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8 Basic German Words for Questions & How to Use them

German question words

Learning how to ask some basic questions in German will help you engage more with others and develop your language skills.

Conversations need to be two-way, and the more you ask questions, the faster you’re going to learn.

Using the German question words in this tutorial, you’ll be able to ask how much something costs, where someone is from, and more. Let’s get started!

8 German Words for Questions

In order to ask basic questions in German, you’ll need to memorize some new vocabulary. Here are eight German question words you can use in everyday conversation.

  • Wo (where)
  • Woher (where from)
  • Wohin (where to)
  • Wann (when)
  • Was (what)
  • Wer (who)
  • Wie (how)
  • Warum (why)

You may notice that there are multiple ways to ask questions with the word “where.” Depending on the context of what you are asking, the word you use for “where” will differ. Check out the following sentences for examples of their usage.

  • Wo wohnst du? (Where do you live?)
  • Woher kommst du? (Where are you from?)
  • Wohin gehst du diesen Sommer? (Where are you going to go this summer?)
  • Wann fliegst du nach Deutschland? (When do you fly to Germany?)
  • Was machst du dieses Wochenende? (What are you doing this weekend?)
  • Wer ist das? (Who is that?)
  • Wie alt bist du? (How old are you?)
  • Warum gehst du nach Hause? (Why are you going home?)

All of the German question words start with the letter “W.” Remember to pronounce the “W”s in German as you would pronounce a “V” in English.  

You also need to remember that in German, questions might be worded a little differently than what you’re used to. For example, when you want to know somebody’s name in English you ask: What is your name?

This example uses the word “what.” But in German, you would use the word wie, which means “how.” For example: Wie ist dein name? (literally: how is your name?). You can also ask: Wie heißt du? (literally: how are you called?).

How to Form Sentences with German Question Words

To structure a question in German using your newly learned vocabulary, you must start with the question word first. Next you’ll add the inflected verb in the second position, and then finally – the subject.

If there is anything else within the question, then it will follow the subject. For example:

Wohin gehst du? (Where are you going?)

In this sentence, Wohin (where to) is the question word, gehst (go) is the inflected verb, and du (you) is the subject.

Here is another example:

Warum wohnt er jetzt in Deutschland? (Why does he live in Germany now?)

Here, Warum (why) is the question word, wohnt (live) is the verb, er (he) is the subject. Jetzt in Deutschland (now in Germany) is the rest of the information, which will always go last.

Differences Between German and English Questions

As you can see, the sentence structure for forming basic questions in German differs from English. In German you have the question word, then the verb, and then the subject. However in English, we use verb phrases which are split with the subject.

Let’s go back to the example above:

Wohin gehst du? (Where are you going?)

In the English version, you have the word “where” first. Then “are,” which is the first part of the verb phrase, is followed by the subject, “you.” Finally, the second part of the verb phrase – “going” – completes the question.

When asking a question in German, these verb phrases aren’t necessary. This is because in German, the present tense conjugation of a verb can be interpreted in three different ways in English. For example, er wohnt translates to:

  • He lives
  • He does live
  • He is living

Because of this, German questions might seem like they’re missing an element or two when compared to their English counterparts. But they are actually more simple than questions in English.

10 Basic Questions in German

Now that you know how to form questions there will be no stopping you! To start practicing your skills, here are 10 basic questions in German that every beginner should know. Try to figure out the literal meaning of each sentence for extra practice.

  • Wie geht es dir? (How are you?)
  • Woher kommst du? (Where are you from?)
  • Wie spät ist es? (What time is it?)
  • Wie ist das Wetter? (How is the weather?)
  • Wie weit ist es? (How far is it?)
  • Wo sind die Toiletten? (Where are the restrooms?)
  • Wo kann ich _____ kaufen? (Where can I buy _______?)
  • Was kostet das? (How much is it?)
  • Wo finde ich ein Geldautomat? (Where do I find an ATM?)
  • Wann fährt den Zug/das Flugzeug ab? (When does the train/plane depart?)

Hopefully these questions inspire you to go spark up some conversations with new friends. If you feel like you need more guidance though, try working with a großartig (German teacher) to really take your skills to the next level.

Taking private German lessons is very beneficial as you’ll get to work at your own pace, following a curriculum that is tailored to your individual needs and goals. Best of luck learning German!

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How Long Does it Take to Learn German? Find Out Here.

How long does it take to learn German

“How long does it take to learn German fluently?” This is a straightforward question with an answer that differs from person to person. The amount of time it will take you to master the German language relies on multiple factors, including your end goal.

Do you need to be professionally fluent, able to easily speak with others in a business setting? Perhaps you’ve stumbled into a company that does a lot of business in German-speaking countries and you’d like to talk with your clients.

Or, are you looking to learn the language for more casual reasons, such as to carry on conversations with friends and family? Maybe you’d just like to learn German to read Goethe in the original language.

Once you have your end goals in mind, you can more accurately answer the question: how long does it take to learn German? Let’s look at a couple different sources that provide estimates for how long it takes to learn the language.

How Long Does it Take to Learn German?

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) and its companion volume exist due to the exhaustive studies completed by some of Europe’s greatest minds on the subject of language learning. These volumes give us an idea of how long it might take you to learn German.

It’s important to keep in mind that each person will have a different, personal learning curve when they work toward learning a language. But we can infer from the CEFR data that it may take around 1,000 hours of dedicated practice time to reach a “high intermediate” level of language proficiency.

So if you’re looking for an estimate of how long it takes to learn German, it can take around three years with one hour per day of practice, or one year at three hours per day.

Across the Atlantic, the United States Foreign Service Institute uses a different measurement for language proficiency: the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) Scale. They suggest that with enough resources, someone could reach a “general professional proficiency” in German in 750 hours.

Note: this study, however helpful, included highly adept polyglots (people who already speak several languages) making up the bulk of its participants.

3 Quick Tips for Learning German

Either way you look at it, these studies show that German might take quite a bit of time to learn. But fear not! There are plenty of ways to speed things up for yourself. Check out the following tips to get started.

Tip #1: Language Immersion

how long does it take to learn German fluently

Total immersion is often cited as the best way to learn a language. Moving to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, or Liechtenstein presents a sink-or-swim experience that is highly beneficial if you want to learn German quickly.  

The difficulty though, is that not everyone has the ability to fly off to Europe for a couple years. This is where finding a language partner (or two) comes in handy.

Tip #2: Find Language Partners

how long does it take to learn German

There are many native German speakers who are looking to improve their English skills online. Dozens of sites allow you to connect with other language learners for a “language exchange.” In other words, you help them with their English and they help you with your German.

Another excellent way to practice your speaking skills is to meet other German speakers near you. Check out sites like Meetup to look for opportunities to hang out with other German speakers and students locally. The more you make speaking German a regular part of your daily life, the faster you’ll learn it.  

Tip #3: Take German Lessons

how long does it take to learn German fluently

A sure-fire way to jump start your foray into German would be to take some German classes or even private German lessons. There are plenty of experienced instructors who offer both in-person and online lessons.

Working with a German teacher will set you up for success right off the bat, as they’ll be able to tailor a structured curriculum for meeting your individual goals.

So, how long does it take to learn German fluently? The real answer is that it varies from person to person. Learning a language is one of those “you get what you put into it” types of skills. But if you put the strategies listed above into practice, you’re already well on your way!

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5 Important Language Learning Tips for Adults

University Life 104

Do you remember learning a language back in high school or college? If it’s been several years (or decades), it’s normal to feel a bit lost when you’re ready to get back at it.

And while receiving a formal education is wonderful for daily language practice, it isn’t always practical. Amid all of your responsibilities as an adult, finding the time to re-learn a language is undoubtedly a challenge!

Working with a language tutor, along with taking advantage of the many language-learning resources online, can be a great way to learn — but you also may need to approach it with a different mindset than you had in high school.

If you find yourself in this scenario, the language-learning blog Games for Language has some great ideas for you. Here’s an excerpt from their article, featuring five language learning tips for easing yourself back in:

1. Develop a new mindset
– Rather than being anxious about grades and not making a fool of yourself in front of your classmates, you can direct your attention to acquiring practical language skills.

2. Find something that makes re-entry into the language fun
– It can be anything you like: listening to music, scanning news headlines on your tablet, watching a tv soap, reading an easy ebook, playing language games, etc.

3. Start putting together your resource list
– While many of your resources will probably be online, a well-rounded resource list also contains some hands-on paper grammar books, phrase books, dictionaries, novels, stories, magazines, etc.

4. Do something in your foreign language (almost) every day
– The amount of time you spend is less important than the daily routine. Try to apply the 20-minute rule — doing something for 20 minutes is manageable for almost everyone.

5. Find a native speaker to talk with
– Find a language-exchange partner in an online community or a tutor on Skype. It could even be someone in your own neighborhood who is eager to speak his or her own language with you.

Seems pretty doable, right? Putting these five tips into practice is what will get you started on re-learning your language of choice. As with any skill, consistent practice is the main ingredient for achieving success. Don’t be discouraged by the workload — instead, organize your work and chip at it little by little every day.

For a more in-depth look at these tips, check out the full article here.

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german pronunciation

5 Basic Rules of German Pronunciation [Audio]

german pronunciation

Mastering a German accent can be difficult. Below, German teacher Tyler S. shares the five basic rules of German pronunciation as well as audio to help you practice…

Learning the proper pronunciation of the German alphabet can often feel like an overwhelming task.

However, there’s no need to panic, as it’s only a matter of time and practice until you learn how to speak German.

To make learning how to speak German easier, we’ve summarized the five basic rules of German pronunciation. Note that each rule has audio so you can practice as you go along.

Let’s get started with learning German pronunciation!

1. German vowels are not the same as English vowels.

The very first German pronunciation hurdle that I help most of my students overcome is learning German vowels. This is a challenging task simply because German vowels differ significantly from English.

Here are some audio clips of myself pronouncing each German vowel belonging to the sound inventory of Modern Standard German.

As you listen to the examples below, please take extra time to practice the sounds that do not have an English equivalent.

  • a =“ah” as in father

  • e =“eh” as in hair

  • i =“ee” as in week

  • o =“oh” (no English equivalent)

  • u =“oo” as in spooky

  • ä =“eh” as in every

  • ö = (no English equivalent)

  • ü =(no English equivalent)

  • au =“ow” as in how

  • eu/äu = “oy” as in toy

  • ei =“ai” as in Thailand

2. The “stress” of a given word is placed on the word’s first syllable.

Although it may come naturally to a native speaker of English, some students experience difficulty with German word stress.

When I mention the notion of word stress, I am referring to how some vowels (or syllables) within a word are pronounced with greater duration and intensity. This means the vowel is pronounced longer and louder if it is stressed.

In German, a word’s stress almost always falls onto the word’s first vowel (or syllable). I’ve included a small list of words as examples below. Each word’s stress is enclosed in parentheses:

  • (Au)to= car

  • (En)gel = angel

  • (Häu)ser = houses

3. The German letter “ß” is pronounced like the English “s” sound.

Although the symbol, “ß”, was derived from the Greek alphabet, Germany adopted it to represent the English “s” sound.

This is probably because the German letter “s” can vary in the two sounds it represents. The actual name of the letter is the “eszet”.

One final note: this symbol is often found in old German words rather than recent neologisms. See examples below:

  • der Spaß = fun

  • reißen = to rip

  • genießen = to enjoy

4. The German Letter “s” is pronounced like the English “z” in most cases.

Whenever the letter “s” occurs at the beginning of a German word, and is followed by a vowel, it is pronounced as if it were the English “z”. It also is pronounced in this way when it occurs between vowels. See examples below:

  • Siegfried = Siegfried (the first name)

  • sehen = to see

  • das Wesen = being (as in human being)

Whenever the letter “s” occurs at the end of a German word (or after the last vowel within that word), it is pronounced as in the English “s”. Likewise, if you see a double-s occur within a word, it is also pronounced like the English “s”. See examples below:

  • der Preis = price

  • die Post = post office

  • das Essen = food

5. The German sound “ch” is not equivalent to the English sound “sh”.

This is one easy correction you can make to your German pronunciation to develop a good, understandable German accent.

There is actually no true English equivalent to this sound either. It just takes practice and a keen ear when listening to German.

I recently learned a great trick for helping beginners pronounce the German “ch.” Practice the laughing sound “heeheehee” out loud. Notice how your vocal chords are vibrating when you laugh.

In order to make the “ch” sound, you have to allow air to flow through your vocal chords without vibrating. If you do this, you will automatically make the sound “ch”. Please refer to the following audio clip for some helpful examples:

Taking the time to listen to the audio clips above and practicing is a recipe for significantly improving your German pronunciation.

Ich hoffe, Sie haben viel gelernt! Bis das nächste Mal! (I hope you learned a lot! Until next time…)

Photo by Pedro Ribeiro Simoes

Tyler S.Post Author: Tyler S.
Tyler S. teaches in-person German lessons in Minneapolis, MN. He received his Bachelor’s degree in German and linguistics from the University of Minnesota, and has experience working as a teaching assistant and private tutor with TakeLessons since 2008. What’s more? He can speak 7 different languages! Learn more about Tyler here!

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german vocabulary list

German Vocabulary List for Back to School

german vocabulary list

Are you planning on studying German this school year? Get a head start with this German vocabulary list created by German teacher Tyler S

It’s that time of year again when students in both the United States and Germany are getting back into the swing of things.

If you plan on studying Germany this year or you’re already taking German lessons, the following German vocabulary list will be indispensable in your studies.

If you take the time to study school-related German vocabulary, you’ll have a much easier time functioning in the classroom.

Wortschatz fürs Klassenzimmer

(Vocabulary for the Classroom)

Memorizing the Germany vocabulary list below will not only improve your comprehension in German, but it will also enable you to strike up a friendly conversation about life in the classroom:

Useful German Phrases for the Classroom

Now it’s time to learn some useful German phrases related to school. Anyone who is taking a German class this school year can benefit from this German vocabulary list.

Here are some common expressions to add to your Wortschatz (vocabulary):

  • In welcher Klasse bist du?” (What grade are you in?)
  • “Ich bin in der zehnten Klasse.” (I’m in 10th grade.)
  • Ich habe die Prüfung bestanden!” (I passed the test!)
  • “Wann ist die Hausaufgabe fällig?” (When is the homework due?)
  • “Mein Lieblingsfach ist…” (My favorite subject is…)

If you want to customize the German phrases above, try inserting a specific subject. Here’s a quick list of the various school subjects.

  • Biologie (Biology)
  • Chemie (Chemistry)
  • Deutsch (German)
  • Erdkunde (Geography)
  • Englisch (English)
  • Geschichte (History)
  • Kunst (Art)
  • Musik (Music)
  • Mathematik (Math)
  • Sport (Physical Education)

The German Grading System

Did you know that grading systems can differ given the country in which they originate? When I was a newly arrived exchange student in Germany, I remember being surprised to learn that the grading system differed from America’s A-F system.

There were two main differences between the two grading systems. First, there is no A-F letter system in Germany because they use numbers instead of letters to represent grades. The number “1”, for example, is the best score you can receive, and a “6” is the equivalent of an “F”.

Secondly, it seemed much more difficult to attain a “1” in a class in Germany than it is to receive an A. As a result, there tend to be less A’s and a much higher level of B’s in a student body.

So, if you are normally an A-student in the United States, don’t be surprised if in Germany you tend to get 2’s. This is simply due to differences in the way German culture grades their students on their work.

This back-to-school German vocabulary list will save you frustration in during your German studies. Studying this list will enable you to have a much easier time participating and understanding your teacher.

Viel Spaß beim Lernen dieses Jahr! (Have a great time learning this year!)

Tyler S.Post Author: Tyler S.
Tyler S. teaches in-person German lessons in Minneapolis, MN. He received his Bachelor’s degree in German and linguistics from the University of Minnesota, and has experience working as a teaching assistant and private tutor with TakeLessons since 2008. What’s more? He can speak 7 different languages! Learn more about Tyler here!

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german slang

10 Commonly-Used German Slang Words and Phrases

Take a break from your textbook to learn some fun German slang words and phrases outlined by German teacher Trevor H. below…

Every language has its own set of unique slang words and phrases, even German! While traveling throughout Germany and/or speaking with natives, you’re bound to encounter some German slang words and phrases.

Oftentimes, these words and phrases aren’t outlined in your German study books, which is why we’ve gathered up some of the most common German slang words to ensure that you’ll be able to carry casual conversations with natives.

Below are some fun, and often hilarious, German slang words and phrases.

1. Super!

Don’t confuse the word “super” with “Suppe,” which sounds almost exactly the same. Used much in the same way we use it in English, “super” is a word I’ve heard the most since learning German.

Schedule a meeting: “Super!” Show off a guitar riff: “Super!” Make a hole-in-one while mini-golfing: “Super!” Just remember to pronounce that “s” as an English “z.”

2. Na?

Na” is an informal way to say “hello.” Use it in place of the American slang phrase, “Yo, how’s it going?” You can even say it as a response to itself. Add in “alles Klar” if you really want to be verbose.

3. Naja

This German slang word is one that I use most often. It’s used the same way as “well…” is used at the start of a sentence. It gives you a little extra time to think about what case the articles of the following sentence will be in.

4. Auf jeden Fall

This is a great way to wrap up a thought. It’s also easy to assimilate, considering how similar “auf jeden Fall” is to the English phrase “in any case.” Change “jeden” to “keinen” and all of a sudden it means “in no case.” This is a very useful German phrase to add your repertoire.

5. Prost!

If you have any desire to go to Oktoberfest or any pub for that matter, you should definitely learn this German slang word. It’s used just like “Cheers!” is used in English. You may also want to brush up on a drinking song or two.

6. Fett

Fett” literally means “fat,” but just like the American slang word it can take on positive connotations. You can use it like “cool” in English. For example, “Das Gitarrenriff ist fett!” or “That guitar riff is cool/fat!”

7. Alda/Alta/Alter

Chances are you’ve heard the word “dude” once or twice. Here’s your opportunity to use the German version. “Alter” literally means “old one,” so reserving it for friends is probably a good idea, as you don’t want to offend anyone.

8. Sie gleichen sich wie ein Ei dem anderen.

This German slang phrase is the equivalent of the English idiom “two peas in a pod.” Although, this German phrase means something more along the lines of, “They seem like each-other like one egg resembles the others.”

9. Zwielichtig

This German slang word is fun to say. “Zwielicht”–which literally means twilight– is meant to describe something or someone as “shady” or “dodgy.” For example, “Er is ein zwielichtigen Kerl,” or “He’s a shady guy.”

10. Mach’s Gut

Rather than say “Auf Wiedersehen!” or “goodbye,” use the German slang phrase “Mach’s Gut.” This is a less formal way of saying goodbye, which is literally translated to “make it good.” However, it means something along the lines of “have a good one.”

Hopefully you’ll get a lot of use out of these German slang words and phrases. I know I certainly have.

If you’re looking to learn more German slang words and phrases, ask your German teacher or speak with a native German! The more you speak to natives the easier it is to learn the language and culture.

And with that I’ll leave you with one more: “Ende gut, alles gut.” All’s well that ends well.

Trevor H.Post Author: Trevor H.
Trevor H. is a German instructor in El Cajon, CA. He studied German in college and has been teaching the language for more than 10 years. Learn more about Trevor here!

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10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving to Germany

moving to germany

Are you moving to Germany for a job, a significant other, or simply a change of scenery? Whatever the reason, moving to Germany—or any foreign country for that matter—is downright terrifying.

Not only are you away from your closest friends and family, but you’re living in a country you know little about.

Sure you’ve read all the travel books and even learned some German, but nothing can prepare you for the adventure in which you’re about to embark.

Lucky for you, we’ve interviewed several expats who’ve made the brave move to Germany and asked them what they wish someone would have told them before moving to Germany.

Here’s the helpful advice they had to share.

1. Learn the Language Beforehand

moving to germany

“In Germany, German is taught German to German, unless you get a private tutor. I would advise taking a course in your own country to get a base,” says Adriana Kroeller of Changing Plate.

There are many different ways in which you can learn German, whether you choose in-person or online lessons. Whichever you choose, it’s important that you learn some basic German before your big move to help smooth the transition.

2. Everyone Rides a Bike

moving to germany

In Germany, the preferred mode of transportation is biking. In fact, Germany ranked amongst the top five EU countries where people cycle most, according to a survey. When asked what mode of transportation they use most often, 8% of the 27,000 people surveyed in the 28 EU Member States answered ‘bicycle.’

Each town, city, and state has different laws concerning bicycles, and laws are strictly enforced. So before moving to Germany, it’s might be a good idea to brush up on the biking laws in the area in which you’ll be moving.

3. Most German Stereotypes Aren’t True

moving to germany

“Despite their reputations for being cold, Germans are usually very helpful. You just have to ask.  I was very shy when I first arrived, and I think that made things much more difficult,” says Jennifer of American Faultier.

While Germans aren’t ones for small-talk, they are actually quite friendly and willing to help. Therefore, don’t be afraid to ask questions—no matter how mundane they may seem.

4. Kiss Your Sunday Routine Goodbye

moving to germany

In the U.S., people will spend their Sundays checking off the many tasks on their to-do lists, such as mowing the lawn, vacuuming the house, and going grocery shopping.

In Germany, Sundays are Ruhetag or “day of rest.” Neighbors are expected to keep quiet and all grocery and other retail stores are closed with the exception of churches, Biergartens, and gas stations.

5. Learning German Isn’t as Easy as You Think

moving to germany

“I think the one thing that would’ve saved me a lot of tears and frustration is if I had realized that stumbling your way through basic social interactions in German is an expat rite of passage. Fluency will take a lot longer than you think,” says Caitlin Travis of Life as an Auslander.

“In my experience, Germans know how hard their language is and they’re more than happy to slow down, listen patiently, and help you fix all your grammatical mistakes. They appreciate your effort.”

6. Start Your Search for Accommodations Early

moving to germany

It can be difficult to find inexpensive accommodations throughout Germany, especially in the major cities like Munich.

“There are lots of things that surprised me about moving to Munich, for one it’s not at all easy to find somewhere to live, it can take months.  If you are moving here with a company life’s a lot easier if you find a relocation agent beforehand,” said Emma of A Bavarian Sojourn.

“Munich is popular for a reason, it’s a great place to work, but even better to live.  Where else can you find a city with so much on its doorstep?”

So, before moving to Germany it’s important to start your search early on. If you want to be extra cautious, you might even want to find accommodation before you arrive in Germany.

7. Germans Can Be Very Direct

moving to germany

“There are tons of things I wish I knew before I moved to Germany. The biggest, however, would have to be researching a bit more about Germans themselves. There are a lot of ways Germans carry themselves and act, which for me was a bit shocking in the beginning. For example, almost all Germans are very direct when speaking with or about something/someone,” said Derek of The Migrant Expats.

“See we Americans are raised in a culture filled with sugar-coated statements that only hint at the truth, especially when talking about something we dislike. The Germans are the complete opposite. This isn’t to say Germans are intentionally mean. Rather quite the contrary. Being unabashedly direct is considered polite and is just a cultural difference. I still find myself getting offended every now and again, but honestly, I’ve gotten used to it…for the most part.”

 8. Germans Take Recycling Very Seriously

moving to germany

Germany is Europe’s leader in all things green. Residents are very vigilant about recycling their trash—so much so that they might give you a dirty look if they catch you placing a plastic bottle in the wrong bin.

There are tons of recycling rules that can be confusing for newbie recyclers to understand. So be sure to acquaint yourself with the all of the guidelines. And when in doubt, just ask your next door neighbor!

9. The Paperwork

moving to germany

“I wish I’d known more about the bureaucratic process that one needs to follow upon moving to Germany. I naively thought that once my visa was approved, that’s all I’d need to do. I had no clue about having to register your address with the bürgeramt to get the official paper that allows you to open a bank account, get a cell phone contract etc.,” said Cheryl Howard of cherylhoward.com.

“I’d recommend that anyone who’s moving to Germany read up in advance on how to go about doing this. It may seem overwhelming if you don’t know any German, but that’s why learning German before you get here comes in handy.”

10. Germans Are Proud of Their Culture

moving to germany

Whether they’re from Munich, Berlin, or Hamburg, Germans are extremely proud of what region they come from and uphold long-time traditions.

“What’s one last thing you should know that I perhaps love about this area the most?  How proud Bavarians are of their traditions, much more so than we Brits,” said Emma.

“Here everything is celebrated from bringing the cows down from the mountains at the end of the summer, the bier, the harvests, spring, and of course the glorious Christmas markets. And a lot of the time they dress up to celebrate – tracht isn’t just worn for Oktoberfest!”

Moving to Germany–or any foreign country–can be extremely stressful. Follow the advice above to help make your move less strenuous and more enjoyable.

Have you moved to Germany? If so, share your best advice for moving to Germany below.

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5 Most Common German Pronunciation Mistakes

german pronunciation

Are you having trouble with your German pronunciation? Below, German teacher Tyler S. shares the five most common German pronunciation mistakes and how to avoid them…

Learning how to speak proper German can be difficult. Don’t be discouraged, however, if you feel stuck and can’t figure out how to pronounce certain sounds.

After all, it’s hard to articulate sounds when they don’t exist in your native language.

In this article, I will walk you through the top five most common German pronunciation mistakes that students often make.

Each section introduces its sound(s) as spelt in German, and provides an explanation of pronunciation that includes examples.

1. The sound “z”

One common sound that English speakers have trouble with is the letter “z”. Students often pronounce this letter like the English “z”, as in the word “buzzing”.

This, however, is incorrect if you’re speaking German.

The German letter “z” is pronounced like the English letters “t” and “s” combined, like in the word “cats”. If you want to sound like a German, replace the letter “z” with the English sound “ts”.

See examples below:

  • zwei  (two)
  • der Sturz  (crash)
  • das Flugzeug (airplane)

2. The umlauts “ö”, and “ü”

When it comes to German pronunciation, these two vowels are probably the most difficult sounds to master. However, I have yet to have a student who hasn’t been able to learn how to pronounce these sounds. It is all a matter of practice!

“ö”

This sound doesn’t exist in the English language. However, if you can pronounce the “e” sound as in the English word “every”, you can pronounce this vowel.

Simply make the English sound ”e” as in “every” that I just described. Once your mouth is in this position, all you have to do is round your lips.

See examples below:

  • das Ö(oil)
  • öffnen  (to open)
  • ökonomisch (economical)

“ü” 

This sound also doesn’t exist in the English language, but its easier to pronounce than “ö”.

First, say the English sound “ee” as in “me”. Once your mouth is in this position, you once again only have to round your lips to produce “ü.”

See examples below:

  • über  (over, above)
  • müde (tired)
  • kühl (cool)

3. The sound “ch” and its alternate forms

The German letters “ch” together represent two different spoken sounds depending on which vowel comes before it in a word.

“ich/ech”

If “i” or “e” comes before “ch”, the “ch” makes a hissing sound, almost like a cat. When producing this sound, touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth or your hard palate.

Leave just enough space for air to leak through. The air leaking through this passage between your hard palate and your tongue is what creates the hissing noise.

See examples below:

  • ich (I)
  • mich (me)
  • milch (milk)

“ach/och/uch”

If “a”, “o”, or “u” comes before “ch”, the “ch” makes a harsh noise toward the back of your throat. This sound also sounds like hissing, but it’s produced at the back of the throat instead of using your hard palate.

If you’re having a difficult time, try making the English sound “k”. The trick is the make the “k” sound into a continuous hissing sound by letting air leak through the closure between your tongue and the back of your throat.

Making the sound should feel like gargling water, but your vocal chords should not be vibrating for this sound.

See examples below:

  • das Bach (stream)
  • das Loch  (hole)
  • das Buch  (book)

If you’re still confused about the proper German pronunciation, here’s a video that demonstrates the sounds:

4. The rules of the letter “s”

Most of my students think the letter “s” is the same as in English. They are partially correct. This is another one of those German letters that has two sound values (similar to how “ch” works).

The sound “s” in German can sometimes sound like the English “s”, but most of the time it sounds like the English “z” sound. The steps for deciding which sound this letter represents are simple:

If the “s” comes at the end of a German word, it’s pronounced as the English “s.” If the “s” is not at the end of the word, it’s almost always pronounced as the English “z”.

Lastly, a double-s sequence such as “ss” in a word is always pronounced like the English “s”.

See examples below:

  • der Eis (the ice)
  • sieben (seven)
  • der Esel (the donkey)

5. The rules of “st” and “sp”

The sound sequences “st” and “sp” are special in German. When either of these sound sequences occurs at the beginning of a German word, its pronunciation slightly changes.

This is actually a very easy pronunciation mistake to fix, as most students just need it to be explained to them formally.

If you see “st” at the beginning of a word, it’s pronounced as the English “sht.” If you see “sp” at the beginning of a word, it’s pronounced as the English “shp.”

See examples below:

  • die Straße (the street)
  • der Strand (the beach)
  • der Spaß (the fun)
  • der Sport (the sport)

 If “st” or “sp” is not at the beginning of a word, it is pronounced just like the English “st” in “stop”, or the English “sp” in “spooky.”

If you take the time to study these helpful German pronunciation tips, you can radically improve your German skills. Not to mention it will get rid of an accent that you may have from your native language.

Viel Spaß beim Lernen! (Have fun learning!)

Photo by Alexander Baxevanis

Tyler S.Post Author: Tyler S.
Tyler S. teaches in-person German lessons in Minneapolis, MN. He received his Bachelor’s degree in German and linguistics from the University of Minnesota, and has experience working as a teaching assistant and private tutor with TakeLessons since 2008. What’s more? He can speak 7 different languages! Learn more about Tyler here!

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