5 tips to improve your German pronunciation

5 tips to improve your German pronunciation

by Sandra Köktaş

Updated May 25, 2023

Are you afraid of having a conversation in German? With this short guide to German pronunciation, there’s no need to shy away from talking to Germans. From single letters and numbers to compound nouns, we will lead you through the ins and outs of German phonetics. 

In German pronunciation as in life, practice makes perfect. You can even train your mouth to sound more German! One of the best ways to develop an ear for the German language is to listen and watch to as much as you can. The good news is that there’s plenty of entertaining German content you can dive into.

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How to pronounce German letters

There are 26 letters in the German alphabet, plus the umlauts and special characters (ä, ö, ü and ß). The regular letters from A to Z should look very familiar to English speakers. After all, English and German partly share a common history! 

But when it comes to pronunciation, some German vowels and consonants differ considerably from the English sounds. Not to speak of the umlauts (ä, ö, ü), the German double s (ß), diphthongs such as au, ei, ai, eu, äu, and clusters like the infamous -ch. Our article on the German alphabet and its unique sounds will help you master all of them. 

Silent letters

German may seem impossibly difficult at times, but it does have some advantages over English when it comes to pronunciation. For example, whereas English has a lot of silent letters that trip up language learners, German does not. 

The English language has a lot of words that contain these tricky silent letters: subtle, bread, fine, muscle, ghost and more. A word can even start with a silent letter, as in knot

In German, we tend to pronounce every letter. A prominent exception is the silent h (stummes h, or Dehnungs-h). Its purpose is to make the preceding vowel long, as in fühlen, zahm or Ohr. But don’t conclude that only vowels followed by a silent h are long. For example, there’s also malen, kam and Tor

Pronunciation of German numbers

Numbers are among the first words we learn in a new language. The numbers from 1 to 10 are usually easy enough. After that, it can become tricky, because different languages have different ways of building compound numbers

Take 77, for example. In English, this is pronounced as “seventy-seven.” In German, we say siebenundsiebzig. This literally translates to “seven and seventy.” Compared to “seventy-seven,” the tens and units flip places and are connected with a conjunction (“and”). To make matters more confusing, these three words become one long word: siebenundsiebzig. If that confuses you, just try to turn it back into the three words sieben und siebzig for pronunciation.

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How to pronounce long words in German

If you have a good understanding of German numbers and their pronunciation, you are ready to try your hand at longer words. As we all know, German is famous for its long, complex words. In most cases, if you read the word out loud, you’ll be able to break it down into more convenient pieces. 

Take Arbeiterunfallversicherungsgesetz, for example. This very long word consists of four words: Arbeiter, Unfall, Versicherung and Gesetz. If you know these words, you can also pronounce Arbeiterunfallversicherungsgesetz.

How to get the sounds right

Many people think of German as a harsh language. To foreign ears, an everyday conversation between Germans can easily sound like a fight. There might be many reasons for this. For example, Germans use the short imperative quite often. 

Of course, if you feel a lot of tension in the German language, you might be right! (At least in a literal sense.) Just take a close look at the mouth. Different sounds are formed through different movements — but overall, the lips barely part. Instead, they’re pulled to the sides, with tension in the cheeks.

How to practice German pronunciation 

If you want to practice German pronunciation, you first have to practice listening. Just as little children learn a language by mimicking the sounds and the movements of the mouth, you can learn a lot from watching German TV. Another great way to practice pronunciation is to listen to audiobooks or podcasts. For maximum effect, follow the written book or subtitles with your eyes while listening. To put your knowledge into practice, you could record yourself reading a passage from the book. Or, ask your teacher to pay close attention to correct pronunciation.

A guide to German pronunciation

German pronunciation is different from English pronunciation, but it’s not so difficult. Learn how to pronounce the letters and letter combinations. Then, move on to German numbers and the pronunciation of longer words. The rest is practice. And with the right audiobook or movie, practice can be a lot of fun.

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Sandra Köktas

Sandra lives in Istanbul, together with her kids, cat and dog. As a historian she thrives exploring this ancient city with her two- and four-legged loved ones. Together, they also love to go on adventures through all of Turkey and its neighboring countries. If she’s not on the road, Sandra is busy putting her experiences into writing as a freelance copywriter for the travel industry and everything related to language, culture and family. Her particular interest lies in providing information on animal welfare with her website.

Sandra Köktas

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