The German Language - Don't Be Intimidated
When you first look at a German sentence, or even a German word, it can look a bit overwhelming. After all, German is such a strange and different language that is offered nothing by our own knowledge of English, right? Actually, English itself is a Germanic language, and therefore German and English have much more in common than anyone may think. That being said, it is hard to argue that it may be intimidating to see certain German words that might seem like a mouthful. Who wants to dive right in to “Bruttosozialprodukt” or “Frontscheibenwischer” right away? In all fairness, “Gross National Product” and “Windshield Wiper,” their respective translations, may look just as intimidating to someone who speaks German or Spanish or French and wants to learn English.
Just imagine how difficult it may be for a Russia or Greek speaker, who has to learn an entire different alphabet before trying to understand how the languages are spoken. Luckily enough for those who want to speak German, both German and English share the same alphabet, the Latin alphabet, and much of the German alphabet is easy to pronounce for an English speaker, especially when considering stereotypic German accents, such as those used by Arnold Schwarzenegger impressions. The Latin alphabet makes German much less intimidating than learning the Arabic or Cyrillic, or Russian, alphabets, but there really is much more. English itself is full of rules as any languages, and pronunciation, with practice, will soon come easily, The German consonants follow.
The German Language - Letters B,C, and D
Let’s start with the letter ‘B’. There are two distinct ways that the letter B is pronounced, depending on where it is located in the word. When the letter B is located at the beginning or middle of a word, such as “das Baby,” (which is the German word for baby. Simple, no?) the letter ‘B’ is pronounced as it is in English. The letter ‘B’ is pronounced such as the B in the English word “bolt” or “big.” When the letter B comes at the end of a German word, such as “der Korb,” the German word for basket, it is pronounced just like the English ‘P’ as it is pronounced in “pickle.” These are the only two sounds made by the letter B, and the sound it makes is only dependent on where it occurs in the letter.
The letter C in German also has two distinct sounds, and, like the letter B, it has concrete rules on when to pronounce it one way or the other. The majority of the time that you pronounce the letter C, it is like the hard C in English, when it is pronounced like the English letter “k” such as “cage” or “cousin,” such as the German word “der Computer.” The times when you do not pronounce it as hard as the English K are usually fairly obvious, and once you learn a bit of the language it will become abundantly clear when to use one and the other. The second pronunciation of the German “C” is almost like the way you would say “C” in English, such as “die City,” pronounced the way you would say “city” in English, with the same sound coming from the ‘C.’
In German, the letter ‘D’ only had one distinct sound no matter where it is located in the word or what letters it is surrounded by. The letter ‘D’ is easy for English speakers to learn, because it is pronounced the same way you would say ‘D’ in English. Pronounce the German letter for ‘D’ as you would say ‘dog’ or ‘during’ in English, with the hard pronunciation. It turns out to be the same in German, such as the word for ‘die Dame,’ “the lady,” or ‘der,’ one of the words for “the.”
The German Language - Letters F, G, H, J, K, L, M, N, and P
The letter ‘F’ is pronounced just as it is in English. When you come in contact with a German word and the letter ‘F’, pronounce it as you would in “faith” or “fair.” The letter ‘G’ might seem pretty straight forward, but quite the contrary; it is the most complicated German letter thus far in our alphabet of consonants. When it is pronounced at the beginning of a word or a syllable it is pronounced like the hard English ‘G’, such as in the English words “got” or “given.” The German language brings in many loanwords from other countries, including America and France. When a word comes into the German language from another language (there is no dead-set way of knowing, you just have to learn them) like French, the letter ‘G’ is most often a soft English ‘G,’ such as the j in the English word ‘jogging’ or ‘Jordan.’ When the letter ‘G’ comes at the end of the word or syllable, it is pronounced like a hard ‘c’ or k sound in English, as you would say ‘cook.’ One example of a German word where the G would sound like this is “die Leistung,” the German word for “achievement” The ‘g’ in this word is tricky, because it does sound like a ‘g’ but ends with a hard English ‘k’ sound, though not as pronounced.
The letter ‘h’ in German is pronounced just as it is in English, with the soft sound. When you come into contact with the letter ‘h’ in German, pronounce it as you would ‘hello’ or ‘hard.’ The letter ‘J’ in German is an extremely soft sound, even more so than the English ‘jogging.’ In German, the letter ‘J’ is pronounced as you would pronounce the letter ‘Y’ in German, such as “year” or “yes.” When you pronounce a simple German word such as “Ja” (‘Yes’ in English) it sounds literally like “Ya.” There are exceptions to this rule, but they are few and far in between and are the result of loanwords, such as the word for ‘jeans’ in German. This word is a bit tricky, but it is spelled and pronounced exactly the same as it is in English – “die Jeans.” The letter ‘K’ in German is pronounced the same as you would pronounce it in English, such as “der Kalendar” sounding like the hard ‘c’ in ‘calendar’ or ‘cooking.’ The letter ‘L’ is also pronounced the same in English, such as ‘lip’ or ‘lose.’ ‘M’ and ‘N’, likewise, are the same in English as they are in German – pronounce each letter as you would in ‘many’ respectively. ‘P’ is similar, and is pronounced as it is in English (getting easier?), so pronounce it as you would in the word, say, ‘pronounce’ or ‘pickle.’
The German Language - Letters Q, R, S, and T
The letter ‘Q’ is supported in German, as it is in English, with the letter ‘u’ coming after it. When you pronounce the German ‘Q,’ and therefore the German ‘Qu,’ it sounds pretty much exactly as you would imagine it would sound if you can do a very good German accent in English. When something goes wrong, you might say something like “Aw nuts!” or “Aw fiddlesticks!” in English, right? Of course you would, and the German word for ‘Crap!’ or ‘Nuts!’ (Or any other word you choose to substitute for it) is “Quatsch!” When pronouncing the German ‘Qu’ it is pronounced as “Kv.” Pronouncing “Quatsch” in English would sound something like “Kvatsh!” There is no real English equal to the way Germans pronounce “Qu,” but it is not difficult to remember. The letter ‘R’ becomes tricky. It can be pronounced as it is in English with “water” or “ready,” but in German it also has a harder sound to it that is not native to the English speaker. While saying ‘R,’ you must harden it from the back of your throat, as if you were snoring. Difficult to explain, but once you pronounce it you will understand.
Now that we have dealt with two letters that produce sounds that are unlike anything heard in English, we best get back to an easier one – the letter ‘S.’ In German is sounds similar to that in English, but there is more than one way to pronounce it. At the end of a word is sounds like you would pronounce it normally, such as ‘silly’ or ‘mouse.’ When it is in the beginning of a word, it sounds just like the English ‘z,’ pronounced just like ‘zippy” or ‘Zen.’ Sometimes you encounter the strange German ‘ß,’ which is just the way those who write in German often put ‘ss.’ The letter ‘ß’ can substitute ‘ss’ and vice versa. The ‘ss/ß’ is pronounced just as you it looks, like “hiss” with the ‘s’ sound a bit more drawn out than a single ‘s,’ but still sounding similar to that of the English language. The English letter ‘T’ is pronounced as it is in German, such as ‘top’ or ‘took,’ so it is not difficult to remember that letter in German.
The German Language - Letters V, W, X, and Z
The letters ‘V’ and ‘W’ are an interesting case to the English speaker, because their pronunciations are different than one might expect in English. When dealing with words that are ‘German’ (that is, not loanwords) the German ‘v’ is pronounced as ‘f’ in ‘farther.’ The German ‘V,’ when pronounced as the English ‘f,’ does not sound perfectly like the English ‘f,’ but more of a hybrid between the ‘F’ and ‘V’ to sound like a very soft ‘V.’ For the few words that come from different languages, such as ‘die Vase’ (obviously vase in English) it is pronounced as the ‘v’ in the English words ‘very’ or ‘vase.’ When pronouncing words in German that come from a different language, the word is often pronounced very closely to how you would say it in the native language or even English, but perhaps with a German accent tacked onto it. The German ‘W’ is pronounced as you would pronounce the English ‘V’ in ‘very.’ There is not an abundance of German words that include the letter ‘X,’ and the ones that do are usually loan words. Pronounce it as you would in English, such as ‘X-ray’ or ‘box’ with that ‘eks’ sound. The German ‘z’ is pronounced like you would say the ‘ts’ in ‘bats’ in English. Saying the ‘ts’ together forms the letter ‘Z’ in German no matter if it occurs at the beginning or end of the word.
The German Language - An English Pronunciation Guide
In case seeing pronunciation in paragraph form seems more difficult, here is a pronunciation guide with the consonant and how you would pronounce it in English.
B – b as ‘bet’ usually, p as ‘pen’ at the end of a word
C – c as ‘cat’ the most often, c as ‘city’ in a few exception cases
D – d as ‘dog’
F – f as ‘fall’
G - hard g as ‘gotten’
H – h as ‘hound’
J – y as ‘year’
K – k as ‘kill’
L – l as ‘lip’
M – m as ‘man’
N – n as ‘nap’
P – p as ‘pronounce’
Q(u)- ‘kv’, no English equal
R – hard “snore” r, no English equal
S – z as ‘zip’ at the beginning of a word, s as ‘silly’ at the end
ß(ss) – s as ‘hiss’
T – t as ‘top’
V – f as ‘ferry,’ no true English equal
W – v as ‘very’
X – x as ‘X-ray’; “eks”
Z – ts as “bats”
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Kate on November 16, 2014:
This article says that a D is always pronounced the same, but I learned that it is pronounced as a hard "t" when it's the final letter, e.g., das Bild.
Jasmine on February 24, 2010:
Great hub requiem! I attend German language classes (in Germany) every day. I have to say, from what´ve seen (there are people from all over the world on this course) - yes, for Russian, not to mention Asian people, it´s very difficult to pronounce German words and Americans unconsciously tend to ´´americanize´´ German words with their accent. I´ll recommend your hub by sending a link to my American classmates!