German pronunciation guide

I recently did a Finnish pronunciation guide and after that I have noticed that there is a need for pronunciation guides in general. So here is my attempt to create a German pronunciation guide. I would like to point out that this guide teaches the German equivalent of BBC English and that this is also the variety taught by Duolingo. German is, however, a widely-spoken language and there, therefore, are also other ways of speaking "proper" German.

Before we start, we need to take a look at the different parts of the mouth:

Run your tongue on the ceiling of your mouth and you notice when the hard palate turns into the soft velum.


  • p, k and t are aspirated (unless they follow [s], [z] or [ʃ]). So what does this mean? It means that a sudden and abrupt flow of air comes out of your mouth when you pronounce [p], [k] or [t]. If you are an English-speaker, you need not worry about this, because English works in the same way. If you are not an English-speaker , you can practice by placing a single sheet of paper close to your lips and see if it moves when you pronounce these sounds. If it does not move, you are doing something wrong. Let's practice: kaufen, perfekt, Tasse, können, Partei, Tee.

  • k is usually pronounced slightly deeper in the mouth than in English depending on which sound follows it and especially if the sound appears in the middle of the word. The English k is always velar, that is, it pronounced near the velum (see the picture above), whereas the German k is pronounced closer to the uvula. Let's practice: Koch, Käfer, Katze, kein, können, wecken, schmecken.

  • b and d are pronounced as in British English. However, if they appear in the middle of the word, they pronunciation may differ slightly and b is pronounced closer to the teeth, and when producing d, your tongue touches the ceiling of your mouth slightly further back. Let's practice: lieben, Lieder, leben, Laden.

  • g is pronounced as in the English word gate. It is, however, pronounced deeper in the mouth than in English especially if it appears in the middle of the word. It can be pronounced close to the velum (as in English) or near the uvula. Let's practice: gegen, mögen, fragen, vergessen.

  • In some French loan words, like Orange, g is pronounced as [ʒ], like the s-sound in treasure. Let's practice: Regie, Garage, Regime, Reportage.

  • Word-final b, d and g are pronounced as unaspirated p, t and k, meaning that the sudden and abrupt flow of air usually associated with these sounds is absent. Let's practice: Land, weg, Staub, Korb, Strand, Tag.

  • When b and g appear before t, they are pronounced as unaspirated p and k, so again no air flow. Let's practice: sagt, habt, glaubt, fragt.

  • ng is pronounced as [ŋ] as in the word English, unless it is followed by a vowel in which case it is pronounced as [ŋg]. When an n is followed by a k it is pronounced as [ŋk]. Let's practice: Zeitung, Englisch, Angel, Onkel.

  • [ʃ], as in the English shake, appears in three different consonant combinations. First, there is the sch-cluster. Second, the st, in which the s preceding the t is pronounced as a [ʃ]. And third, the sp, in which the s preceding the p is pronounced as a [ʃ]. This sound is usually produced ever so slightly more closer to the teeth than in English. Let's practice: spielen, stehen, Staub, sprechen, schnell.

  • s when it precedes a vowel is pronounced as [z], as in the English word prison. If the s is word-final or followed by a consonant it is pronounced as [s], as in site, unless it is part of sch, st or sp (see the previous rule). Let's practice: sieben, sie, Sache, aus, sowie, Sahne.

  • z is pronounced as [ts] as in cats. Let's practice: Zone, Zeitung, Zeit, zeigen, zwei.

  • f is pronounced as in English or with slightly more air flow.

  • w is pronounced as [v] as in very. Let's practice: Wagen, weit, wissen, Wohnung, wann.

  • v is usually pronounced as [f] as in father. In some loan words, like Vase or Vegetarier, it is, however, pronounced as [v]. These need to be learned by heart. Let's practice: Vater, vorbei, viel, Vogel, vergessen.

  • j is usually pronounced as the first sound in the English word yellow. Let's practice: jung, ja, Jacke, Jahr, Jugend, jodeln.

  • However, in some loan words, the j is pronounced as in English. Let's practice: joggen, Job, Jeans, Jazz.

  • There are also French loan words, like Journalist, in which the j is pronounced as in French.

  • ch, when it follows a, o, u or a consonant, is pronounced in the throat.

Push your tongue close to the velum and produce an h-like sound in the upper part of your throat. Let's practice: Koch, Buch, Bach, Sache, Mädchen, Hähnchen.

  • ch, when it follows ä, e, i, ö or ü, is pronounced in the front part of the mouth.

Push your tongue close to the palate and start with the h-sound in the English word huge. Then move your point off pronunciation slightly forwards. Let's practice: Heinrich, Bücher, mich, natürlich, ich.

  • Word-final ig is pronounced the same way the German word ich. Notice that if you add an ending to a word like this, the g will be pronounced as [g]. If the ig is followed by lich, it is pronounce as [ik]. Let's practice: wichtig, wichtiger, zwanzig, Zwanziger, schwierig, traurig, traurige, ewiglich.

  • chs is pronounced as [ks]. Let practice: sechs, wechseln.

  • Word-initial ch is usually pronounced as in the German word ich. Let's practice: Chemie, chinesisch, China, Chirurg.

  • In French loan words, however, word-initial ch is pronounced as in French! Let's practice: Chauffeur, Champagner, Chef, Charme, Chance, Chauvinist.

  • And in English loan words, word-initial ch is pronounced as in English! Let's practice: checken, chartern, Chat.

  • h, when it begins a word or a syllable, is very similar to the h in the British English word hat.

  • When h appears within or at the end of the word, it is silent and marks a long vowel. Let's practice: gehen (yes, it is silent!), sehen, geht, roh, wohl, Mahlzeit.

  • Consonantal r, [ʁ], appears in the beginning of a word or a syllable. Move the back of your tongue close to your uvula and then make your vocal cords tremble. When you place your hand on your throat, you should be able to feel the movement. Let's practice: Ruhe, rot, gerade, rechts, Ratte, Rechnung.

  • ß. This is double s when it follows a long vowel or a diphthong. Let's practice: Rößler, heißen, Maß, Füße, Spaß.


  • A short vowel is usually followed by a double consonant (Ratte) or a group of several consonants (Hand). A long vowel is followed by a single consonant (Juni), the silent h (Ruhe) or the ß (Füße).

  • a is, whether long or short, found in Australian English. It is, however, relatively close to the British English pronunciation of calm when long. Let's practice: (Long a) Glas, Jahr, Bahn. (Short a) Mann, Wann, Hand.

  • The short i is pronounced as in the English word bit. The long i resembles the vowel sound in beat. Let's practice: (Short i) bitte, Kind, Winter. (Long i) *Lina, Bibel, mimen.

  • The short o sounds a lot like the British English pot. The long o does not have an English equivalent, so you just have to learn to hang onto the sound. Let's practice: (Short) Sonne, Sommer, Gott. (Long) Rose, rot, Boot.

  • The short u is a bit like the vowel sound in push. The long u does not appear in English, so you have to learn to hold onto to the sound longer. Let's practice: (Short) Schuld, Hund, hundert. (Long) Schuh, Hut, Stuhl.

  • ü. Start with a long i-sound (as in beat) and purse your lips. Then move your point of pronunciation slightly forwards. If you already know French, this is the same sound as in plus. Let's practice: (Short) Stück, Brücke, Glück. (Long) früh, grün, über.

  • ö. Start with the vowel sound in fur. Then purse your lips slightly and move your point of pronunciation and the tip of your tongue forwards. Let's practice: (Short) Löffel, Hölle, Öffnung. (Long) Schildkröte, blöd, Flöte.

  • e and ä. The short e and ä are much like the e in hen. The longer e (or ä) is much more difficult. First, lengthen the e in hen, then make you tongue tense. My reason for discussing this sound more carefully than the other vowel sounds is that, based on the comments in the German course here in Duolingo, many English-speakers hear this sound as i (as in beat), but it is, in fact, still an e. Let's practice: (Short) wenn, echt, Hände. (Long) wählen, Tee, sehen.

  • The schwa, [ə]. This is the sound most commonly found in English in the indefinite article a. In German, it appears when a word ends in -e. It can also be heard when a word ends in -el or -en, although in these two latter cases, it can be left out completely. Let's practice: bitte, Hände, Flöte, Vogel, sehen.

  • The vocalic r, [ɐ]. This letter is pronounced in the same place as the schwa, but it sounds like a half-swallowed a. Most commonly this sound replaces the -er combination when it appears at the end of a word. Let's practice: Vater, Mutter, Bruder, Schwester.

  • The vocalic r can also be heard when a long vowel is followed by an r at the end of an word. Let's practice: vier, Uhr, Bier, Bär, Tor, mehr.

  • The vocalic r is also heard when the letter r follows a long vowel but precedes another consonant. Let's practice: Pferd, Herd.


  • ie is a long i-sound (as in beat). Let's practice: niemand, viel, Frieden, liegen, wie.

  • Sometimes the ie appears in an unstressed syllable at the end of a word. This is when the two sounds, i and e, are pronounced seperately. The e is pronounced as a schwa. Let's practice: Familie, Italien, Slowenien.

  • ei is pronounced as [ai], as in the English word mine. Let's practice: Heimat, mein, heißen, Edelweiß.

  • eu and äu are pronounced [ɔɪ] or [ɔʏ]. The first combination sounds like the vowel sound in the English word voice. The second is a combination of o and ü. Let's practice: Reuter, Europa, Häuser, Freund, neu, teuer.

  • au and ai are pronounced without changes in the vowels. The latter can also be spelt ay. So au as in clown and ai as in high. Let's practice: braun, auch, Haus, Main, Bayern.

I have no doubt that I have made some mistakes. I have also probably forgotten something. Please comment below, and I will edit my post. :)

May 17, 2016


Two small remarks:

ad [ʃ]: bisschen (old spelling: bißchen) does not have a [ʃ]-sound. It is a sharp s in front of the [ch]-sound you discuss as typical after i, e, ...

ad word-final ig: This is pronounced as -ik if it appears in an adverbialised adjective, e.g. ewiglich, lediglich etc. And in many (Southern / Western) dialects the word-final -ig is always pronounced with a k-sound.

May 18, 2016

Thank you. I will edit. :)

May 18, 2016

I've heard it pronounced like -ih though...which one is right?

May 18, 2016

I wouldn't know which dialect uses that pronunciation of the word final -ig as a long [ih]. I've only heard both [-ik] and [-ich] as regional variations in pronunciation.

May 18, 2016

As far as I know it is the old pronunciation still taught to actors. König (="könich"), lustig(="lustich"). I consider it more often used in the north. I don't agree about the Bavarian theory for I hear the "g" more clearly in the south - Just personal impression - no offence

May 21, 2016

"~ig" is indeed closer to "~ik" but this might also depend on the actual word and personal preference. Some indeed use "~ich" (as in "Sittich" or simply "ich").

"~ih" (with different lengths for both the "i" and the "h") is dialect/slang only; very common in Bavaria, e.g. "hinterhältihe Kripp'l" ("hinterhältige Krüppel"; referring to people with more or less shady intents; not actual disabled people).

May 20, 2016

Its alright if you made some mistakes... Nobody is perfect

May 17, 2016

You are a hero!

May 18, 2016

Nice post.

Based on self-observation i don't agree with your location of the palatal frikative (ch), though. I'd locate it a bit more towards the back/throat. If you're trying to generate it too far in the front it will merge into a sh sound (like in the japanese し).

May 19, 2016

Thank you for your observation. That is really interesting. I think there is some variation based on which vowel sound the palatal fricative is following.

May 20, 2016

I suppose it depends somewhat on what you consider 'generation' of the sound. The actual sound effect is generated on mid to front tongue, but the tongue - while elevated - is quite relaxed, the active muscle contraction happens in the throat.

Whereas for the 'sh' sound the setup is very similar, but the front of the tongue is actively contracting to form the airstream.

May 20, 2016

Aha! I now see what you mean. When I use the expression the point of pronunciation, I do not mean the muscle contraction in the throat but the pressure point in the front part of the mouth that shapes the air flow into a recognisable sound. Thank you for weighing in. I know that many people have difficulties separating the ich-sound from the sch-sound, so your clarification must be very helpful to many people. :)

May 20, 2016

I hope so.

In my defense, I'm a brass player. We tend to be somewhat nitpicky when it comes to things involving the tongue and airstream ;).

May 20, 2016

Wow, thanks much!

May 19, 2016


May 19, 2016

I practiced pronouncing p, k and t and the paper didn't move so I figured I was doing something wrong. The second time I got the paper soaking wet. I need more practice. lol

May 21, 2016

:D You will get it right. I am certain of it. :)

May 21, 2016

Thank you for the link! :)

May 21, 2016

Thanks a lot for that chanel!

May 30, 2017

Danke! At last! I found something detailed about pronunciation in German language! Russian speakers here don't reply while, and I asked one German man - obviously, he didn't understand about what I'm asking. Maybe, this question outdated? :-} My question is: is it common (or - how much common it is?) in German the anglicized consonants "t" und "d"? Here, in Duo the speaker in audio says exactly this way. Or it's only today pronunciation of this two consonants in German group of languages? Thank You.

March 9, 2017

What do you mean by "anglicized"?

May 21, 2017

Good afternoon! Maybe, I used not international linguistic term. I meant by this word that consonants and some combinations of sounds are pronounced as in English. Not as in the Romance group of languages

May 23, 2017

Possibly you mean aspirated?

In German, pʰ, tʰ and kʰ are aspirated, but b, d, g are not.

"French, Standard Dutch, Tamil, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Modern Greek, and Latvian are languages that do not have aspirated consonants"

May 25, 2017

Yes, I meant exactly this! Thank you! :-}

May 30, 2017

Ch after a consonants would be pronounced as a palatal fricative and not a velar fricative as you stated in that guide. Example: Durch /'duʁç/ and not as Buch /'bu:x/. Sorry if something in the IPA wasn't spelled right.

February 1, 2018
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