Greek pronunciation guide for this website
This page lists the Roman-alphabet letters that I've used to transcribe Greek words, and tries to give English speakers a reasonable idea of how they sound. It isn’t focused on the Greek alphabet, though that’s inevitably part of the discussion. You don’t need to know any more about it than you’ll see on this page, but I’ve made a page that lists and describes the letters of the Greek alphabet—so, should you develop a need or a wish to refer to it, click here. (It's also accessible from the navigation menu and the site map.)
These are pretty easy. There are only five, since Modern Greek doesn’t make a significant distinction between long and short vowels. I’ve used two letters instead of one to represent one of the vowels just because Greek does it that way (as does French).
[ah] as in hah! (or, if you live near Boston, car)
[eh]—short e as in met and spell
[ee] as in fleet and treat
[oh] as in note and coat
[oo] as in moon and flute
Though there are a lot more consonants than vowels, most of them can be pronounced exactly the way they are in English without needing any explanation. Here’s a list of these for your comparing pleasure:
b, f, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, y, z
And here are the ones that require some annotation:
In Greek, the sound of d has changed over the ages, and the letter delta now represents the [th] sound in then and bathe (never the one in thin and bath). Our writing system doesn’t provide a means to represent these two [th] sounds differently. Rather than drag in an Icelandic letter to do that job, I use th only for the unvoiced thin/bath sound and d for the voiced sound in then and bathe.

But there's a complication. Our "hard d" sound also sometimes occurs in Greek, usually in loan words. It’s rare enough that, rather than come up with a weird spelling to distinguish it, I've just used a d, as I do for the voiced [th] sound, and tried to mention this variation whenever it comes up. (The only example I can think of right now is dákos, a Cretan tomato salad.)
As mentioned under d above, I use these two letters to represent the [th] sound in thin and bath, never the sound in then and bathe.
This letter represents a rough sound made at the back of the throat, like the ending of a grunted "arrggh!" It never stands for either of g’s two most common sounds in English (as in, for example, gun and gin), which don’t exist in Greek. The [gh] sound can occur anywhere in a word, even at the beginning (like the similar g in Spanish general).
These letters represent the voiceless version of the [gh] sound. Though it isn’t native to English, many of us have encountered it in such places as the end of Bach, or the beginning of that useful Yiddish word chutzpah. (In Greek it‘s spelled with the letter chi, which looks like our letter X. However, it isn’t pronounced "kye," as in the song about the fraternity sweetheart, but “chee,” beginning with the sound that it stands for.)

Travelers may notice that maps of Greece labeled in English are more likely to substitute H- than Ch- for chi at the beginning of Greek place names. But where alphabets differ, there’s no hard and fast rule, and they seem to use h only at the beginning of a word, and ch in other positions. Consistency makes sense to me. You just have to remember that Hánia and Chánia are the same place, whose name never begins with the same sound as Harry or Charlie.
This is a Roman x, not a Greek chi. It's pronounced the way it is in English box and extra. However, like all the consonants listed so far it can also appear at the beginning of a word. For example, xénos, the Greek word for 'guest,' sounds like “ksénos.” The letter xi (pronounced “ksee”), which represents this sound in Greek, doesn’t look anything like a Roman X; it looks like this: Ξ (upper case), ξ (lower case).

Other examples of sounds that may surprise you when they come at the beginning of a word are consonant pairs like ts-, ps-, and mn-. We have no problem recognizing or making these sounds in the middle of a word, or at the end either (except for mn—we can all see those letters at the end of hymn and solemn, but I'm not sure I know anyone who’s able to pronounce them). However, we're sometimes intimidated when we see them in an unfamiliar position at the head of a word.
Another thing that has to be learned in order to pronounce a foreign language with reasonable correctness is which syllable to stress (that is, pronounce loudest) in a word. Many languages have fixed patterns that can be easily learned. French always puts the stress on the last syllable, Polish and Welsh on the next-to-last (at least in words of three or more syllables) and English—well, as always English has exceptions, but the stress falls on the first syllable most of the time.

Unfortunately for those who are good at memorizing rules, Greek doesn’t have any for placing the stress. Well, that’s a slight exaggeration, but Greek never abandoned the freewheeling independence in matters of stress that characterized the ancient Indo-European tongue, from which all the languages I mentioned in the paragraph above, plus many more, are descended. Modern Greek deals with this situation by putting a mark over the vowel in the stressed syllable of every word that has at least two syllables. It usually looks like the French acute accent that you see in words like café, though in some Greek fonts it points straight up instead of leaning to the right. As in the examples of Greek words on this page, I've used this system throughout the website. I would have hated to leave you helpless should these pages inspire you to order, say, soutzoukákia or loukániko in a Cretan tavérna. (You'll still have an English-speaker’s accent, of course, but that alone seldom provokes much hilarity.

Inconveniently for us foreigners, Greeks use these stress marks only on lower-case letters, so most road signs, being all in capitals, don’t have them. And too many makers of travelers’ maps spare themselves trouble and expense by leaving them out as well, an inexcusable omission. (Yes, Rough Guide, I mean you.)