German has often been viewed by non-Germans as a harsh sounding language. That may be due in part to the more guttural pronunciation of certain German alphabet sounds and diphthongs and perhaps even a still lingering effect of old WWII movie stereotypes. Once non-German speakers familiarize themselves with German’s different sounds however, another kind of poetic beauty will unfold before them that has been revered worldwide in the works of many German greats, such as Goethe, Schiller through prose and song.
How does the German alphabet differ from the English alphabet?
Unique Traits of the German Alphabet:
|Buchstabe/ Letter||Aussprache des Buchstabenamens/ Pronunciation of letter name||Aussprache des Buchstaben - wie in/ Sound of Letter - as in||Beispiele/ Examples|
|A a||ah||astronaut||der Adler (eagle), Januar (January)|
|B b||approximate: bay||baby||der Bruder (brother), aber (but)|
|C c||approximate: tsay||creative, Celcius (soft c sound in German sounds like ts)||der Chor, der Christkindlmarkt (south German term for der Weihnachtsmarkt/ Christmas market), Celcius|
|D d||approximate: day||dollar||Dienstag (Tuesday), oder (or)|
|E e||approximate: ay||elegant||essen (to eat), zuerst (first)|
|F f||eff||effort||der Freund (friend), offen (open)|
|G g||approximate: gay||gorgeous||gut (good), gemein (mean)|
|H h||haa||hammer||der Hammer, dieMühle (mill)|
|I i||eeh||Igor||der Igel (porcupine), der Imbiss (snack), sieben (seven)|
|J j||yot||yellow||das Jahr (year), jeder (each)|
|K k||kah||camel||das Kamel, der Kuchen (cake)|
|L l||ell||love||die Leute (people), das Land (land)|
|M m||em||man||der Mann, die Ameise|
|N n||en||nice||nicht (not), die Münze (coin)|
|O o||oh||oven||Ostern (Easter),rot (red)|
|P p||approximate: pay||party||die Polizei (police), der Apfel|
|Q q||koo||coral||das Quadrat (square), die Quelle (source)|
Note: All German words start with qu (kw - sound)
|R r||approximate: er||rich||der Rücken (the back), der Stern (star)|
|S s||es||zoo, shine, mouse||summen (to hum), schön (pretty, nice), die Maus|
|T t||approximate: tay||tyrant||der Tyrann, acht (eight)|
|U u||ooh||ou sound in you||die Universität (university), der Mund (mouth)|
|V v||fow||father||der Vogel (bird), die Nerven (nerves)|
|W w||approximate: vay||van||die Wange (cheek), das Schwein (pig, wieviel (how much)|
|X x||ix||sounds like kz||das Xylofon/ Xylophon, die Hexe (witch) |
Note: There are hardly any German words that start with X
|Y y||uep-si-lohn||yellow||die Yucca, der Yeti|
Note: There are hardly any German words that start with Y.
|Z z||tset||sounds like ts||die Zeitung (newspaper), der Zigeuner (gypsy)|
Umlaut + ß
|Aussprache des Buchstaben/ Pronunciation of Letter||Beispiele/ Examples|
|ä||sounds similar to the e in melon||ähnlich (similar), gähnen (to yawn)|
|ö||sounds similar to the i in girl||Österreich (Austria), der Löwe (lion)|
|ü||no equivalent nor approximate sound in English||über (over),müde (tired)|
|ß (esszet)||double s sound||heiß (hot),die Straße (street)|
As in English German vowels can be pronounced as long or as short ones. Often, it changes the meaning of the word entirely.
Kahn (boat) – kann ((I) can)
Offen (open) – Ofen (oven)
If there is a letter "h" used after the vowel, the vowel will be pronounced as a long one.
Diphthongs and Digraphs
Diphthongs are complex sounds. Basically, you pronounce two tones as one gliding from the first one tot he second, the first sound being highlighted.
There are a few Diphthongs in German. Please refer tot he table below.
|ei||It is pronounced as the English word "eye"|
|ai||Same as the above|
|au||It is pronounced as "ow" in the word "cow"|
|eu||It is pronounced as "oy" in the word "boy"|
|äu||Same as the above|
Digraphs are two (or more) letters that are read/pronounced as one sound. Again, please refer tot he table below.
|aa||Ah (as in the alphabet)|
|ah||Same as the above|
|äh||As "ä" in the alphabet (long sound)|
|ch||This one is a little tricky.|
After the letters a, o, u and the diphthong au, it is pronounced similar to the guttural ch in Scottish "loch". Remember the Loch Ness Monster?
After any other letter ch is a palatal sound. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent for this sound in English.
|sch||As English "sh"|
|ph||Mostly in words with Greek origin, same as English "philosophy"|
|ie||It is pronounced as English "ee" in the word "green"|
|ee||Now, do not confuse this with the English "ee". This one is pronounced as a long sound "eh" (take the "e" from "red" and make it sound long)|
|eh||Same as the above|
|th||In some foreign words it is pronounced as "t" (for example, "Theater"). While it looks like an English word it does not sound the same way.|
|ck||It is pronounced as "k"|
|sp||It is pronounced as "shp"|
|st||It is pronounced as "st"|
|tsch||It is pronounced as "ch"|
These are the basic rules of German pronunciation. Before we finish our first lesson I would like to draw your attention to a few more rules.
If the German word ends with b, d, g these letters are pronounced as sounds p, t, k respectively.
Germanv is pronounced as English f. Please try not to confuse the two.
German w is pronounced as English v. Again, please try not to confuse the two.
German h is silent after the vowel (but we already figured that one our, didn't we?)
German z is pronounced as ts, and nothing like the English z.
English Zoo – German Zoo (Tsoh)