Pronouncing words in German

To speak German confidently, it’s helpful to know how to pronounce words correctly. German has lots of similar phonemes to English, which should help when pronouncing a lot of German words.

A phoneme is a unit of sound. When you put the different sounds together, they make words.

Take a look at the phonemes below and listen to how they are pronounced in German. You can use this page for reference when learning new German words.

Consonants

w

In German, w is pronounced like v.

  • Wasser - water
  • Winter - winter
  • Weihnachten - Christmas

v

In German, v is pronounced like f.

  • viele - many
  • vier - four
  • Vogel - bird

z

In German, z is pronounced like ts.

  • Zimmer - room
  • Zug - train
  • Zucker - sugar

j

In German, j is pronounced like yuh.

  • Jacke - jacket
  • Jahr - year
  • Joghurt - yoghurt

ch

In German, ch is sometimes pronounced a bit like the hiss of a cat. It doesn't feature in English, so listen to the pronunciation on the right.

  • ich - I
  • Buch - book
  • Nacht - night

sch

In German, sch is pronounced like shh.

  • Schule - school
  • schwimmen - to swim
  • Dusche - shower

sp

In German, sp is pronounced like shp.

  • Sport - sport
  • Spinne - spider
  • Sp - fun

st

In German, st is pronounced like sht.

  • Stühle - chairs
  • Straße - street
  • stehen - to stand

r

The letter r is pronounced differently from English. It is quite a raspy sound like you are gargling water.

  • rot - red
  • reiten - to ride
  • Lehrer - teacher

ie and ei

In German it is common to see both ie and ei spellings. These vowel combinations may look similar, but they are pronounced differently. An easy way to remember how to pronounce these two letter combinations is by emphasising the second letter.

ie

The combination ie is pronounced ee.

  • Biene - bee
  • Frieden - peace
  • Lied - song

ei

The combination ei is pronounced ii.

  • Bein - leg
  • mein - my
  • Rhein - the river Rhine in Germany

Umlauts

Sometimes, the vowels a, o and u have an umlaut: ä, ö and ü. These two dots above the vowels change the pronunciation.

ä

In German, ä is pronounced as an e sound, like in the English word bed.

  • Bär - bear
  • Äpfel - apples
  • Mädchen - girl

ö

In German, ö is pronounced as like er. It is similar to the or in word.

  • schön - beautiful
  • Löwe - lion

ü

In German, ü is pronounced as oo with pursed lips.

  • Füße - feet
  • müde - tired
  • Brüder - brothers

The German Eszett - ß

German has an additional letter, known as the Eszett or scharfes S (sharp S) - ß. It is the same as ss. You use ß when it follows a long vowel or a combination of two vowels.

  • weiß - white
  • heißen - to be called
  • Fuß - foot
  • Straße - street

When following a short vowel, the ss sound is written as ss instead.

  • dass - that
  • bisschen - bit
  • lassen - to leave

Where next?

Discover more from around Bitesize.

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