Lesson 1 - Pronunciation
No matter which language you learn, pronunciation always is the first topic you should make yourself familiar with. Therefore, also this course starts with an introduction to german pronunciation!
The Alphabet like children learn it in school is the following:
A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z
Like you will see, it doesn't contain all of the sounds I show in the table below, but only the single letters which sometimes can be used to build multiple sounds. Also Ä, Ö, Ü and ß are not included. German childrens often learn the alphabet with a certain melody (which I, after 15 years, still hear in my head when I say/write the alphabet), if you want to listen to that just watch this video!
German has eight standard vowels, the english ones you are already familiar with (a, e, i, o, u) and three so-called "Umlaute" (ä, ö, ü). Keep in mind that also the vowels which look familiar are pronounced differently!
Each vowel has a long and a short variant. Vowels are pronounced long, when they are written two times behind each other, when they are followed by an "h" or when they are followed by a single consonant. Vowels followed by a double consonant/multiple different consonants are mostly pronounced short. Sadly those rules don't apply 100% of the time, but in most cases you should be safe with following these rules! One-syllable words seem to break the "long vowel when before only one consonant" often, but not always. But good news: Other than that, the pronunciation of german vowels is nearly always consistent, so no weird stuff like for example in english :P
One important thing about the sound explanations: Since english has a unbelievable big variety of different accents, the examples I used to explain german sounds may not work for you. To be sure you learn the sounds correctly you should always listen to german words and not only rely on written explanations!
Examples short vowel
Examples long vowel
A bit like father
die Hand (hand), danke (thanks), er hat (he has)
der Hahn (rooster), das Haar (hair), haben (to have)
short: like in bet
long: no similar sound in english, a bit like when you pronounce the word hey, but without gliding into the ee sound!
unstressed: Especially at the end of words/in the last syllable, the e will not be fully pronounced. It will sound more like an "eh"-sound
das Bett (the bed), retten (to save), das Set (set (noun))
beten (to pray), das Meer (the sea), mehr (more)
short: Like in bit
long: Like in bee, important: this vowel is never doubled to get a longer sound, instead of "ii" we write "ie"! If you see "ii", then they belong to different syllables and are pronounced individually
bitte (please/you're welcome), mit (with), die Hitze (the heat)
bieten (to offer), ihr (you (plural), hers), die Miete (the rent)
short: Like in lot
long: no similar sound in english, a bit like in so, but without gliding into the u-sound
der Gott (god), das Dorf (village), die Sonne (sun)
rot (red), das Boot (the boat), das Rohr (the pipe)
short: Like in push
long: Like in moon, important: this vowel is never doubled to get a longer sound! If you see "uu", then they belong to different syllables and are pronounced individually
und (and), der Hund (dog), der Wunsch (wish)
der Mut (courage), die Uhr (clock), der Stuhl (chair)
A bit like in cat, important: this vowel is never doubled!
hätte (would have), die Männer (men), die Hände (hands)
das Mädchen (girl), wählen (to choose), spät (late)
Doesn't exist in english, but a bit like girl, but with the lips more rounded, important: this vowel is never doubled!
der Löffel (spoon), öffnen (open), die Hölle (hell)
schön (beautiful), der Föhn (hairdryer), böse (evil)
Doesn't exist in english, say a long ee and then round your lips while doing so, when your lips are as rounded as possible you should have the right sound! Important: This vowel is never doubled!
hübsch (pretty), das Stück (piece), dünn (thin)
die Güte (goodness), süß (sweet/cute), die Mühe (effort)
Diphthongs are something you are already very familiar with - actually, the most of english vowels are diphthongs! It means, that you pronounce two sounds behind each other. For example: If you say the english word "my" very carefully and slowly, you will realize that you actually pronounce two vowels: maa-ee. In German however, the normal vowels are all just single sounds - you only pronounce two vowels when there are two vowels written!
Like in my
der Hai (shark), das Ei (egg), Bayern (Bavaria)
Like in how
das Haus (house), die Maus (mouse), außen (outside)
Close to the english boil, so "o" followed by an "ee" sound
Europa (europe), aufräumen (to tidy up), treu (loyal)
Good news: Many of the following consonants you already know because they are pretty similar to english! But especially some diphthongs could feel strange at the beginning. This list is not complete, I may add some more common consonant clusters in the future.
Like the english bar, however, at the end of a word it is pronounced like "p"
bitte (please/you're welcome), aber (but), bringen (bring)
You will nearly only find this letter in loan words, there it is usually pronounced like in cat, or like however it was pronounced in the language we stole it from
das Café (coffee shop), der Cartoon (cartoon), das Camp (camp)
after a, o, u, au: Like the scottish Loch Ness, to make this sound, pronounce a "h" and then bring the tongue back and up a bit, slowly closing the gap between the back of your tongue and the top of your mouth
after other letters: This sound is kinda similar made then the one before, but more in the front of your mouth. Think of a hissing cat!
der Bach (the creek), ich (I), lachen (laugh)
Like in sheep
das Schaf (sheep), schön (beautiful), komisch (funny)
Like english stick
das Stück (piece), das Glück (luck), der Stock (stick)
Like the english dear, however, at the end of a word it is pronounced like "t"
danke (thanks), der Adler (eagle), der Hund (dog)
Like english tip
die Stadt (city), verwandt (related), die Hauptstadt (capital)
Pronounce a "d" + a "sch" sound
der Dschungel (jungle),
Like english fight
fahren (drive), das Frühstück (breakfast), der Affe (monkey)
Like in game
gehen (go), steigen (rise), der Sieg (victory)
Like in english house, however, do not pronounce it if it is just there to make the vowel longer!
das Haus (house), stehen (stand), hier (here)
Like english yes
die Jacke (jacket), ja (yes), jagen (hunt)
Like english king
der König (king), klein (small), das Paket (packet)
Like english life
leben (live), alle (all), viel (much)
Like english middle
der Mann (man), der Baum (tree), arm (poor)
Like english no, if followed by a "k" it is pronounced like "ng"!
nein (no), der Schnee (snow), trinken (drink)
Like english sing
singen (sing), lang (long), fangen (catch)
Like english pancake
die Pizza (pizza!!!!!!), das Papier (paper), die Pause (break)
Pronounce "p" and "f" quickly after each other
der Pfeffer (pepper), der Apfel (apple), das Pferd (horse)
Like english phrase. This letter becomes more rare in german, because nowadays it is often replaced by an "f". Some of the examples I gave you will also find spelled with a "f"!
die Phantasie (fantasy), die Physik (physics), die Phrase (phrase)
A bit like you would pronounce "kw"
die Qualle (jellyfish), die Quelle (source), das Quiz (quiz)
A rolling sound in the back of your throat
rot (red), ruhig (calm), der Narr (fool)
This can be pronounced either like in english sing, or like in english zoo. Note: if followed by "p" or "t" it is pronounced as "sch"!
die Sonne (sun), die Rose (rose), der Hass (hate)
Like english self
der Fuß (foot), groß (big), dreißig (thirty)
Like english tsunami
der Tsunami (tsunami), stets (continually), dutzend (dozend)
Say a "t" and a "sch" after each other, a bit like english cheap
tschüss (bye), deutsch (german), der Gletscher (glacier)
Can be pronounced either like english vase or like english finger
der Vogel (bird), die Vase (vase), der Vorschlag (suggestion)
Like english video
wann (when), schweigen (to keep silent), wer (who)
Like english six
die Hexe (the witch), sechs (six), der Dachs (the badger)
Can be pronounced as "ü" (middle of a word), as "i" (end of a word) or like english yes (beginning of a word)
die Physik (physics), das Hobby (hobby), das Yoga (yoga)
Like english tsunami
der Zoo (zoo), der Zug (train), die Zeile (line)