn't) match my expectations of what symbols should be used to indicate a given sound (especially with vowels).


Try this one: http://tom.brondsted.dk/text2phoneme/

It seems to indicate the sounds in context correctly.

It's a tough language to pronounce well from the spelling! I hear your pain.

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