German Pronunciation

The mission for today is to help you with your German pronunciation and get you started with the alphabet in German.

By the end of the lesson, you'll already be able to pronounce some everyday German phrases and greetings.

Resources for further reading:

The German Alphabet

Are you ready to get started? Here we go then...

Learning the letters of the alphabet is not the most exciting way of starting to learn a new language, but knowing the sounds will help you to pronounce unfamiliar words. Let's dive in:

The letters in the German alphabet are the same as in English; however, there are four more letters which you will come across in the German language: Ä, Ö, Ü and . These extra four letters, however, are often not counted as part of the actual alphabet.

Below is the German alphabet. Be aware that the pronunciation of the letter by itself can differ from when it is used in German words.

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

Listen to the German alphabet sounds

Did you notice the many similarities between the German and English alphabets?

Now, that's good news, isn't it?

Consonants

Apart from A, E, I, O and U, all the letters in the alphabet are called consonants. Most German consonants are pronounced similarly to those in English, but there are some differences. Let's go through them one by one.

B

B is pronounced like an English "B" when it appears at the start or in the middle of a word, but when it comes at the end of the word, it is pronounced similar to a "P." For example:

Practice Your Pronunciation With Rocket Record

Rocket Record lets you perfect your German pronunciation. Just listen to the native speaker audio and then use the microphone icon to record yourself. Once you’re done, you’ll get a score out of 100 on your pronunciation and can listen to your own audio playback. (Use a headset mic for best results.) Problems? Click here!

halb

half

Biene

bee

C

C is actually not a common letter in German, and is only usually seen at the start of imported words, where it will take a sound close to that used in the original language.

Cellist

cellist

D

Like B, D in German sounds much the same way it does in English when it is at the start or in the middle of a word, but at the end of the word its sound changes: it is pronounced like a "T" when it appears at the end of the word. Take a listen:

danke

thank you

Pferd

horse

F

F is pronounced the same in German as it is in English.

Schiff

ship

G

G is pronounced the same in German as in English when it appears at the start or in the middle of a word, but it sounds like a "K" when it appears at the end of the word. For example:

genug

enough

Englisch

English

Note, however, that a G at the end of a word isn't always pronounced like a "K" in some parts of Germany. Sometimes, particularly if it is in an -ig ending, the G is pronounced as a hissing sound. We'll get more into that in the next lesson, which talks about letter combinations.

H

H is aspirated at the start of the word just like it is in English, as in this example here:

Herz

heart

In the middle of the word, however, it may be either aspirated or omitted, depending on whether it signals the presence of a long vowel.

In this instance, the vowel is short, so the H is aspirated:

Kaufhaus

department store

Here, however, the H is signaling a long vowel, and so is silent:

stehlen

to steal

J

J is pronounced like a "Y." For example:

Japan

Japan

K

K is a piece of cake. It's pronounced like the English "K" in... well, "cake"!

Katze

cat

Watch out for exceptions, though - the K takes on a very different sound in the word Ski "ski."

Ski fahren

to ski

L

L in German is just like the English "L" in "lamp" - for example:

Lebensmittel

food supplies

M

M is also the same as in English:

Moment

moment

N

N in German is like the English "N" in "neck" - for example:

normalerweise

normally

P

P is another friendly and familiar consonant: it sounds just like it does in English too.

Pommes

fries

Q

Like in English, in German you will usually see a U after a Q. However, that is where the similarities end, as in German the QU combination sounds like "kv" in English. Here's an example:

bequem

comfortable

R

R is a tricky letter for English speakers learning German. It has two possible sounds: a rolled R and a vocalic R.

  • The rolled R is made through friction in the back of the mouth/in the throat. It is often a rasping, gargling sort of sound similar to a French "R" (although in the south of Germany you'll hear Germans make a stronger rolling, trilling sound). You create the rolled R by raising the back of your tongue so that your throat is nearly closed and then pushing air through.

  • The vocalic R sounds almost like an "A" and is normally used in words that end in -er. This one is easier: you position your tongue the same way that you would for a rolled R, but make a much softer sound by holding your tongue less tightly.

Not sure what we're talking about? Don't worry - we've got a few examples for you!

Before you try them out, though, remember this important note: If you want to trill your Rs like a German, keep in mind that it's not the same as when you roll your "R"s in Italian or Spanish. In those languages, you use the tip of your tongue; in German, you use the back of your tongue and your throat.

Radfahrer

cyclist

verlieren

to lose

Did you notice that on the word Radfahrer "cyclist," the final R almost sounds like an "A"? That's because it's that vocalic R, due to the -er ending.

S

S takes two different sounds in German:

  • a voiced sound similar to the English "Z" in "graze," and

  • an unvoiced sound, as in "grace."

The voiced sound occurs at the start and in the middle of words, while the unvoiced sound happens at the end of words. Have a listen to these examples:

Seele

soul

lesen

to read

Gras

grass

T

T in German is very similar to "T" in English, although in German the sound isn't quite as strong. Have a listen to the word for "animal":

Tier

animal

V

Most often, the German V is pronounced like the English "F" in "fun." For example:

Vater

father

W

W is pronounced in German the same way that "V" is in English. Have a listen:

Wort

word

X

X is a rare consonant in German and is pronounced as "ks," as it often is in English.

Xenophobie

xenophobia

Y

In German, the letter Y is actually pronounced like a French "U." Listen to it here:

Python

python

Z

This is another letter that differs from English in its pronunciation. Z in German sounds like "ts" in English, as in "bats." It may take a little getting used to when you encounter this sound at the start of a word, as often happens in German. Practice it here:

Zwerg

dwarf

Vowels

Now that we've covered the consonants, it's time to move on to vowels: A, E, I, O and U, just like in English.

Vowels in German are pronounced differently according to whether the vowel is short or long - also just like in English. For example, the vowel "A" in the English word "cat" is short, while the "A" in "farmer" is long. In German, vowels are usually long when followed by an H or by another consonant. Use the short pronunciation when the vowel is followed by two or more consonants.

In the following example, you will see short vowels written like this: A. Long vowels will be written like this: A_.

A - Sounds like "U" in "cut"

A_ - Sounds like "A" in "harm"

E - Sounds like "E" in "belt"

E_ - Sounds like "E" in "end", but longer

I - Sounds like "I" in "hit"

I_ - Sounds like "ee" in "meet"

O - Sounds like "O" in "got"

O_ - Sounds like "O" in "note"

U - Sounds like "oo" in "foot"

U_ - Sounds like "oo" in "moon"

Let's practice all of these vowel sounds in full words.

A

arm

poor

Schlagsahne

whipped cream

E

essen

to eat

fehlen

to miss

I

wissen

to know

ihr

you (informal; plural)

O

oft

often

Oper

opera

U

Kustode

keeper

Kuh

cow

Example Words

Phew - that was a lot to cover! But now you're on your way to the proper pronunciation of German words. Practice, practice, practice what we covered above and then try out your new pronunciation skills on these German words:

hallo

hello

Guten Morgen.

Good morning.

Guten Tag.

Good afternoon.

Guten Abend.

Good evening.

Bis bald.

See you soon.

ja

yes

bitte

please / you're welcome

entschuldigung

sorry / excuse me

Action Replay

  • The German alphabet is the same as the English one.

  • Most German consonants are pronounced similarly to English ones.

  • German has four extra letters that are often not considered to be part of the actual alphabet.

Good work! Now you can move on and have a read of the Culture lesson below, where we talk about greetings in German.

Culture Lesson: German Greetings

In Germany it is appropriate to shake hands when greeting someone. It is considered to be polite. Just remember to always use your right hand. Even younger people shake hands, although they will do it less stiffly and formally than adults.

Between friends, it is also common to greet each other with a kiss on the cheek or a hug.

You saw some of the common phrases and words to be used in German greetings above:

  • Hallo, which is exactly the same as the English "hello,"

  • Guten Morgen, which is the same as the English "Good morning,"

  • Guten Tag, which literally translates to "Good day" and is used as a general equivalent to "hello," and

  • Guten Abend, which is the same as the English "Good evening."

Scroll back up and have a listen to these phrases again. Practice saying them casually and confidently to an imaginary stranger!

Like in English, you can shorten some of these phrases when greeting people more casually, saying simply Morgen, Tag or Abend. If you were to pass a stranger in a park, for instance, and wanted to give them a friendly greeting, a nod combined with one of these short versions would work perfectly. When greeting a storekeeper or meeting a business colleague, however, the full versions are best.

Speaking of German greetings, you may also find that Germans tend to greet each other in situations where you might not be used to it if you come from an English-speaking background. For instance, in Germany it is polite to make eye contact with and greet storekeepers when you enter their store, even through they may not come over to speak to you. It is also polite to give a general greeting to fellow patients or customers in a waiting room when you first walk in. In busy cities, when you are walking down the street or taking the subway, however, greetings between strangers are still very uncommon.

Germans have the reputation of being somewhat stiff, but they are actually very polite and welcoming. Try out the greetings above when walking into a store in Germany or when passing someone in a less populated area, and you will often find that they will greet you warmly back!

Make It Stick With Rocket Reinforcement

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