I would like to guide you a little bit through some basic rules of German pronunciation. Sound is very important in the German language. If you mispronounce words, people might not understand you, or even worse, you could accidentally insult someone unintentionally. To offer you a little bit of relief, luckily German pronunciation is not exceptionally difficult. However, there are some simple basic rules that you should learn like the German alphabet.
A tip: Be sure that you are pronouncing the words that you are learning correctly and remember those rules. There aren’t many exceptions in the German pronunciation so once learned it will be easy to integrate.
Let me try to explain some basic rules by comparing them with the English pronunciation. For better comprehension, I have used basic German words as examples which is very convenient for you as a beginner. By the way, in general as a rule English or French words in German keep their original pronunciation, e.g. Restaurant – [rɛstoˈrɑ̃ː]).
“e” = sounds similar to English “e” in “help” (Example: helfen = to help)
“i” = sounds like “i” in “to live” (ich bin = I am)
“h” at the word beginning = h (Haus = house)
vowel + “h” = long vowel (gehen <- sounds like ‘geen’ = to go)
“s” at the word beginning (singen = to sing); “s” between 2 vowels (Hase = rabbit, Musik = music) = “z” like in English “zigzag”
“ss”, “ß” = s (essen = to eat; heiß = hot, Fuß = foot)
“sch” = “sh” (Schule = school)
“tsch” = you get this if you say “t” and “sh” almost at the same time, just try to spell them one after another (i.e. “t” before “sh”) as quickly as you can (Deutsch = German)
vowel + duplicate consonant = short vowel (Bett = bed; Sonne = sun)
ch = h (machen = to make)
ck = k (backen = to bake)
“z”, “tz” = try to say “t + s” at the same time and you should get that sound (tanzen = to dance)
r at the beginning of the word makes a gurgling sound. When the letter r appears at the beginning of a word, it creates a rolling sound way in the back of your throat. Give it a try. Make an r sound, then pretend you are gurgling while you do it
r (at the end of the word) sounds like “uh”
(e.g. Die Jacke ist teuer – This jacket is expensive)
ch sounds like an angry cat. Try it out by making a very short, cat-hissing sound.
The ß is just a “ss” sound. Or is it a snake about to attack? Don’t let that weird “ß” symbol confuse you. It’s called an eszet. It’s just an “s” sound, “sss.” In fact, it’s been an ongoing debate whether to eliminate the eszet and replace it with a double-s (ss) as part of a spelling reform movement
The j in German is pronounced like an English “y” sounds like. You say die Jacke (the Jacket), like you would say yes
The w sounds like the English v or as if a car is refusing to start? You’re definitely going to need to master this sound because almost all German question words begin with w’s (Was?, Wann?, Wo?)
The v sounds like the English f. Can you hear the wind blowing? This one may sound like wind, but that was the sound the letter v makes in German. It’s the same sound as our English f (der Vater – father)
Ready for some vocal gymnastics? We Germans have a few vowels that don’t exist in English.
The double dots above vowels are called Umlauts. They change the sound of the vowel to something that sounds like you’re getting dental work done while trying to speak. Surprise your dentist on your next visit and practice your German with some Umlauts.
Here’s what they sound like:
ä – sounds like the short-e sound in English, like in “end”.
der Käse – the cheese
das Mädchen – the girl
ö – Try to start with a short -e, and now round your lips like you’re going to suck on a straw. That sound at the end is what you’re going for!
der Löffel – the spoon
schön – pretty
ü – Start with a long -e sound (like “keep”) and without moving your tongue, round your lips like you’re about to suck on a straw. That sound at the end is what you’re going for.
die Tür – the door
über – above, over
When you start to learn German please always remember that ALL German nouns should be written with a capital letter. Every word that has der, die, das in front of it, is a noun and needs to be written with a capital letter.
e.g. der Sport (sports), die Schule (school), das Mädchen (girl), das Haus (house) etc.
I hope you have a better understanding now of the basic rules of German pronunciation. If you still feel uncomfortable with it and would like to be sure that you are pronouncing some German work correctly, please check out some free online dictionaries with German pronunciation.
Ponds – This site is great because it will help you to translate any word into many different languages. It also offers an online vocabulary trainer.
Dict.cc – I like this site because of the huge number of language combinations that it offers. Among the usual combinations (like German – Englisch, German – Spanish, etc.), you can find the following “exotic” combinations: German – Latin, German – Esperanto, German – Serbian, etc. That’s just great!
Youtube – As one of the biggest platforms, you will find numerous videos to practice your German pronunciation. Just type in ‘German pronunciation’ and select a video of your choice. Here’s one you might like:
Great! Now you got the tools you need to master your German pronunciation but perfection comes with practice. For you to complete a German vocal workout you can download Readle – Learn German App. Readle offers textbooks, lessons, dictionaries, grammar, and more.