Maybe you have to get used to the difference in sound. There are two sound clips here: https://de.wiktionary.org/wiki/Apfel#Apfel_.28Deutsch.29
Can't give an absolute advise, but what I always do is I try to remember the difference between the sound of the vowel A in some words in English. Like when in Apfel the A sounds like the A in Arm or Guard, while in Äpfel it sounds like the A in Air or Apple. Also remember umlauts exist solely to tell you that the same vowel is pronounced somewhat different, so when you see it you may know how to speak correctly, or when you hear a vowel that sounds different from the usual there is probably an umlaut there. My mother tongue has graphic symbols (accents) for different sounds, just like German has umlauts, so it's easier.
No, the A sound in those words is not the same, but thank you for the correct German sounds. In English, "air" has a similar sound , but apple in English does not have an "ehh" sound. The sound for air is listed as '\er\' but for apple '\a-pəl\'. Listen to the sounds by pressing on the speaker symbol:
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apple http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/air?show=0t=1411077113 Answering ccollalto below, perhaps you do not mean that the 'a' in "air" sounds like the 'a' in "apple", because they do not sound alike. Unless you are from another part of the US in which apple is pronounced differently from what I am used to? I am from California. The 'a' in "apple" sounds like the 'a' in cat, and fat rhymes with cat. The vowel sound in air rhymes with heir and does sound similar to the vowel sound in "Äpfel". http://www.forvo.com/search-en/apple%20cat%20fat%20air%20heir/page-4/ Both ɛ and æ are symbols for front unrounded vowels which do sound differently, but apple in English dictionaries which use IPA such as Oxford they use not the æ sound but the a sound for the 'a' in apple and cat and fat. They use ɛ for the words "air" and "heir". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Phonetic_Alphabet#English Then there is the sound in "Apfel", singular with no umlaut accent mark. http://www.forvo.com/search/%C3%A4pfel/ Best of all see the sites christian below has given us with full explanations of how to say these German words and with the sounds to listen to.
Thank you for your answer. Although I have to disagree, and assuming we are talking about how American English sounds, the A in Air and Apple sounds pretty much the same and I'll use IPA to exemplify = /ɛə(ɹ)/ for air and /ˈæpl̩/ for apple. Both ɛ and æ are symbols for front unrounded vowels, exactly the same difference between fat and cat, you just can't tell.
If you use linguistic terms, vowels are defined by height, front/back and rounding of the tongue. Try pronouncing different vowels and paying attention to how your tongue moves. In German, in my understanding, umlauts denote a vowel that is farther front - compare the vowel in English "talk" with "tech". (Fun exercise in English vowels - make as many words as you can that start with [t] and end with [k]. You should end up with somewhere around 16, depending on your dialect.)
Good question. I could not discern the A and the A with an umlaut over it. Maybe they just assumed that we would know since we were in the plurals.
The difference is not to do with sounds/ rounding of the tongue etc., but with the actual structure of the sentence. In German, as in English, when you talk about a singular item (noun), it is always preceded by the article. I.e., "You eat the/a apple", or "Du isst den/einen Apfel". Similarly, when we use plurals, the article is not always necessary. I.e., "You eat apples" translates to "Du isst Apfel" (umlaut over the A). Therefore, if there is no article before the word 'Apfel', you can assume that it is plural. However, if you wish to say "You eat the apples" (an example of a sentence where a plural is preceded by an article), the translation would be "Du isst die Apfel" (with umlaut over the A), rather than the singular "Du isst den Apfel".
To hear the impact of using the umblaut, listen to the difference between “Mann” and “Männer”. You can hear the words here: https://translate.google.com.mx/?hl=en&tab=wT#de/en/M%C3%A4nner%20Mann
It is easy to hear and remember because the difference very roughly corresponds to the difference between the English words “Man” and “Men”.