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The German Pronunciation Guide

Do you sometimes feel tongue-tied when speaking German? 

Well, I’m here to tell you that German isn’t as intimidating as you might think and this goes for its pronunciation, too!

The good news is that German is a phonetic language. So once you’ve learned how letters and certain combinations of letters are pronounced, you can read any word.

Read on for my complete German pronunciation guide.

Contents

How to Pronounce the German Alphabet

Click on each letter in the chart to hear how to say the letter itself (so you can spell out things like your name and address).

In the “Sound” column, you can see how the letter usually sounds when it appears in words, as based on American English.

German LetterSound
A "ah"
B "b"
C "k"
D "d"
E "eh"
F "f"
G "g"
H "h"
I "ee"
J "y"
K "k"
L "l"
M "m"
N "n"
O "oh"
P "p"
Q "k"
R "r"
S "z"
T "t"
U "oo"
V "f"
W "v"
X "kss"
Y "y"
Z "ts"
Ä "eh"
Ö "eh" sound with rounded lips
Ü "ee" sound with rounded lips
ß "sss"

For additional information about pronouncing the German alphabet, many German textbooks contain helpful pronunciation charts and tips.

Let’s have a closer look at some of these letters in detail. 

German Consonants

Letter ß

Let’s start with this letter that is unique to the German alphabet, called Eszett or scharfes S (sharp S). It’s usually pronounced as an S sound.

The word Straße is also sometimes pronounced with a bit more of a “z” sound. 

Fußball — soccer

Spaß — fun

Grüße — greetings

Straße — street

Letter R

When at the start of a word, the letter German R is guttural.

This is like the “ch” sound in the Scottish pronunciation of “loch,” or for a less pleasant analogy, the rasping sound you make at the back of your throat when you go to spit out your toothpaste.

rot  red

Regen — rain

Reise — journey/travel

At the end of a word, it’s generally not pronounced, like the “uh” sound in the British English “computer.”

Winter — winter 

Lehrer — male teacher

Motor — engine

Letter W

This letter might throw you a bit for a loop in that it’s pronounced with a “v” sound. A few of these words might look familiar, but remember to pronounce them the German way.

Wunder — wonder

Wind — wind

Wolke — cloud

Letter V

On the other hand, the letter V is pronounced more with an “f” sound. 

Vogel — bird

Vater — father

vier — four

Letter J

The letter J in German is pronounced like the English sound “y.”

Junge — boy

Jacke — jacket

Joghurt — yogurt

If the word is from another language it will use the original sound.

If it’s an English word then sometimes the “j” sound will still be used and if it’s a French word then you’ll pronounce the French J

Job — job

Jazz — jazz

Jalousien — blinds

German Vowels

German Umlauts Ä, Ö, Ü

Here are some unique German vowels, namely the umlauts. The Ä sound is pronounced like “eh” in English.

Mädchen — girl

Bär — bear

Sänger — male singer

For the Ö sound, first make the “eh” sound then round your lips into a circle.

Flöte — flute

Öl — oil

Möhre — carrot

The Ü sound can be pronounced by saying a long “ee” sound and then rounding your lips into a circle.

Übung — exercise

Tür — door

Kühlschrank — refrigerator

Vowels A, E, I, O, U

The pronunciation of the German A is similar to the “a” in “father”.

Apfel — apple

The letter E is similar to the “e” in “met” but shorter and crisper.

Elefant — elephant

The way you pronounce the German I is like “ee” in “see” but shorter.

Igel — hedgehog

The German O is similar to the “o” in “go” but with rounded lips.

Ozean — ocean

The pronunciation of the German U is like “oo” in “food” but with rounded lips.

Uhr — clock

How to Pronounce German Letter Combinations

Diphthongs and Consonant Combinations

While German letters will sound pretty similar in most words, some common letter combos can get a bit tricky—let’s take a look.

Letter
Combination
SoundExample
AU"ow"Haus (house)
ÄU"oy"Häuser (houses, pl.)
EI"ai"Eis (ice)
EU"oy"Eule (owl)
IE"ee"Biene (bee)
AH"aah"Fahrrad (bicycle)
OHlong "oh"Ohren (ears)
UH"ooh"Uhr (clock)
CH"kh"Buch (book)
CK"k"Jacke (jacket)
NG"ng"Junge (boy)
PF"pf"Pfanne (pan)
PH"f"Philosophie (philosophy)
SCH"sh"Schule (school)
SP"shp"Spiegel (mirror)
ST"sht"Straße (street)
TH"t"Theater (theater)
DSCH"j"Dschungel (jungle)
TSCH"ch"Tschüss (bye, casual)
QU"kv"Qualität (quality)

German Ch

Let’s have a closer look at the combo CH. After the open vowels A, O and U, it sounds like the guttural “ahck” sound.

Meine Tochter sucht ein Buch auf dem Dachboden.
(My daughter is looking for a book in the attic.) 

After the closed vowels E, I and umlauts (Ä, Ö, Ü) and diphthongs (EU, ÄU) it has a sort of compressed hissing sound, like the letter “h” in the word “huge.”

Ich lächle, wenn ich Deutsch spreche!
(I smile when I speak German!) 

The same rule applies when CH is preceded by a consonant. 

Ich trinke Milch in der Kirche.
(I drink milk in the church.) 

This soft CH is also found in the very common suffix -chen. This is found at the end of some words ordinarily, like in the word for “girl,” Mädchen, but it can also be added to the end of any word to make it sound small, cute or familiar. 

Das Mädchen hat ein Problemchen.
(The girl has a little problem.) 

When your CH is followed by an S, however, it changes into a “ks” sound. This doesn’t apply to verbs, where -st endings get added to the stem. 

Der Fuchs wechselt sein Hemd.
(The fox changes its shirt.) 

How to Pronounce German Numbers

After all that, let’s see how we can put everything into practice with some words. The German numbers are actually an illustration of many German pronunciation rules. 

NumberSpelling
1eins
2zwei
3drei
4vier
5fünf
6sechs
7sieben
8acht
9neun
10zehn
11elf
12zwölf

How to Pronounce Long German Words

Let’s finally get to some of those German compound words. Try to sound out the words yourself before you listen to the pronunciations!

Übernachtungsmöglichkeiten

This word just means “accommodations” or “sleeping accommodations”—it’s literally “overnight-possibilities.”

Divide it into parts, and it’s basically got two words: nacht (night) and möglich (possible). The rest is just prefixes, suffixes, noun endings and a bit of flair.

Split into word parts, you get: Über-nacht-ungs-möglich-keit-en. Broken into syllables, you get: Ü-ber-nacht-ungs-mög-lich-keit-en.

Reiseziele

This one means “trip destinations,” which is actually longer if you write it out in English. To pronounce it, just say the parts, using what we learned above: Rei-se-zie-le.

Mitfahrgelegenheit

This word—literally “with-drive-opportunities”—is what you call when someone gives you a “ride.” Try out our pronunciation technique from above.

Einheimischen

Meaning “natives” or “locals,” this word has some good vowel sounds.

Ausstrahlungszeiten

This means “broadcasting times.” Sound it out, then listen to the pronunciation. Once again, if it’s challenging, split it up into its individual words or syllables.

5 Tips for Improving Your German Pronunciation

1. Hold your mouth more tightly shut

If you ever watch a German person speaking, you’ll notice that they barely open their mouths. There is visible tension pulling their lips to the side.

When trying to speak German, native English speakers—especially Americans—normally have a loose lower lip that reminds Germans of someone chewing gum.

Watch videos of Germans speaking and take note of their mouth shape while speaking. Put on your favorite German movies and pay attention. Note how much tension they have in their cheeks, and try to replicate that yourself.

2. Listen repeatedly and imitate the sounds

Listen to those German movies or TV shows multiple times and imitate the speakers as closely as possible. Pick one sentence, play it a few times and try pronouncing it yourself. It may also help to read the captions or write it down, too.

A website where you can hear native speakers pronounce words individually is Forvo. Its users contribute to the content so it’s an awesome way to hear how different people might say one word or phrase. You can also try HowToPronounce.com.

Watching videos also lets you hear words used in context, which will help you remember them better. Some video programs even allow you to study and quiz yourself on the new vocabulary you hear.

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3. Record and listen to yourself speaking

When you feel like you have a good grasp on German pronunciation, it’s time to make a direct comparison.

Find some German text that has a corresponding audio recorded by a native speaker, such as those of German audiobooks. Record yourself saying a section of the text out loud, then compare it to the original.

Where is your pronunciation different from the recording? Go back and repeat those sections as many times as you need to. Eventually, you’ll start to feel the difference between the right pronunciation and the wrong one.

After some time has passed, you can even re-record yourself to fine-tune your German pronunciation. If you kept the recording of your first try, you can use that for comparison. You’ll likely notice a clear improvement and be able to work on the last little kinks.

4. Get feedback from native German speakers

In all probability, you will quickly notice which sounds give you the most trouble. For English speakers, these are likely to include the German R, umlauts and diphthongs.

But a common problem is that we can’t hear our own accents and pronunciation blunders—we think we sound perfect while still (unknowingly) holding onto elements of English pronunciation.

One great way to improve your accent is to get real-time feedback from native German speakers. Find a German language partner or German tutor and then pay close attention to the way they move their mouth and pronounce each word. Try to imitate them.

Most importantly, ask for constructive criticism! If you don’t know there’s a problem, you certainly can’t fix it.

5. Practice, practice, practice

Remember, correct German pronunciation is a matter of muscle memory, much like learning how to juggle or shoot a layup. Eventually, your mouth and vocal chords are going to get used to it.

Once you (and your language partner or tutor) have identified areas for improvement, practice your problem sounds on their own relentlessly. Check back in with that native German speaker to see if you’ve improved and to ask for tips.

One exercise that I did was to hold a mirror up to my face to make sure that I wasn’t opening my mouth too much when I was speaking. It really does work!

 

Once you get the hang of it, pronouncing any German word can be a piece of cake. You got this!

And One More Thing...

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