German Pronunciation

5 German Pronunciation Tips That Will Help You Sound like a Native

German pronunciation and spelling is actually quite simple. There, I said it.

(Did I just hear you groan? Wait! Hear me out…)

Let’s take French for example. There are many nasal vowels that are difficult to pronounce, and the French spelling system is full of confusing complexities. They write Bordeaux but they say Bordo. Silent consonants are all over,’ tobacco’ is written tabac but pronounced taba. A number of words show variation: ‘August’ – août – may be pronounced ut or u, ‘all’ – tous – can be tu or tus.

And what about English? Have you had enough (or enuf) trouble spelling to make you want to scream (or skreem)? You are not alone. Since the 17th century, scholars have been protesting the irregularities that occur in English spelling. Check out Ed Rondthaler’s video for an eye-opening experience, it’s hilarious.

My point is that German pronunciation and spelling is quite easy because there are simple and reliable rules. You basically spell what you hear, and once you know and understand the sounds of German letters, you are all set.

The following tips from my German Pronunciation Masterclass will not only help you sound more like a native speaker, but also improve your spelling skills.

1) V & W

The German V is usually pronounced “F” at the beginning of words and syllables: viel (a lot), Vater (father), von (from). The German W is pronounced “V”, e.g. weil (because). Pronouncing these sounds correctly really makes a big difference.

2) Z

The German pronunciation of Z is always “TS”, even in foreign names like Mazda [Matsda] and Suzuki [Zootsukee]. Many students struggle with this sound at the beginning of a word, such as zu (to), zehn (ten), Zeit (time) or Zelt (tent). Imagine the English words ‘streets’ or ‘rats’. They end with the typical German Z sound. Try to pronounce this sound at the beginning of the word “zu” [tsoo]. Well done, now you sound like a German!

3) EU

This combination of letters exists in many German words and is pronounced “OY” like in oyster. Examples are: Europa [Oyropah], Euro [Oyro], Deutschland [Doytshland]

4) ST & SP

These are pronounced ‘sht’ and ‘shp’ at the beginning of a word or syllable: Stuttgart [Shtutgart], Spiel ([shpi:l] ‘game’). “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?” – You are right, this sentence also starts with ‘shp’.

5) AU

Like English ‘ow’ in ‘how’ and ‘now’. The vowel in German braun is very like the vowel in English ‘brown’.

This might look confusing at first, but as the German pronunciation and spelling rules are regular and predictable, all that is required is some practice. From experience with my students I can tell that a little effort makes a big difference, and usually I notice the improvement immediately.

For more tips and tricks and to boost your German pronunciation please feel free to check out my German Pronunciation Masterclass.

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  • Thomas

    Hello, pretty good help for english speakers. I want to add a few more information about the pronunciation of the letter ‘v’. In foreign words like in ‘video’ it is pronounced like english ‘v’, in german words like an ‘f’ (see your examples). Not always it is easy to say if the word has german or foreign roots (see ‘vase’).
    In total the ‘f’ and ‘v’ sound is spoken in the same way, same mouth, lips, tongue, teeth position, just one with vibration and the other without. They are much more similar than it seems at first.
    Best regards

    • Ingo Depner

      Hi Thomas, thanks a lot for your comment and your contribution to the article, it’s much appreciated!