Content in this post
1. Definition of the Alphabet
2. How to pronounce the letters of the german Alphabet
3. German phonetics; vowels and consonants
4. German monophthong, diphthong and triphthong sound
5. Tips on how to pronounce a german word correctly
Table of content for the german alphabet and pronunciation

From the definition of the Oxford dictionary, the alphabet is a characterized set of letters and/or symbols in a fixed order that is used to represent the basic set of speech sounds of any language. German language has one alphabet that is comprised of 30 character or letters.

The German or Deutsch alphabet is closely related to that of English with 26 similar characters or letters like in English, together with 4 additional characters called umlaut and ligature which are not found in the English alphabet. This gives a total of 30 letters. The three umlauts are typically obtained from the plain letters but with two dots above it. The ligature which is also called scharfes s is often used in english as ss. The letters are shown below.

Aa/a:/–ah

Dd/deɪ/–day

Gg/geɪ/–gay

Jj/jɔt/–yot

Mm/em/

Pp/peɪ/–pay


Ss/es/

Vv/faʊ/–fow

Yy/ʊɛːpsilɔːn/–upsilon

Ää/æ/–eh
Bb/beɪ/–bay

Ee/eɪ/–ay

Hh/ha:/–hah

Kk/kɑː/–kah

Nn/en/

Qq/kʊ/–koo

Tt/teɪ/–tay

Ww/veɪ/–vay

Zz/tset/

Öö/ʊɜː/–or
Cc/tseɪ/–tsay

Ff/ef/

Ii/i:/–ee

Ll/el/

Oo/əʊ/–oh

Rr/ɜː/–err

Uu/uː/–who

Xx/ɪks/–eeks

ß/eset/

Üü/ijuː/–eew
The german alphabet

As seen in the picture above, the pronunciation of the German alphabet has been simplified in two ways — the layman’s way and the oral transcription for a better understanding.

Since pronunciation is a very important part of any language, German in particular has an intriguing layout. As a matter of fact, it is much simpler than English 🤷‍♀️. I say this because German is a straight forward language. The rules are straight, simple and very easy to follow unlike English.

To pronounce in German, a distinct knowledge of two things is required;

  • The letters/characters of the alphabet
  • The sounds/ phonetics of the alphabet

The letters of the alphabet are just the patterns or characters of the alphabet that can aid spelling and writing while the phonetics of the alphabet are the sounds produced by those letters. This is what is necessary for pronouncing a German word even though some names of letters are the same as their sound. Nevertheless, it is the sound that is used for pronunciation. The phonetics of the German alphabet is divided into three; Monophthong, Diphthong and Triphthong.

A Monophthong is the Sound produced by a single letter of the alphabet. There are two types of this sound;

  • Vowels/ Vokale
  • Consonants/ Konsonanten

A Diphthong on the other hand is the combination of two sounds which blend together to become one unique new sound. These sounds combination can be between two vowels or two consonants or even a vowel to a consonant. The diphthongs in German are; /au/, /äu/, /eu/, /ei/, /ai/, /ie/, /ch/, /sp/, /pf/, /st/, /qu/, /ig/, /ss/, /ng/, /ts/, /ps/ and /th/.

A Triphthong is the combination of three sounds. German language has just one of this sound which is “sch”. See guide on how to pronounce these sounds below.

Vokale (vowel sounds)

Vowel sounds are those that are made with ease and without obstruction of the vocal cord. These sounds play vital roles in German pronunciation. There are nine vowel and letters in German are described in the picture below.

VokaleCorresponding sound in English
Aa /a:/- (ah)
Ää /æ/- (eeh)
Ee /eɪ/- (ay)
Ii /i:/- (ee)
Oo /əʊ/- (oh)
Öö /ʊɜ:/- (oer)
Uu /u:/- (who)
Üü /iju:/- (eew)
Yy /ʊɛː/ (ooe)
article
ant
ace
eat
boat
poor
boot
brew
would
vowel sounds in german

One beautiful thing about German vowels is that they have the same sounds as the name of the letters. This makes the difference in English. To perfectly master the sounds in German is to perfectly master the letters of the alphabet.

**Note that the names of the letters are used for spelling out a word while the sounds are used for pronunciation.

Konsonanten (consonant sounds)

Consonant sounds are produced by closing the vocal tract. In simpler terms, they are every other sound in the German alphabet that is not a vowel. The German alphabet has 21 vowels. Unlike the vowels, the consonants produce sounds that are different from the names of the letters. Nevertheless, it is the sound produced that is used for pronunciation. Below are the consonant sounds in German;

KonsonantenGerman wordsCorresponding sound in English
/Bb/
/Cc/
/Dd/
/Ff/
/Gg/
/Hh/
/Jj/
/Kk/
/Ll/
/Mm/
/Nn/
/Pp/
/Qq/
/Rr/
/Ss/
/Tt/
/Vv/
/Ww/
/Xx/
/Zz/
/ß/
Buch
Caritas
Dorf
Fisch
Gast
Hals
Jacke
Kabel
Lampe
Mann
Nagel
Papier
Quark
Sehr
Salz
Tafel
Vogel
Wasser
Xylofon
Zettel
Begrüßung
Book
Carbon
Door
Fish
Girl
Hat
Young
Kite
Lamp
Man
Nail
Pay
Guava
Earth
Zinc
Tissue
Fan
Van
Books
Bats
Sun
Consonant sounds in german

Pronunciation Rules

After learning the alphabet correctly, it is very important to note the fundamental rule of pronouncing a German word;

The sound of every letter, most especially the vowels must be pronounced out individually except it is a diphthong or a triphthong.

What this means is that if you have for instance the English word “meat” which consists of four letters, the four sounds of the four letters must sound out. In this instance, “meat” would be pronounced as “ME–AT” (mi-ah-t) if it were a German word or a word with a series of vowels e.g “Meier”, “Feier”, “Beeilen” etc. You pick out the possible German diphthong and monophthong and pronouns each individually. Hence, “Meier” is blendly pronounced as “Mei-e-r”.

Practice;

Try to pronounce the following English words assuming they are pronounced by German speakers.

English wordsAs pronounced would be pronounced by a german speaker
Radio
Information
jug
single
break
rah-di-o
in-for-maht-sion
yuk
zink-le
bre-ahk
Pronunciation guide for german words

In addition to this rule, the tips below would help.

German soundsContrasting English soundGerman examplesEnglish transcription
wvWand, Welt/va:nt/, /velt/
vfVa-ter, Vogel/fa:-tɛː/, /fəʊ-gel/
dd (at the beginning of a word/syllable)
t (at end of a word/syllable)
Dieb

Land
/di:p/

/lant/
sz (as a monophthong)
s (directly after ch)
Saft, Be-such

Sechs, Wech-seln
/za:ft/, /beɪ-zukr/

/zeɪkrs/, /weɪkr- seln/
ztsZie-ge/tsi:-geɪ/
jyJun-ge/jun-geɪ/
bb (beginning of a word/syllable)
p (at the end of a word/syllable)
Bett

Be-trieb
/bet/

/beɪ-tri:p/
gg (at the beginning of a word/syllable)
k (at the end of a word/syllable
Gar-ten

Um-schlag
/ga:teɪn/

/um-ʃla:k/
ei/ai/ayeyeReis, Bay-ern, Rain/raɪz/, /baɪ-ɛːn/, /raɪn/
eu/äuoyEu-ro, Käu-fer/ɔɪ-rəʊ/, /kɔɪ-fɛː/
auowBlau/blaʊ/
ieee
yea (at the end of a word)
Tief
Fa-mi-lie
/ti:f/
/fa-mi-liɛː/
er/ärairBär/bɛː/
igish (at the end of a word)Le-dig, Ho-nig, Kä-fig/leɪ-di:ʃ/, /həʊ-ni:ʃ/, /kɛːfi:ʃ/
spshhpSpaß, Sprach/ʃpa:s/, /ʃpra:kr/
stshhtStark, Stau-ung/ʃta:k/, /ʃtaʊ-uŋ/
thdtThe-ma, Ryth-mus/dti:-ma/, /rʊɛdt-muz/
ß

ss
sss (after a long vowel)
sss (after a short vowel)
Grüß, Fuß-ball

Schloss, Wa-sser
/grijuːs/, /fuːs-ba:l/

/ʃləʊs/, /va-sɛː/
qukvBe-quem, Qua-si/beɪk-veɪm/, /kva-zi:/
pfngfTopf, Pferd/təʊŋf/, /ŋfɛːt/
ngngWoh-nung, Sen-dung/wəʊ-nuŋ/, /zeɪn-duŋ/
ckkZu-cker, We-cker/tsu-kɛː/, /veɪ-kɛː/
chkrr (directly after a, o, u or au)
k (directly befor s)
Bauch, Buch

Sechs, Wechseln
/baʊkr/, /bukr/

/zəks/, /vəkseln/
ch (short)




sch (long)
shh (after all short vowels and consonants except a, o, u or au)

shh
Ich, Licht, Milch, Mich, Reich, Feucht


Schu-le, Schnei-den, Schlaf
/ɪʃ/, /lɪʃt/, /mɪlʃ/, /mɪʃ/, /raɪʃ/, /fɔɪʃt/


/ʃuː-leɪ/, /ʃnaɪ-den/,
/ʃla:f/
tschtshhDeutsch/dɔɪtʃ/
Easy tips to pronouncing a german word
Summary
1. “s” is always pronounced as “z” but when it comes after “ch”, it is pronounced the same way as “ss” or “ß” as in the case of “sechs“ and “wechseln”.

2. “ss” and “ß” both have the same fluent “sssss” sound but are used under different circumstances. This is how they are distinguished; “ss” is used when preceding vowel sound is a short one e.g “Schloss” while “ß” is used when the preceding vowel is a long one e.g “Grüß”.

3. “t” is usually pronounced as “t” but in borrowed English or Latin words, it becomes “ts” e.g “Isolation” and “initiative” is pronounced as “ee-zoh-laht-sion” and “ee-neat-siah-tea-veh respectively.

4. Some borrowed words with “v” are pronounced as “v” instead of “f” e.g video, verb, november etc.

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