From Portuguese to German: an adventure learning German pronunciation!
I knew three things when I started learning German from scratch as a 24-year old.
First, I knew I would eventually want to move to Berlin. Two years later, I have.
Secondly, I knew the last thing I wanted was to be a foreigner who has lived in Berlin for years and still couldn’t speak the language. I promised myself I would do anything in my power to fight that.
And last but not least, I was convinced German would be a headache. Even as a dedicated language learner who could speak five languages and had ventured into several others, I felt overwhelmed. I had studied German 7 years before that and forgotten almost everything. Whenever I tried to read a job ad, a simple tweet or listen to a song, I struggled to understand even half.
So why learn German?
Yes, learning three different genders can be challenging. Yes, the dativ and the akkusativ take time to learn. And yes, everybody in Berlin speaks amazing English. But as a language lover, I could never forgive myself for taking an interest in Germany’s history, culture, literature and people, and never even approaching the local language with an open mind. I have always been a strong believer that moving to a country necessarily means learning its language. I have done so with Polish, I have done so with Turkish, and I most definitely am doing so with German. Difficulty has never stopped me from learning and wanting to know more about the world. Luckily, many others agree with me!
Pronunciation, an unexpected challenge.
Most of us know German can be quite a challenge due to sentence structure and having to deal with three different genders. However, many forget that pronunciation can also slow you down. Having been born and raised in Portugal, I was fluent in Portuguese, Spanish and English early on in life. However, German is not a language we tend to incorporate in our school curriculum or even in the media. For that reason, German pronunciation was quite new to me.
Here are some specific obstacles I continue facing as a German learner:
- Long, long words. German word length can be so entertaining there are actually articles making fun of it. Words like Höchstgeschwindigkeit (top limit, speed limit) still twist my tongue like no others. However, we must not lose hope! Many of these gigantic words are actually several smaller words put together, and can be pronounced more easily if we try to break them into parts.
- The German “r”. Tutorials have tried getting me to pronounce the German “r” by telling me to gargle. Others repeated it countless times with different examples, causing me to spit all over my keyboard. Oof! This letter is quite the adventure for a Portuguese speaker! Words like schreiben (write), grün (green) and schwierig (difficult) have made me humble. Fortunately, while I do not sound like a native speaker, I have eased into the sound and can pronounce it more accurately nowadays.
- Accidentally reading things with an English pronunciation. I will never forget the day my Egyptian classmate and I were completely lost in class, because we kept encountering the word bisher and had no idea what it meant. We decided to ask the teacher, and in our best English accent we asked: “What is bisher?”. We had to repeat that five or six times, as our teacher looked completely confused. Of course, the pronunciation of this word had nothing to do with English: it is actually pronounced “beess-hair”. And it means “so far”.
- Exaggerating sounds. Going back to that German “r”… I used to read it so strongly it almost sounded like a French one! The stereotype we have that German sounds stern, authoritarian, aggressive or unpleasant to the ear couldn’t be more wrong. I now find it to be incredibly soft, polite and even cute, at times!
My advice to anyone who wants to learn German pronunciation?
Is German really a headache? Absolutely not! The language has proven me completely wrong and keeps me engaged every single day. Studying German with Lingoda, attending in-person intensive courses, and having a self-study plan in which I worked with my own manuals and coursebooks has saved my German level. I went from an A1 level in 2017 to a B2 level… and growing!
I advise anybody who wants to live their own German adventure to let go of stereotypes (no, German is not aggressive), open themselves up to new logic (for example, genders, cases, and so on!) and definitely becoming a copycat. What you hear, you repeat!
And you? What are your experiences with German pronunciation?