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Basic German: Pronouncing Consonant Combinations

The German language has a few consonant sounds that are either different or don’t occur in English. Fortunately, most of them are easy to pronounce.

The German letter combination ch is the trickiest one for English speakers to pronounce. There’s absolutely no equivalent for it in English (that’s why it’s represented by a capital H), and you actually have to learn a new sound — a kind of gentle “dry” gargling sound — in order to say it.

The sound is a bit like trying to pronounce hch and not a k sound. The sound is similar to the guttural ch in Scottish, like in Loch Ness.

The good news is that in a few words, the ch + s combo is simply pronounced as an x sound, for example in Wachs (vâks) (wax) or Fuchs (fooks) (fox). In a few other words (generally French foreign words), the ch is pronounced like the sound sh in English, for example in Champignon (shâm-peen-yon) (mushroom) or Champagner (shâm-pân-yer) (champagne).

The table shows you how to pronounce the common consonant combinations of ch, ck, sch, sp, st, and tsch.

Pronouncing ch, ck, sch, sp, st, and tsch
German Letter Phonetic Symbol As in English German Example
ch H Loch (Ness) mich (miH) (me)
ck k check Dreck (drêk) (dirt)
sch sh shut Tisch (tish) (table)
sp (beginning of a word or a syllable) shp sh as in shut, p as in people spät (shpait) (late)
st (beginning of a word or a syllable) sht sh as in shut, t as in table Stadt (shtât) (city)
st (middle/end of a word) st stable fast (fâst) (almost, nearly)
tsch ch switch Deutsch (doych) (German)

The English th sound doesn’t exist in the German language. The th combination is pronounced one of two ways in German:

  • The h is silent, as in the words Theorie (tey-oh-ree) (theory) and Theologie (tey-oh-loh-gee) (theology).

  • The t and h are pronounced separately because they actually belong to different components of a compound noun, as in the words Gasthaus (gâst-hous) (inn), which is a combination of the German words for guest and house, or Basthut (bâst-hooht) (straw hat), a combo of the German words for raffia and hat.

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