Tips to Perfect Your
When we learn a language, there are two important steps that we take - the passive and the active. First, we hear the language and perceive it in a passive way without replying to others. Then we listen carefully to others and give our answers, which is the active part. After that the active step, we learn how to read and write, and we take an active part in long discussions.
This is the natural way we learn a language.
When we learn a foreign language, we should remember this natural way of language learning. We have the advantage of being able to accompany our active listening with active reading and deepening the new learned content.
Try to listen and repeat native-speaking Germans as often as you can. The best chance to encounter native-speaking Germans is to take a trip to Germany, but not everyone can afford this or has the time. Therefore, if you have an Internet connection, watch video clips on YouTube. There are a lot of German songs, including the lyrics, on YouTube. Singing is a very good way to repeat foreign words. You become familiar with the pronunciation, and it's a bit like mouth gymnastics.
Some of the famous German singers you can find on YouTube are: Xavier Naidoo, Westernhagen, Sabrina Setlur, Herbert Grönemeyer, Die Ärzte, Die Toten Hosen, and many more.
Another good way to listen to German is to watch videos for children or Disney films (first with subtitles, then try watching the movie without the subtitles). This is a good way to learn because the speaking pace is not as fast as in films aimed for the adult audience.
What you should pay particular attention to:
There are eight vowels in German: a, e, i, o, u, and the "mutated vowels," the so-called Umlaute: ä, ö, and ü.
They are all pronounced in a pure way, unlike in English where vowels tend to be pronounced as diphthongs.
And, moreover, there is a difference in length:
Vowels can be short or long. For example, when a vowel is followed by a double consonant like double "l" or double "m," they are short, but when a vowel followed by only one consonant, they are long.
- /a/ like in "cup" (short) or "target, hard" (long)
haben (long) – to have
Hammer (short) – hammer
- /e/ like in "ten" (short) or "say" (long, but without the English off-gliding sound into "ee" like in "see")
hell (short) – bright
Regen (long) – rain
/i/ like in "with" (short) or "feet" (long)
Ich (short) – I
Igel (long) – hedgehog
- /o/ like in "hot" (short) or "door" (long)
offen (short) – open
Ofen (long) – oven/stove
- /u/ like in "bush" (short) or "boot" (long)
(ich) muss (short) – I must
Kuchen (long) – cake
The German Umlaute are vowels and can be transcribed as follows:
- ä – ae
ö – oe
ü – ue
- /ä/ like in "head," but with a wide opened mouth
Hände – hands
Äpfel – apples
- /ö/ like in "burn, heard, sir"
öffnen – to open
Köpfe – heads
- /ü/ like in "Tyrell, new, few"
Tür – door
über – over/above
You also have to know that there is a slight difference in open and closed pronunciation of the sounds o, u, ä, ö, ü. But this is something you can improve upon once you know the basic sounds of the vowels and by listening carefully to the pronunciation and by imitating those sounds. You will notice that there is a slight difference in the mouth position - the position of your lips - from round closed to wide open.
2. Diphthongs of Vowels
Diphthongs are combined letters which form a new sound like the combined vowels au, ae, äu, ei, eu, ie, oe, ue. These diphthongs aren't pronounced separately, and they have their own sound.
- /au/ like in "house, mouse"
Haus – house
Maus – mouse
- /ae/ is the /ä/ vowel sound mentioned above;
you can use ae when you don't have the /ä/ letter key on your keyboard.
- /äu/ like in "boy, coin"
Häuser – houses
Mäuse – mice
- /ei/ like in "mine, shine, line"
Mein (male), meine (female), mein (neuter) – mine
Kein (male), keine (female), kein (neuter) – none
- /eu/ like in "boy, coin"
Heu – hay
Scheu – timidness
- /ie/ like in "bee, me" with a long "ee" sound
sie or Sie – she or formal you
siegen – to win
- /oe/ and /ue/ are the /ö/ and /ü/ vowel sounds mentioned above;
you can use oe or ue when you don't have the /ö/ and /ü/ letter keys on your keyboard.
The consonants are pronounced the following way:
- /b/ like in "ball"
Bahnhof – train station
baden – take a bath
- /c/ 1. like "ts" in "bits"
Circus, circa, Celsius
- 2. Like "k" in "kind"
- /d/ like in "daughter"
Dach – roof
- /f/ like "ph" in "elephant"
Fenster – window
- /g/ like "g" in "get" and never as in "giraffe"
/h/ like in "help, to have, hotel"
helfen, haben, Hotel
- /j/ like in "yoga"
Joghurt – yoghurt
Jeder (male), jede (female), jedes (neuter) – every
- /k/ like in "coffee"
- /l/ like in "love"
- /m/ like in "man"
- /n/ like in "never"
- /p/ like in "position"
Pause – break
- /q/ like in "question"
Qualle – jellyfish
- /r/ like in "arm" with a silent sound like "-er" in "computer, feather"
Rettich – radish
- /s/ like in "Sophie"
- /t/ like in "table"
- /v/ like in "father" or "video"
Vater – father
Video – video
- /w/ like in "Vicky," but never like in "where"
- /x/ like in "flexible"
- /y/ quite the same as /ü/,
but in words of foreign origin "j" like in "yacht" and in names often as /i/ like "Jenny"
- /z/ like "ts" in "lists"
Zahn – tooth
Last, but not least, there is the special "s" in German, the latin small letter sharp s 'ß' (Germans call it 'scharfes S' or even 'Eszett'). The reformation of the German spelling rules has brought a differentiation between double "s" and the "ß."
We use "ss" when the pronunciation of the "s" is fast:
- Like in "essen" – to eat
Er ißt (former spelling) – he eats
Er isst (new spelling) – he eats
- Like in "müssen" – to must/have to
Ich muß (former spelling) – I must/have to
Ich muss (new spelling) – I must/have to
- When the pronunciation of "s" is slow and the vowel is long, we use "ß."
If you don't have the "ß" on your keyboard, you may use "ss,"
but it is not the 100% correct spelling, like in "groß."
4. Diphthongs and Triphthongs of Consonants
There are diphthongs and triphthongs in the German language, both of which have their own sound.
- /ch/ is difficult to explain
because it doesn't exist in English.
- It can sound like snoring
after "a, o, u"
machen – to do/make
lachen – to laugh
- After "i, e" it has a soft sound
like "ge" in "huge, garage"
- At the beginning of a word
like in "character"
- /ck/ like in "black, knock"
Glück – luck
- /ig/ like a soft "ch" sound as the German "ich"
fertig – ready/done
schläfrig – sleepy/dozy
- /ng/ like "ŋ" in "singing, spring" with a silent "g"
Singen – to sing
Frühling – spring
- /ph/ like "f" in "fish"
Foto – photo
- /sch/ like "sh" in "sheep, fish"
Schaf (singular), Schafe (plural) – sheep
Fisch - fish
- /sp/ at the beginning is like "shp"
Spachtel – scraper
- /st/ at the beginning is like "sht"
Stopp – stop
Straße – street/road
5. Double Consonants
If the vowel is short, the following consonant is doubled:
- /ll/ like in "hell"
Fell – fur
- /nn/ like in "funny"
rennen – to run
- /mm/ like in "hammer"
Schlamm – mud
- /pp/ like in "apple"
stoppen – to stop
- /ss/ like in "chess"
Wasser – water
- /ff/ like in "different"
Schiff – ship
If the stressed vowel (short) is followed by different consonants, these are not doubled:
- flink – speedy/swift
- Kraft – power/force
The German language has some regional variations, but they don't differ too much from the "standard." The only one known to be particular is the Bavarian dialect, because it's similar to the Austrian language.
If you don't really match the German pronunciation 100%, don't worry because there is nothing more charming than a beautiful foreign accent.