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:
(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