Learn German from scratch!

Lesson 1. German Alphabet and Pronunciation

Every language has its own unique sound system which needs to be learned, otherwise you won’t be able to comprehend foreign speech, and you won’t be understood. Fortunately for English speakers, German is not that diffrent from English. It has the same 26 letters of the Latin alphabet that English has:

German Alphabet

A a
N n
B b
O o
C c
P p
D d
Q q
E e
R r
F f
S s
G g
T t
H h
U u
I i
V v
J j
W w
K k
X x
L l
Y y
M m
Z z
Additional German letters to the latin alphabet:
Ä ä
Ü ü
Ö ö
eszett /ɛsˈt͡sɛt/

As in English, German vowels come in both long and short forms:

Stadt [ʃtat] city Staat [ʃtaːt] state, country
offen [ˈɔf(ə)n] open Ofen [ˈoːf(ə)n] oven

A vowel is long:

a. in an open syllable, i.e. a syllable that ends in a vowel:


Vater [ˈfaːtɐ]

Leben [ˈleːb(ə)n]

b. in a conditionally closed syllable, i.e. a closed syllable that may become open when the form of the corresponding word changes:


Tag [taːk]

Ta-ge [ˈtaːgə]

In writing, the length of the vowel is denoted by:


a. doubling the letter

Meer [meːɐ]


b. the letter “h” following a vowel

Uhr [uːɐ]


c. the letter “e” following the letter “i”

Sie [ziː]

A vowel is short if it’s followed by a consonant or a consonant cluster:

was [vas]

wollen [ˈvɔlən]

Birke [ˈbɪrkə]

Stress in German usually falls on the first syllable of the root word. Root word stress occurs in most words of German origin and doesn’t change when the form of the word changes. Stress may also fall on some prefixes.

Pronunciation of German vowels

The sound denoted by the letters а, аа, ah is pronounced as the long English sound /aː/ in the word “park” or the short sound /a/, which is close to the sound in the word “cup” but more open: baden [ˈbdən], Saal [zl], Fahrt [fɐt], Satz [zaʦ].

The sound denoted by the letters ä, äh is pronounced as /ɛ/ (in ä) in the word “men” [mɛn] (and the long sound is /ɛː/ in both ä and äh): Väter [ˈfɛːtɐ], wählen [ˈvɛːlən], Мännеr [ˈmɛnɐ].

The sound denoted by the letters i, ie, ih is pronounced as long /iː/ in “tea” or short /ɪ/ in “dish”: mir [mɐ], sieben [ˈzb(ə)n], Ihr [ɐ], Mitte [ˈmɪtə], Tisch [tɪʃ].

The sound denoted by the letters е, ее, eh is pronounced as the short English “e” in the words “get” and “set”, and as the long sound /e:/*: nehmen [ˈneːmən], See [zeː], gehen [ˈgeːən], Geld [gɛlt], sechs [zɛks]. In final unstressed syllables (the endings: -en, -er) and in some prefixes (for example: be-, ge- etc.) this sound is similar to English /ə/ (schwa): fahren [ˈfaːrən], beginnen [bəˈgɪnən].

* The long sound /e:/, however, is different from its English equivalent. To pronounce it, you must ensure that your tongue remains tense and in the same high position in your mouth throughout articulation - the sound must not glide off into an “i” at the end as it can do in English words such as “day”. Let's listen to “Leben” and “See” again:

The sound denoted by the letters о, оо, oh is pronounced as short /ɔ/ in the word “lot”о or as its long equivalent /o:/ in “more”: Oper [ˈpɐ], ohne [ˈnə], Boot [bt], Rolle [ˈrɔlə].

The sound denoted by the letters u, uh is pronounced as /ʊ/ in “book” and /uː/ in “clue”: du [d], Uhr [ɐ], hundert [ˈhʊndɐt].

The sound denoted by the letters ü, üh doesn’t exist in the English language. It’s French /y(ː)/: führen [ˈfrən], fünf [fynf]}, Übung [ˈbʊŋ]. Say “ee” as in “see”. While continuing to make this sound, tightly round your lips. Look in a mirror to make sure your lips are actually rounded. The resulting sound is the ü-sound.

The sound denoted by the letters ö, öh is pronounced as English /ɜː/ or French /øː/ (with the short version as well): schön [ʃøːn], Söhne [ˈzøːnə], Löffel [ˈlœf(ə)l], öffnen [ˈœfnən].

The diphthong denoted by the letters ei, ai, is pronounced as /aɪ/ in the word “sky”: drei [dʀ], Weise [ˈvzə].

The diphthong denoted by the letters au is pronounced as /аʊ/ in the word “house”: blau [bl], Faust [fst].

The diphthong denoted by the letters eu, äu is pronounced as /ɔɪ/ in the word “toy”: neu [nɔɪ], Нäusеr [ˈhɔɪzɐ].

Pronunciation of German consonants

Most German consonants have similar English pronunciation: b, р, f, h, k, l, m, n, and others..

However, there are some differences:

w = /v/,
v = /f/,
z = /t͡s/ /ʦ/ (as in “tsetse fly”)

The sound denoted by the letter j is pronounced as English /j/ in the word “yes” /jes/: Jacke [ˈjakə], jemand [ˈjeːmant].

Pronunciation of R r

The consonant sound denoted by the letter r can be pronounced as a vowel sound. This vocalic “r”, sometimes referred to as a “dark schwa”, is articulated with the tongue slightly lower and further back in the vowel area than the “schwa” sound (closer to /a/).

  1. After long vowels (except for long “a”) in the final stressed and unstressed syllables, for example:
    Faktor [ˈfaktoːɐ], wir [viːɐ], Klavier [klaˈviːɐ], Natur [naˈtuːɐ].

    Could be exceptions:
    Haar [haːr], [haːɐ]; Bart [bart], [baːɐt]; Arzt [arʦt], [aːɐʦt]; Quark [kvark], [kvaːk]; Quarz [kvarʦ], [kvα:ʦ]; Harz [harʦ], [haːɐʦ]
  2. In unstressed prefixes: er-, her-, ver-, zer-, for example:
    erfahren [ɛɐˈfaːrən], verbringen [fɛɐˈbʀɪŋən], zerstampfen [ʦɛɐˈʃtampfən], hervor [hɛɐˈfoːɐ].
  3. In the final unstressed -er, even if it is followed by consonants, for example:
    Vater [ˈfatɐ], immer [ˈɪmɐ], besser [ˈbɛsɐ], anders [ˈandɐs], Kindern [ˈkɪndɐn], auf Wiedersehen [aʊf ˈviːdɐˌzeːən].

In other cases it is pronounced as a consonant. The German consonantal “r” is described as a “roll” or “trill”, by which we mean that the speech organs strike each other several times in quick succession in the articulation of this sound. There are 3 types of consonantal “r”:

  1. In northern and central Germany, this sound is made towards the back of the vocal tract, with the back of the tongue raised towards the uvula in order to create a narrow passage. When the airstream moves through this passage, the friction thus created causes the tongue to touch the uvula either once (uvular flap) or several times (uvular roll). The “r” sound thus created has a rasping throat-clearing quality which can be equated to a less extreme version of the sound produced when gargling.
  2. The sound called the “uvular fricative” is similar to the uvular sounds outlined above, but this time there is no contact with the uvula when the back of the tonge is raised and nor does the uvula vibrate as it would if you were gargling. The best way to reproduce this sound is to form an “ach” sound, remembering to articulate it right at the back of the mouth. If you gradually start to vibrate the vocal cords while forming this sound, then the uvular fricative “r” emerges. Although originally used in informal contexts, this variant of consonantal “r” is slowly emerging as the most common pronunciation of the sound in Germany.
  3. In South Germany and Austria, on the other hand, the “r” sound is formed much further forward in the mouth. With the alveolar roll or apical roll, the tongue touches the alveolar ridge quickly and repeatedly.

Which variant of the German consonantal “r” you adopt will depend either on your teacher or on the region of the German-speaking world that you visit or live in. While it is probably advisable for beginners to adopt an uvular “r”, as it less easy to confuse this sound with English “r”, the most important thing is to be consistent and not mix and match different types of consonantal “r”.

Remember the reading rules of some letter combinations:

ck is pronounced as /k/: Stück [ʃtyk], Ecke [ˈɛkə].

sch is pronounced as /ʃ/: Schuh [ʃuː], waschen [ˈvaʃ(ə)n].

st in the beginning of the word or the root is pronounced as /ʃt/: Stelle {tip ::[ˈʃtɛlə].

sp in the beginning of the word or the root is pronounced as /ʃp/: Spiel [ʃpiːl], sprechen [ˈʃprɛç(ə)n].

tz is pronounced as /t͡s/ /ʦ/: Platz [plaʦ], sitzen [ˈzɪʦ(ə)n].

ng is pronounced as /ŋ/: Übung [ˈyːbʊŋ], verbringen [fɛɐˈbʀɪŋən], Ding [dɪŋ]. It is also in the combination nk: Bank [baŋk], links [lɪŋks], tanken [ˈtaŋk(ə)n].

chs, and the letter х are pronounced as /ks/: wechseln [ˈvɛks(ə)ln].

ch after a, o, u, au is pronounced as the russian “x” which looks like /χ/ in the transcription (see the notes below): Buch [buːχ], Fach [faχ]; after all the other vowels and also after l, m, n it is pronounced as “soft h” which is /ç/: recht [rɛçt], wichtig [ˈvɪçtɪç], Milch [mɪlç].


/χ/: It is articulated therefore with the back of the tongue close to or touching the soft palate. You probably know this sound from the Scottish word “Loch Ness”. Make a “h” sound, remembering to let the air flow freely. While you are making this sound, reduce the gap between the roof of your mouth and the back of your tongue until friction becomes audible.

/ç/: It resembles the “h” sound made at the start of English words such as “huge”, “humour” or “humane”, but the German sound needs to be articulated more vigorously and with the sound drawn out. It is also can be pronounced differently depending on the dialect.

From letter to sound

Letters of the German alphabet English transcription Examples
а, аа, ah a: Rat [raːt]
    Saat [zaːt]
    fahren [ˈfaːrən]
а a wann [van]
ä, äh ɛː spät [ʃpɛːt]
    zählen [ˈʦɛːlən]
ai Mai [maɪ]
au auch [aʊχ]
äu ɔɪ Häuser [ˈhɔɪzɐ]
b, bb b bitte [ˈbɪtə]
    Ebbe [ˈɛbə]
 (at the end of the word) p ab [ap]
с k Café [kaˈfeː]
ch (after а, о, u, au) χ Nacht [naχt]
 (after the other vowels and l, m, n) ç ich [ɪç]
chs ks sechs [zɛks]
ck k wecken [ˈvɛk(ə)n]
d, dd d dort [dɔrt]
    Kladde [ˈkladə]
 (at the end of the word) t bald [balt]
dt t Stadt [ʃtat]
е, ее, eh er [eːɐ]
  Tee [teː]
    gehen [ˈgeːən]
е ɛ etwas [ˈɛtvas]
    diese [diːzə]
ei mein [maɪn]
еu ɔɪ neun [nɔɪn]
f ff f frei [fraɪ]
    Schiff [ʃɪf]
g, gg g gut [guːt]
    Flagge [ˈflagə]
 (at the end of the word) k Tag [taːk]
 (in the suffix -ig) ç zwanzig [ˈʦvanʦɪç]
h (at the beginning of the word or its root) h haben [ˈhaːbən]
behalten [bəˈhalt(ə)n]
 (not pronounced after vowels)   sehen [ˈzeːən]
i, ie, ih wir [viːɐ]
    sieben [ˈziːb(ə)n]
    Ihnen [ˈiːnən]
i ɪ Zimmer [ˈʦɪmɐ]
j j Jahr [jaːɐ]
k k Kind [kɪnt]
l, ll l elf [ɛlf]
    Halle [ˈhalə]
m, mm m machen [ˈmaχ(ə)n]
    kommen [ˈkɔmən]
n, nn n Name [ˈnaːmə]
    dann [dan]
ng ŋ Ding [dɪŋ]
o, oo, oh oben [ˈoːb(ə)n]
    Boot [boːt]
    Ohr [oːɐ]
o ɔ noch [nɔχ]
ö,öh øː Möbel [ˈmøːb(ə)l]
    Söhne [ˈzøːnə]
    Öl [øːl]
ö œ zwölf [tsvœlf]
    öffnen [ˈœfnən]
p, pp p parken [ˈpark(ə)n]
    knapp [knap]
Pf pf Pfennig [ˈpfɛnɪç]
qu kv Qualität [ˌkvaliˈtɛːt]
r, rh r Arbeiter [ˈarbaɪtɐ]
    Rhein [raɪn] (Rhine)
r ɐ wir [viːɐ]
    erfahren [ɛɐˈfaːrən]
    Vater [ˈfatɐ]
s (before vowels and between vowels) z sagen [ˈzaːgən]
unser [ˈʊnzɐ]
Käse [ˈkɛːzə]
 (at the end of the word) s das [das]
ss, ß s lassen [ˈlas(ə)n]
    Fuß [fuːs]
sch ʃ Schule [ˈʃuːlə]
sp ʃp sprechen [ˈʃprɛç(ə)n]
st ʃt stellen [ˈʃtɛlən]
t, tt, th t Tisch [tɪʃ]
    satt [zat]
    Theater [teˈaːtɐ]
tz ʦ setzen [ˈzɛʦ(ə)n]
u, uh Dusche [ˈduːʃə]
    Uhr [uːɐ]
u ʊ und [ʊnt]
ü, üh Tür [tyːɐ]
    führen [ˈfyːrən]
    über [ˈyːbɐ]
ü y fünf [fynf]
    üppig [ˈypɪç]
v (in German words) f vier [fiːɐ]
 (in foreign words) v Visite [viˈziːtə]
    November [noˈvɛmbɐ]
w v Wagen [ˈvaːg(ə)n]
x ks Taxi [ˈtaksi]
y Lyrik [ˈlyːrɪk]
y y Zylinder [ʦyˈlɪndɐ], [ʦiˈlɪndɐ]
z ʦ zahlen [ˈʦaːlən]

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