This confuses a lot of Americans. They pronounce kh as "k." Х is still closer to an English "H," even if it's a more hard sound. For example, "Казахстан" is "Kazakhstan" in English. Americans call it "kazakstan." The problem is that "Kazakh" (a person from Kazahstan) is pronounced "kazak" by Americans. It should be "kazah," because a "казак" is a Cossack which a completely different group of people than Казах.
I'm winging it here but (and you're not wrong - and I'm American so I could completely be! But I'm only speaking about that approach) I don't think that's quite the right way to explain it.
While "KH" is closer to the English "H", it's still not quite there. It seems like there are a few Russian sounds that are pronounced deeper in the throat than any English sounds are. Х and Ы are the two that come to mind.
Almost all sounds in English happen well above the adam's apple.
Х and Ы in Russian seem to require an expansion of the throat and they seem to come from at or below the adam's apple in the expanded throat.
I think if you don't address the deeper and expanded throat KH is going to be more "phlegmy" than maybe it should be?
But I could totally be hearing it wrong.
Edit: Also, Хрущев might be a good example as well.
Alias, you're absolutely right! Just not phlegmy except by accident. I would say it's even lighter than the Spanish J or GE/GI, but barely. My point is less about the sound it makes than about its written transliteration as "kh."
My point was just that the transliteration of буквы Х into "KH" using the letter K is misleading to English-speakers. But it's better than the German, Czech, Polish "CH". You understand why, Alias. Maybe it should be like HH or something like that?
First, thank you!
Secondly, my apologies I didn't realize you were talking specifically about transliteration.
Are you trying to turn me into you? ;-) I see the point of it, but I don't like transliteration, it makes me kind of like you when you're cranky. There's no actual standard and you run into this exact situation so often.
I do completely understand why and what you're saying (I think). Either way we (Americans) are going to pronounce it wrong. But maybe the HH would feel less harsh to your ear? I suspect it would still sound off.
I don't know the German/Czech/Polish CH sound, but if it's anything like the Scottish "CH" in "Loch" that might actually get you closer to a less offensive sound. Everyone knows Loch Ness.
Regardless, outside of using the IPA, I think trying to accurately describe sounds that don't exist in SomeLanguage in SomeLanguage's alphabet is a lost cause. And that's when the alphabets are the same!
Circling back, I think you're right the Russian Х is definitely softer and more breathy than the Spanish sounds you mentioned (which seem to have more throat friction).
A very good word to practice this sound distinction is Kukhna/Kuxna/Kuhna. Different transliteration systems use different letters (Kh/H/X). Not always phonetically exact. This is why it's good to use a book for your studies as well, they will usually have a pronunciation table in the earliest lessons and display the distinctions.