German Pronunciation: Speak Like a Native

german pronunciationWienershnitzel: if you are not German and you live in America, this is probably the only German word that you can say easily with no prior knowledge or skills in the proper pronunciation of the German language.  Do not worry; we are not here to judge.  Instead, we are going to offer you some helpful tips on everything you have to know about the proper pronunciation of the German language.  Fire up the grill, and get some bratwurst going (which originated in 13th century Germany), and get ready for some pronunciation Aufregung!

The German Alphabet

To begin, let’s go over the basic German alphabet and how you would go about pronouncing each of the letters.  Whenever you start off with a new language, you should practice pronouncing letters individually and not words, as this will give you a better grasp on the individual letter sounds.  In phrase in parenthesis will indicate the sound that each letter makes, and the following word will be an English example of how the letter sounds.

Aa: (ah)           Astronaut

Bb: (bay)          Barrel

Cc: (tsay)         Celsius, center

Dd: (day)         Dollar, dawn

Ee: (ay)            elegant, end

Ff: (eff)            Effort, effective

Gg: (gay)         Gorgeous, gape

Hh: (haa)         Hammer, hard

Ii: (eeh)            Igor

Jj: (yot)            Yellow, yell

Kk: (kah)          Camel, camera

Ll: (ell)             Love

Mm: (em)        Man, mare

Nn: (en)           Nice, niche

Oo: (oh)           Oven, over

Pp: (pay)          Party

Qq: (koo)         Coral, corporate

Rr: (er)             Rich

Ss: (es)             zoo, mouse

Tt: (tay)           Tyrant, tries

Uu: (ooh)         The “ou” sound in you

Vv: (fow)          Father, foul

Ww: (vay)        Van

X: (xix)             Sounds like “kz”

Yy:    (uep-si-lohn)

Zz: (tset)          Sounds like “ts”

Things To Know About German Letters

Here are some things to things to remember about certain letters in the German alphabet:

  • All German words start with that start with a “Qu” have a “kw” sound.
  • There are hardly any German words that start with X or Y.
  • There are more than 26 letters in the alphabet, because German has, what is called an, “extended Latin alphabet”.
  • The extra letters are ä, ö, ü and ß.
  • The pronunciation of some of these letters does not even exist within the English language.
  • A few German letters are pronounced more from the back of the throat with a glottal-like sound.  There are: g, ch, and r. However, you will need to remember that the “r” in Austria the r is trilled.
  • The “W” in German makes the same sound that a “V” does in English.
  • The “V” in German makes the same sound that the “F” does in English.
  • The “S” in German sounds like Z in English a majority of the time; especially when it is placed at the beginning of a word that is immediately followed by a vowel.
  • The “ß” in German is the only letter in the German alphabet that you will never see at the beginning of a word.

Important Vowels and Paired Consonants

Now, let’s take a look at some of the pronunciations of some important vowels and paired consonants of the German language.  These are known as diphthongs and grouped or paired consonants, respectively.

Diphthongs:  Let’s have a look at diphthongs first.  Diphthongs are two vowels that seem to mesh together when they are spoken.  Therefore, they end up having one final sound or pronunciation.

Ai / er: (eye)

Au: (ow)

Eu / äu: (oy)

Ie: (eeh)

Some examples of diphthong words in German along with their meaning are:

  • Bei: near
  • Das Ei: egg
  • Der Mai: May
  • Auch: also
  • Aas Auge: eye
  • Häuser: houses
  • Neu: new
  • Bieten: offer
  • Nie: never
  • Sie: you

Paired Consonants: Next up, we have grouped or paired consonants along with their pronunciations and a short explanation on their sounds.  Be aware that none of these are pronounced as they appear in English.

Ch: pronounced with a guttural “ch”, such as “ch” in “loch”.

Pf: (pf).  This combination of letters is pronounced quickly and omits a “puff”-like sound.

Ph: (f)

Qu: (kv)

Sch: (sh).  In German, you can split the “sh”, but never the “sch”.

Sp, St, Shp, and Sht: (sch)

Th: (t). When a “t” is involved, the pronunciation always sounds like an English “tay”, and never a “th” as you might think.

Some examples of paired consonants in German along with their meanings are:

  • das Buch: book
  •  auch: also
  • die Qual: anguish, torture
  •  die Quittung: receipt
  • Schön: pretty
  • die Schule: school
  • sprechen: speak
  • stehen: stand

Why Should You Learn German?

Now that you know the general pronunciation of certain letters in the German language, we are going to continue to offer you some reasons as to why you should consider picking up this Germanic language.

  1. Cultural Understanding: By learning German, you will broaden your horizon and be exposed to a different type of language and culture.
  2. Travel: Knowing the language will definitely make traveling to Germany a bit easier, don’t you think?  Don’t leave to get your passports just yet!
  3. Work and Study: Being able to immerse yourself in a different culture’s work and study ethic is a whole other experience that can benefit you tremendously.
  4. Feasts!  Germans invented Oktoberfest.  Need we say more?
  5. Literature:  Germany is packed with some amazing and insightful literature.  Have you ever heard of Goethe?
  6. Because Mark Twain could not learn this, apparently “awful language”!  German is actually very similar to English in many ways.  What a way to show up on of the greatest writers of all time!

German Inventions

If you thought we were going to stop there, you were wrong.  Here are some notable things that most of us known and love that were invented by Germans.  We doubt you were aware of these!

  1. The Easter Bunny
  2. Perms
  3. Ringed Binders
  4. Chicken Fried Steak!
  5. Gummi Bears

Sound Like A German

Upon first listen, German might sound a little harsh, but take the time to get used to this guttural-sounding language and keep practicing!