Basic German Pronunciation - dummies

By Wendy Foster, Paulina Christensen, Anne Fox

Speaking a foreign language correctly is all about mastering the basics of pronunciation. The key to mastering pronunciation is to start small by figuring out how the individual letters sound. Then you can expand to syllables, words, and finally, sentences. The rest is practice, practice, practice.

Understanding stress in German

This type of stress doesn’t have anything to do with meeting deadlines or having a BMW tailgate you at 110 miles per hour on the Autobahn. Instead, it’s about knowing which syllables to stress in German words. In the pronunciation key that you see in parentheses following each word, the syllables you should stress are in italics.

Constructing the alphabet blocks

The German alphabet has all the letters that English does — 26 of ’em — plus four special letters: ä, ö, ü, and ß. The good news is that German words are generally pronounced just as they’re spelled, so things aren’t as confusing as they are in English with the likes of bow (tie), (take a) bow, and (tree) bough. The bad news is that many of the familiar letters are pronounced differently from their English counterparts.

This table shows you the sound of each letter of the alphabet when it’s pronounced alone. Knowing how to say each individual letter comes in handy, for example, when you need to spell your name to make a table reservation at a German restaurant, book a room with a hotel receptionist, or compete in a German spelling bee with a grand prize of 500,000 euros.

Pronouncing the German Alphabet
Letter German Pronunciation German Word
a ah Ahnen (ahn-en) (ancestors)
b bey Bild (bilt) (image, picture)
c tsey Café (kâ-fey) (café)
d dey durstig (doohrs-tiH) (thirsty)
e ey Ehe (ey-e) (marriage)
f êf Feuer (foy-er) (fire)
g gey geben (gey-ben) (give)
h hah Haus (house [as in English]) (house)
i ee ihn (een) (him)
j yot Januar (yahn-oo-âr) (January)
k kah Kilometer (ki-loh-mey-ter) (kilometer)
l êl Liebe (lee-be) (love)
m êm Manager (manager [as in English]) (manager)
n ên Name (nah-me) (name)
o oh ohne (oh-ne) (without)
p pey Pause (pou-ze) (break, intermission)
q kooh Quatsch (kvâch) (nonsense)
r êr rot (roht) (red)
s ês S-Bahn (es-bahn) (suburban train)
t tey Taxi (tâx-ee) (taxi)
u ooh U-Boot (ooh-boht) (submarine)
v fou Vogel (foh-gel) (bird)
w veh Wald (vâlt) (forest)
x iks Fax (fâx) (fax)
y uep-si-lon System (zers-teym) (system)
z tset Zeit (tsayt) (time)
ä ah-oom-lout (Umlaut) Bäcker (bêk-er) (baker)
ö oh-oom-lout (Umlaut) schön (shern) (beautiful)
ü ooh-oom-lout (Umlaut) Tür (tuer) (system)
ß ês-tsêt Straße (strah-se) (street)