German Pronunciation


The sound quality of certain vowels and consonants varies considerably throughout the German speaking areas. Even highly educated people, speaking correct standard German which is taught in all schools, will sound different depending on which area they come from. This regional colouring of the sound quality is not to be confused with dialects of which there are many. Whether German sounds guttural and hard or sing-song and soft, whether spoken fast or slowly, your ability to understand will increase in relation to the amount of exposure to spoken German you can get.

German is, with very few exceptions, a totally phonetic language, once you have learnt the sound values of each letter you can read German. Regarding your own linguistic achievements, be patient and remember that as a child it will have taken you up to two years or more to learn to speak your own native language even though you were constantly surrounded and immersed in it. Everyone who has learnt his or her own language is able to learn a foreign language.You just have to give yourself a little time and be as tolerant with yourself as you would be if you tried to teach someone else.

For some time now, there have been arguments raging as to the rights and wrongs of a spelling reform, which should, in theory, be implemented in all German-speaking countries. It has, however, only been partially adopted and you might find occasional spelling differences between spellings in German texts.

There are a number of German Pronunciation guides on the net, while they are also useful, avoid getting bogged down in trying out variables such as the difference between short and long sounds, concentrate on the essential sounds shown below.

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Letter German Sound Equivalent Sound in English German Example
a ah park, nut danke, Glas
b beh same as English   Brot, bitter
c tseh as in 'tse-tse fly' before 'e' and 'i', 'k' as in cat before 'a', 'o', 'u' Celsius, Cafe
d deh same as English   Dahlie
e eh bed, red, send Bett, senden
f eff same as English   Finger
g geh garden, not as in 'general'   Garten
h hah same as English
silent in the middle and at the end of words sehen (to see), Schuh
i ee in, fill, see, never as in 'l', like
The German 'l' is formed further back in the mouth but an English 'l' sound is quite acceptable
bitte, in
j yot** young, never as in 'jetty' jung
k kah same as in English Kohle, Kalt
l ell similar sound
The German 'l' is formed further back in the mouth but an English 'l' sound is quite acceptable.
m emm same sound   Mutter
n enn similar sound   Norden
o oh not, rob, not as in 'most' (ou sound) Brot, rot
p peh flop, step Peter, Post
qu koo 'kv' sound Qualität
r err often gutteral (North Germany) elsewhere rolled or trilled, whilst a British English 'r' will do a transatlantic 'r' sound is not good Rest, rollen
s ess like 'z' at the beginning of a word, otherwise as in English Suppe, Liste
ß ess tsett double 's' sound er, ißt,
(essen - to eat)
t teh same sound   Telefon
u ooh rule, good (not as in 'nut') Hut, gut
v fow f, sound father Vater
w veh 'v' sound, very Winter, Wasser
x icks same sound Alexander
y ipsilon as in 'lyrical' Physik
z tsett 'ts' as in 'bits' Zentrum
Special characters, 'Umlaute' etc.