How to Pronounce 7 of the Hardest German Words (and Make ‘Em Think You’re a Local!)
Peter Piper may have picked a peck of pickled peppers…
But how many happy hens did Hans feed?
German is a hard language to pronounce, from the individual sounds to those crazy long compound nouns. Even individual words can feel like a straight up tongue twister!
But don’t be intimidated.
You can master the hardest German words to pronounce—and in doing so, you’ll become much more comfortable with German pronunciation in general.
In this article, we’re going to focus on seven of the hardest German words to pronounce. We’ve handpicked these words because they test your ability to pronounce important German letters or letter pairings correctly.
Are you up for the task?
How to Prepare for the Hardest German Words to Pronounce
Baby steps are key here. Before we get into the hardest German words to pronounce, it’s important to prepare your ear and train your tongue. Otherwise, you’re diving into the deep end without knowing how to swim.
The interactive Sounds of Speech website from the University of Iowa plays individual German sounds and shows you diagrams and videos of how they’re pronounced. As you see the word being pronounced, move your own lips in a similar fashion. A little bit of muscle memory is all it takes.
Finally, take advantage of the quick video guide below to see and hear how unique German sounds are pronounced. Replay the video as often as you need to in order to become familiar with the proper pronunciation.
What Are the Hardest German Sounds to Pronounce?
By practicing the difficult words we’ve chosen below, you’ll learn several common German letters and letter combinations.
It’s important to know how to say each letter of the German language in isolation, but when you start putting them together, things can get a little crazy. Here are some common German sounds and pairings you’ll come across, along with tips on how to achieve proper pronunciation:
- st: Say this as if it were spelled “sht.”
- w: Resist the urge. In German, this letter sounds like the English “v.”
- z: Pretend there’s a “t” before it.
- ch: This one can be tricky. In the syllable “chen,” the ch sounds like “ts.” However, the same pair can be said harshly, like in the “Loch” Ness monster.
- ä, ö and ü: Umlauts are a subject all their own. These vowels are different from a, o and u. For example, a is pronounced “ah” while ä sounds more like “eh.” Ö is best said with lips puckered out for a kiss (“ooh”), while ü is pronounced like “eew.”
If you can master these sounds and combinations, you won’t just be prepared for the difficult words below, but your general pronunciation skills will also seriously jump!
You can practice listening to these different sounds as used by native speakers on FluentU, with videos about German pronunciation included.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Twist Your Tongue! Can You Say These 7 Hardest German Words to Pronounce?
Aside from the difficulty of the individual sounds, long German words can often be intimidating. How do you string all those syllables together?
The best way to tackle these words is to break them into smaller ones. German’s great like that. If you can, write down the parts of the word that you know underneath, separated from the rest. Mouth the words out loud if you have to. Even sounding out each letter combination you come across can provide much-needed breakthroughs.
If all else fails, there’s always the dictionary. For example, LEO offers audio pronunciations in both English and German.
Meaning “chicken,” this German word requires knowing how to pronounce ä and the suffix “chen.”
The first section of the word is easy: you would say “hen” (yes, as in a female chicken). Saying the “chen” part takes a bit of practice. Rather than a hard ch sound like you’re used to hearing in “chicken,” this suffix sounds a bit like say “tse-en.” The first part is long, but said fast, while the second is short.
Altogether, you’ve got “hen-tse-en.”
Hear a native pronunciation on Forvo.
German for “tongue breaker,” or what we would call a “tongue twister.”
The z in this word sounds like a hard “tz” and the ch mimics that of the same pair of letters in the word “Bach.” The ch isn’t quite a hard “k” sound, but more like the rough sounds German is known for.
Can you say Zungenbrecher (tz-ung-en-bre-cher) like these native speakers?
This German phrase means “gate-closing panic” when translated directly, but really describes the feeling of urgency to accomplish something before it’s too late.
Vowels are important to pronounce properly here, but otherwise the task simply lies in hitting those consonant syllables correctly.
Try to say this word, meaning “unemployment insurance,” five times fast. The key to this one is breaking out each individual element.
We’ve got Arbeit (job), –losigkeit (related to separation/loosening) and versicherung (insurance). Pronouncing your vowels correctly is key to getting this word right, along with knowing the guttural ch sound. Many beginners might have trouble with the gk pairing in losigkeit.
The best way to remember how to pronounce them together is to soften the g into the hard “k” sound, almost like saying “gik.”
Sound tricky? Try to imitate this native speaker.
Try this one on your friends when they ask you to say something in German. You can also tell them it means “trainee assistant social insurance broker.”
And just like Arbeitslosigkeitsversicherung, this word is best pronounced word-by-word, step-by-step.
You already know how to say the “tz” sound for z, and versicherung was in the last word. The st is said as if there were an “h” between the two consonants, but otherwise this one just takes a few minutes to string together.
Wait a minute. Why would wollen, or the verb “to want,” be on this list?
It’s because most beginners want to pronounce the w in this word like an English speaker would. This word is pronounced “vol-en,” not “wol-en.”
While not exactly a pronunciation issue, another common mistake is to confuse the conjugation will for the future tense. Ich will schlafen doesn’t mean “I will sleep.” It actually means “I want to sleep.”
Vowels, especially those carrying an umlaut, are where the native speakers differentiate themselves from the rest. Creating the ü sound takes some practice but try pursing your lips as if you were whistling, even extending them if that feels more comfortable.
Yes, you’ll probably elicit a few laughs from your friends, but just make sure you say that st (“sht”) and z (“tz”) like a German and they’re sure to be impressed.
Here’s how native speakers do it.
There you have it! Just a half-dozen or so of some of the hardest German words to pronounce. Practice your pronunciation and soon you might be mistaken for a native German speaker.
And One More Thing...
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