Basically, German has the same letters that English does, from a to z. There are, of course, some differences. Many of the letters are pronounced differently than they are in English, and certain vowels (namely a, o, and u) can take umlauts. An umlaut is two dots above a vowel, as in ä. German also has the ß (called the "ess-zett").
There are basically three types of German vowel: normal vowels, modified vowels, and diphthongs. Modified vowels are vowels with umlauts, and diphthongs are combinations of vowels that are treated as one vowel. Normal vowels and modified vowels can be either long or short. Long vowels are, of course, longer in duration than short vowels.
This is just like the British a in "fast". It is also like the o in "modern". The long a is just a prolongation of the short a. In German, the short a is represented with a and the long a is represent with a, aa, or ah.
The short, stressed e (represented by e) sounds like English e as in "led". The short, unstressed e (represented by e) sounds like English e as in "bother". The long e (represented by e, ee, or eh) is similar to the ay in "day".
The short i (represented by i) sounds like English i as in "lit". The long i (represented by i, ie, or ih) sounds like English ee as in "cheese."
The short o (represented by o) sounds similar to English o as in "no". The long o (represented by o, oo, or oh) sounds similar to short o, but longer in duration.
The short u (represented by u) sounds similar to English oo as in "book". The long u (represented by u or uh) sounds like English oo as in "mood".
The short ä (note the umlaut) sounds like short German e. The long ä (represented by ä or äh) is simply prolonged.
The short ö (represented by ö) sounds similar to the u in English "fur". The long ö (represented by ö or öh) is just prolonged.
The short ü (represented by ü or y) sounds very similar to French û as in "sûr". To make this sound, say long German i and round your lips into the position for long German u. The long ü (represented by ü, üh, or y) is just prolonged.
Diphthongs are vowel sounds in which one vowel glides into another. This section describes some of the common German diphthongs. Other diphthongs can be pronounced by gliding the first vowel into the second.
This is like y as in "fry".
This is the same as German ei.
This is the same as English ou as in "loud".
This is like English oy as in "joy".
This is the same as German eu.
These eight letters are pronounced the same in German as they are in English.
At the beginning of the syllable, b is pronounced like it is in English. At the end, however, it is unvoiced, like English p.
When c is not immediately followed by h, it can be pronounced one of several ways. If it is followed by ä, e, i, or ö, it is pronounced just like German z. Otherwise, it is pronounced like k.
When ch is not followed by s, it has four possible sounds. First, it can be pronounced like a drawn-out English h. Second, it can be pronounced by gargling unvoiced, like the first ch sound but farther back in the throat. When ch occurs at the beginning of a word, it is often pronounced like k. Finally, ch can be pronounced like German sch in foreign words that have been assimilated into German.
This is like English x as in "box".
At the beginning of the syllable, d is pronounced like it is in English. At the end, it is unvoiced, like t.
At the beginning of the syllable, g is pronounced like it is in English. At the end, it is unvoiced, like k. In some words the have been assimilated from other languages, the g is pronounced like English j.
The h is silent when it follows a vowel to make the vowel long. Otherwise, it is pronounced like English h, but breathier.
This is like English y.
In English, the k is silent when producing this combination. This is not true in German.
Both letters are pronounced.
This is like English ph or f.
Both letters are pronounced.
This is like English r but gargled. If you can't do this, a rolled r will suffice.
This is like English z at the beginning of a syllable. It is like English s as in "sound" at the end.
This is like English sh.
This is pronounced like German sch plus p.
These are pronounced like English s as in "sound".
This is pronounced like German sch plus t.
This is pronounced like English tch in "match".
This is usually pronounced like English f, but is sometimes pronounced like English v.
This is pronounced like English v.
Z is pronounced like ts as in "mats". This sound can occur at the beginning of a syllable, as in Zeit (pronounced "tsite").
This table is intended as a convenient reference to German sounds, not as a complete guide. Many German sounds are slightly different from English counterparts, and some are quite different (e.g., ü, kn). Use this table only as a reference, not as a tutorial.
|Letter(s)||English Example||German Example|
|e (short, stressed)||authentic||echt|
|e (short, unstressed)||affection||Liebe|
She likes it.
Es gefällt ihr.
|b (beginning of syllable)||by||bei|
|b (end of syllable)||popular||beliebt|
|d (beginning of syllable)||dative||Dativ|
|d (end of syllable)||divergent||abweichend|
|g (beginning of syllable)||good||gut|
|g (end of syllable)||contract||Vertrag|
|kn||Canadian farmhand||kanadischer Knecht|
|qu||quark velocity||Geschwindigkeit des Quark|
|s (beginning of syllable)||series||>Serie|
|s (end of syllable)||glass||Glas|
|sp||wash plates||Geschirr spülen|