Basic German: Pronouncing ä, ö, and ü

By Wendy Foster, Paulina Christensen, Anne Fox

German has three extra vowels: ä, ö, and ü. The German word for those curious double dots over the vowels is Umlaut (oom-lout) (umlaut). Umlauts slightly alter the sound of the vowels a, o, and u, as outlined in this table. These sounds have no equivalent in English.

Pronouncing Vowels with Umlauts
German Letter Phonetic Symbol As in English German Example
ä (long) ai say (“ay” in “say” with spread lips) nächste (naiH-ste) (next)
ä (short) ê bet (clipped “e”) fällen (fêl-en) (to fell [a
ö er her (without the “r” sound) schön (shern) (pretty) (remember: no
“r” sound)
ü ue lure (“ooh” with pursed lips) Tür (tuer) (door)

To make your German vowels ä, ö, and ü sound a bit more authentic, try progressing through the ä, ö, and ü sounds, pronouncing the vowels as though you’re getting ready to kiss someone — in other words, round your lips and pucker up, baby! The ü sound is pronounced with very pursed lips.

Pronouncing diphthongs

Diphthongs are combinations of two vowels in one syllable (as in the English “lie”). This table lists the German diphthongs and shows you how to pronounce them.

Pronouncing German Diphthongs
German Diphthong Phonetic Symbol As in English German Example
ai/ei/ay ay cry Mais (mays) (corn)/ein (ayn) (a)/Bayern
(bay-ern) (Bavaria)
au ou loud laut (lout) (noisy)
äu/eu oy boy Häuser (hoy-zer) (houses)/Leute
(loy-te) (people)
ie ee see Miete (meet-e) (rent)

Both the long German vowel i and the German vowel combination ie are pronounced like the English letter e in see, but the German ei, ai, and ay are pronounced like the English letter y in cry.