Sanskrit is written in the Devanāgarī (देवनागरी) script, shared with Nepali, Marathi and a number of other Indian languages. Learning Devanagari is not quite as difficult as you might think at first glance, but mastering it takes a while and is beyond the scope of most travellers. See Learning Devanagari for a primer.
Most English speakers find Sanskrit pronunciation rather challenging, as there are 11 separate vowels and 35 separate consonants, employing a large number of distinctions not found in English. Don't let this intimidate you: for most of its speakers, Sanskrit is not a mother tongue, and many native speakers are quite used to regional accents and mangling in various degrees.
The key distinction is the difference between short and long vowels. In this phrase book, long vowels are noted with a macron (ā), which short vowels are listed without one. You will often come across non-standard romanizations, noted in parentheses below when applicable.
as in about
as in father
as in sit
as in elite
as in put
as in flute
as in Scottish heard, trip.
long e as in German "zehn". It is not a diphthong; the tone does not fall.
as in Mail, sometimes a longer ए. In Eastern dialects as in bright (IPA ıj).
as in German Kohle, not a diphthong; tone does not fall.
as in oxford. In Eastern dialects as in German lauft, or English town.
Many Sanskrit consonants come in three different forms: aspirated, unaspirated and retroflex.
Aspiration means "with a puff of air", and is the difference between the sound of the letter "p" in English pin (aspirated) and spit (unaspirated). In this phrasebook, aspirated sounds are spelled with an h (so English "pin" would be phin) and unaspirated sounds without it (so "spit" is still spit). Sanskrit aspiration is quite forceful and it's OK to emphasize the puff: bharti.
Sanskrit retroflex consonants, on the other hand, are not really found in English. They should be pronounced with the tongue tip curled back. Practice with a native speaker, or just pronounce as usual — you'll usually still get the message across.
as in skip.
as in sinkhole.
as in go.
as in doghouse.
as in sing. Does not occur independently.
as in church.
as in pinchhit.
as in jump.
as in dodge her.
as in canyon. Does not occur independently.
as in tick. Retroflex, but still a "hard" t sound similar to English.
as in lighthouse. Retroflex
as in doom. Retroflex
as in mudhut. Retroflex
does not exist in English. more dental t, with a bit of a th sound. Softer than an English t.
aspirated version of the previous letter, not as in thanks or the.
aspirated version of the above.
as in spin.
as in uphill.
as in be.
as in abhor.
as in mere.
as in yet.
as in Spanish pero, a tongue trip. Don't roll as in Spanish rr, German or Scottish English.
as in lean.
as in Spanish vaca, between English v and w, but without the lip rounding of an English w. (IPA: ʋ).
as in shoot.
almost indistinguishable retroflex of the above. slightly more aspirated.