Die Laute des Deutschen

 

Spelling(s)

Nearest equivalent(s) in English

Examples (practice carefully)

LONG VOWELS

a (+ 1 cons.), ah, aa

like a in father

Wagen, aber, Saal, Sahne

e, ä (+ 1 cons.), eh, ee, äh

like ay in say, but no off-glide to ee (Note: some pronounce long ä as lengthened e as in bed)

beten, sehnen, Seele, Bäder, ähnlich

i (+ 1 cons.), ih, ie

like ee in see, but tenser

wir, ihn, diese, Sie

o (+ 1 cons.), oh, oo

like oa in boat, but no off-glide to oo

rot, Zone, Bohne, Boot, Soße

u (+ 1 cons.), uh

like oo in zoo, but no off-glide

gut, Ruhe, suchen

ö (+ 1 cons.), öh

like ay in say said with lips frozen in oh shape

Röte, hören, Höhle

ü, y (+ 1 cons.), üh

like ee in see said with lips frozen in oo shape

Güter, Gemüse, fühlen, Physiker

SHORT VOWELS

a (+ 2 cons.) or in 1-syll wd

like u in cut but think a in father at same time

Mann, Tante, Tasse, am

e, ä (+ 2 cons.) or in 1-syll wd

like e in bet

Bett, sechs, Männer, Gäste

i (+ 2 cons.) or in 1-syll wd

like i in bit

bitte, mit, finden

o (+ 2 cons.) or in 1-syll wd

like au in caught but with rounder lips and short

Sonne, von, wollte

u (+ 2 cons.) or in 1-syll wd

like oo in book

Butter, muss, um

ö (+ 2 cons.) or in 1-syll wd

like e in bet said with lips frozen in short German o

Hölle, gönnen

ü, y (+ 2 cons.) or in 1-syll wd

like i in bit said with lips frozen in short German u

Würmer, müsste, füllen, Idylle

final -e, e in unstressed syll

neutral; between e in bet and i in bit ; smile to say it! Don't let jaw drop, or Germans will hear -er. (see below under r and -er)

bitte, Mäuse, beginne, gefahren

DIPHTHONGS

au

like ow in cow, but off-glide is more like o than oo

kauen, Maus, Haus

eu, äu

like oy in boy, but with lips rounded throughout

Heu, streuen, Häuser, Mäuse

ei

like ey in eye, but off-glide is more like Engl ay

heißen, meinen, fein

CONSONANTS

  • Most are similar to English, except note the following important differences:
  • z, tz, c in ci, ce,

    like ts, or like z in pizza

    zehn, Zar, putzen, Cäsar, Celsius

    ch (after back vowels a, o, u, au)

    like ch in Scots loch; sounds like clearing throat (say k without touching in throat, using friction)

    Bauch, Buch, machen

    ch (after front vowels ä, e, i, ü, ei, eu)

    like h in huge, said with more friction (tongue close up against hard palate)

    riechen, rächen, dich, Deich, Seuche, Süchte

    g

    always like g in go, never ‘soft’ as in gem

    gehen, ging, Gabel

    j

    always like y in yet

    ja, Jahr, Koje

    l

    always ‘clear’tip of tongue on top of mouth at teeth; almost like ll in million, with no y sound

    will, soll, milde, Tal

    qu

    like kv in kvetch

    Quelle, Quittung

    r

    either trilled with the uvula or pronounced like a g, but not quite touching in the throat so that air escapes with audible friction (i.e., like a voiced German ch); r is rarely tongue-trilled anymore

    Karre, rot, Jahre

    vowel + r

    after a vowel, like an uh sound

    wir, wer, geworden

    final -er

    sounds like uh or aw, with jaw well dropped

    bitter, Häuser, oder (cf. above under -e for bitte, Mäuse)

    s (+ any vowel)

    sounds like English z in lazy (s is the only way to write this sound!)

    Sie, lesen, Seele, Saal

    initial sp- or st

    sounds like English sh + p or t, with rounded lips

    Sport, Spitze, starten, still (BUT Mist as Engl mist)

    (see note below for ss vs. ß)

    sch

    like English sh in ship, but with rounded lips

    Schi, mischen, schade

    tsch

    like ch in church

    Quatsch, Tschechien

    v = f

    both like f in fish (except in some foreign words, German v = English v)

    Fisch, Vater, von (all like f)
    (BUT Vase, like English v)

    w

    like English v in very

    Wagen, will, Wolle, Woche

    Spelling note related to pronunciation:

    According to the newly adopted (but still controversial!) German spelling reform, -ss- is written after ALL short vowels. After LONG vowels or DIPHTHONGS, the hissing ss sound is written ß (which is NOT a capital B!). Prior to the mid-1990's, the ß letter was used in all cases EXCEPT after a short vowel if followed by another vowel. You're likely to see both systems in use.

    Compare:

    old spelling
    new spelling

    aßen, Stoß (both long vowels)

    aßen, Stoß (no spelling change)

    esse, müssen (both short vowels)

    esse, müssen (no spelling change)

    but: mußt, daß, schloß (all SHORT vowels)

    musst, dass, schloss (new spelling !)

    The reform affects a few other items as well, such as when to write certain words together or separate, capitalization rules, spelling of foreign words, et al.

     

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