Looking for that elusive German “wow” factor?
You know, that little something extra that pushes your German towards excellence.
You can show off your knowledge of the subjunctive tense, dazzle with your der, die and das prowess and amaze with tricky vocab.
That’s all great, but it might fall flat if you speak it without sounding the part.
Do you want to really impress your German classmates with your speaking skills?
Do you dream of having a native ask you, “so, what part of Germany are you from?”
Why not “wow” them by adding a regional German accent or dialect to your spoken German? This will help you to converse in a thoroughly authentic way and blend in with the natives.
It might seem like a daunting prospect as it can involve learning new pronunciations and words. But eventually, this will really pay off and you’ll be one of the snazziest German speakers you know!
The German “Wow” Factor: Improve Your Accent by Adopting Regional Dialects
Hearing accents is a skill that can be fairly quick to pick up. After all, it isn’t too hard to be able to distinguish between Brooklyn and Texan English accents, is it?
Even though they can be easy to pinpoint when you’re listening to them, they can be surprisingly hard to pick up and mimic. However, if you’re able to add a certain lilt to your spoken German, it will help you to sound more fluent.
Dialects can be hard to both understand and utilize as they can include an entirely different vocabulary. You only have to look at the Swiss German dialect to see that sometimes the stronger dialects might as well be classed as an entirely different language. But this is why knowing a dialect can strengthen your German – you’ll be arming yourself with a new set of vocabulary and being able to slip in and out of a regional dialect will really impress your German peers! Not only that, but it also shows a big dedication to mastering German.
Hochdeutsch (High German)
Hochdeutsch is the standard form of German, so this is what you’ll be learning in class. Free from any form of accent or dialect, it’s also the German spoken on national TV channels and radio stations.
You’ll be exposed to this quite a bit when you’re streaming your favorite German show or catching up with your podcast subscriptions. This form of German is also linked to Hannover, a city which is known for its perfect German.
Here’s a video of Hochdeutsch in action. As it’s the language which you’ll have been taught in the first place, it shouldn’t be too difficult to follow!
Swabian is the dialect spoken across Swabia, an area which covers parts of Baden Württemberg, the Swabian Jura and Bavaria. If you ever travel to Stuttgart, this is the dialect you’ll be greeted with.
One of the major differences between Swabian and standard German lies in the endings of verbs.
In standard German, first person plural forms of the verb are conjugated with an -en ending. For example, gehen (to go).
However Swabian changes this ending to -at. So, gehen becomes gangat.
Apart from that detail, mastering this dialect mostly just requires knowing some simple sound changes to the standard German accent. One occurs if an s comes before a p or t. This one isn’t too hard though—it simply changes to a sch sound. So in this case, Fest (party) is pronounced Fescht.
Similarly, if a word begins with t, it’ll be pronounced as if it started with a d. For example, Tag (day) becomes Dag.
Curious as to how all these sound shifts actually sound? Here’s a clip of a national news broadcast which has been dubbed into Swabian.
Can you guess where the Hessian accent and dialect is spoken? Yep—across the state of Hesse! So those of you who’ve planned summer vacations to Frankfurt am Main will experience this colorful language.
If you’re not traveling to Hesse anytime soon, though, you can also hear this being spoken at home in the States! It’s used by the Amana Colonies in Iowa.
One trait of this accent is softened consonants. This means Äpfel (apples) is spoken as Ebbel. You’ll hear this example quite a bit if you’re out and about in Hesse as Ebbelwoi (apple wine) is widely produced and consumed across the state.
Vowels are also altered in Hessian. Usually the accent lengthens their pronunciation. An example of this is how alt (old) is spoken as aal.
This video of spoken Hessian will make it all the more clearer.
Berlinerisch (Berlin Dialect)
Welcome to the German capitol, welcome to Berlinerisch! Berliners are known for being fairly abrasive and impolite, but this is usually because the dialect they speak can come across as really harsh.
There are a lot of hard pronunciations in this dialect—the usually soft ch sound is pronounced as a much harder ck. This means ich (I) becomes the brasher sounding ick.
Another noticeable quality of Berlinerisch is the pronunciation of g. A g will be dropped from the beginning of a word and replaced with a y. This can result in many oft-used words sounding little like what they usually would in Hochdeutsch: gut (good) becomes yut and ganz (completely) becomes yanz.
It may seem like Berlinerisch gives its consonants a hard time, but verbs don’t get away quite so easily. The ei sound, which is always pronounced as the English word “eye” in Hochdeutsch, is lengthened to make a ee sound. This results in weiß (white) turning into weeß. Similarly kein (no) is tweaked to become keen.
Want some further clarification? This angry Berliner should help!
If you fancy trying to fit in with the crowds at Oktoberfest, this is the dialect you need to learn. It’s spoken by the thousands of Germans who live in the state of Bavaria, so that includes the cities of Munich, Nuremberg and Erlangen.
Whereas the other dialects we’ve looked at change their words through sound shifts and alternative pronunciations, Bavarian introduces completely new words to its language. Here are 5 handy words to keep you in the know:
to go / to drive
If you want to learn more of this south German vocab, here’s a fab Bayerisch dictionary.
But if all this talk of Bayerisch is confusing you, just let Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom explain it further in this Bavarian version of “Pirates of the Caribbean”…
This dialect is found across the eastern state of Saxony and you’ll hear it if you’re vacationing in Leipzig or Dresden. Sächsisch speakers are often slightly looked down on by other German speakers—it’s the accent everyone loves to hate!
Having said that, though, you shouldn’t be put off from learning it—it’s a fairly easy one to pick up as it mainly involves adding umlauts where they wouldn’t usually be found. So, for example, Oma (grandmother) gets an extra umlaut over its o and ends up sounding like öma.
The a in aus (from/out) also adds two little dots to itself, making it sound like äus.
This great video will help you to absorb all those extra dotted vowels!
Obviously, all these dialects can be further as certain towns and cities will have their own variations. But once you’ve mastered a dialect, you can bet you’ll be understood all over its wider region!
After studying German and Philosophy at The University of Nottingham, Laura Harker relocated to Berlin in 2012. She now works as a freelance writer and is also assistant editor at Slow Travel Berlin.