German Vowel Pronunciation
Welcome to the very first video of the very first lesson of my new A1 Beginner German series. Today we are talking all about German vowel pronunciation. This lesson will spread out over several videos, but will all be considered the first lesson in what will eventually be a 20 lesson series for A1 German learners. Over the next several videos, you will learn all you need in order to pronounce any German word you come across. Don’t forget to subscribe so you never miss a video. You can also subscribe to my newsletter via the form on the left side of this blog post.
This lesson is a part of Herr Antrim’s new e-book “Beginner German with Herr Antrim“. Within the e-book, this lesson includes: a breakdown of the pronunciation of consonants in German and mp3 files to help you with pronunciation.
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Long Vowel vs Short Vowel Rules
For every vowel in German there are two pronunciation options. Short vowel sounds are used before multiple consonants. The long vowel sound can be formed in many different ways including: before single consonants, before the letter “H”, and when the vowel is doubled. In this vowel pronunciation guide, you will see examples of each of these for each vowel.
The sound is the same for both the short and long “A” sounds in German, but the length of the sound is different. The German short “A” sound is just a short burst of sound, while the German long “A” sound is a bit longer. Most of the time, this won’t really matter much and you really can’t tell the difference unless you are really paying attention. There are occasions, however, when it matters a bit more.
The German long “A” sound is the same as when your doctor tells you to open your mouth and say “Ah”. You are supposed to hold your mouth open for a while when your doctor says that, so you should keep your mouth open when saying the long “A” in German, too. In order to make sure that you say the German short “A” correctly, you simply act like you a teenage girl who is offended by something. Dad – “No, you can’t go to the mall.” Teenager – “Ah, that’s like so unfair.” (If your head bobbed to the side when you read that, you are doing it correctly.)
The short “E” sound in German is almost identical to the short “E” in English as used in words like every, pen, and met. In addition to the normal rule of using the short “E” before multiple consonants, you also use the short “E” when it is the non-stressed syllable at the end of a word. This most commonly occurs in German verbs. The long “E” sound in German is most closely related to the long “A” sound in English. Just be careful that you don’t add that “W” or “Y” sound to the end of the vowel like English speakers often do.
The German short “I” sound is the same as the short “I” in the English words it, since, and pin. The German long “I” sound is more closely related to the English long “E” sound as in feet, seat, and meal. The same rules as with the other German vowels apply here. Short sounds are used with more than one consonant after the vowel. Long sounds are used before single consonants and the letter “H”. There aren’t any words in which two “I’s” are pronounced together in German. There are a few words where there are two “I’s” next to each other, but those are always pronounced as individual letters.
The German short “O” is similar to the English short “O” sound. It can be heard in words like cost, boss, and odd. The long “O” sound is exactly like in English, but when we say “O” in English, we generally close our mouths a bit to make it sound like it is followed by a “W” or a “Y”, but in German the mouth stays in the same position from the beginning to the end of the letter
The long “U” sound can be formed in the same ways as the other German long vowel sounds. After a single consonant or add “H”. There aren’t any German words with two “U’s” next to each other, so you can’t make the long “U” sound that way. The only exception is Vakuum, but I don’t think that counts since they are pronounced individually. The German short “U” sound is pretty much the same as the English version in the words up, under, and pun. The German long “U” sound is more similar to the sound of two “O’s” in English than the English long “U”. For example: boot, shoot, and fool. Just make sure you don’t add that “W” sound that usually accompanies the English version.
In the odd case that the letter “Y” shows up in a German word you are trying to pronounce, it will likely be pronounced the same as the “Ü”. I explain that in more detail later. Your mouth should start in the position that you need for the long “U” described above. Then you bring your tongue to the top of your mouth so it touches your side teeth along the inside edge. The result is very similar to the short “I” sound, but with a “U” aftertaste.
Y at the Front or End of a Word
If it is at the beginning or end of a word, it will be pronounced like the English sounding “Y”.
An umlaut is an accent mark that goes over a letter to change the sound. It looks like two dots above the letter. In German this can be added to the letters “A”, “O”, and “U” to create “Ä”, “Ö”, and “Ü”. The effect of the umlaut is like adding the letter “E” behind the vowel. This explains why the pronunciation is the same as the long vowel letter mixed with an “E”. It also explains why it is acceptable to write “AE”, “OE”, or “UE” instead of “A”, “O”, or “U” if you don’t have the umlaut option on your keyboard.
The “Ä” is the easiest to pronounce for English speakers, because it sounds exactly like the German long “E” sound. It is most closely related to the English long “A” sound.
The letter “O” can also take an umlaut. This is a bit more difficult to pronounce than the “A” with an umlaut. Start with the long “O” sound and then bring your tongue up to meet your teeth. Another way to think about it is combining the German long “O” and the English long “E” sound. Say them back-to-back, faster and faster until they form one sound. The result should be the “Ö” sound.
The “U” umlaut is pronounced in a similar way to the “O” with an umlaut. Start with your mouth in the position for the German long “U” and push your tongue to the edge of your teeth. Alternatively, start with the German long “U” sound and add an English long “E” to the end of it or. Mix the two letters together until they become one. The end result is really more closely related to the sound of an English short “I” than the “U”.
Diphthong is a fancy word for saying that two vowels are next to each other and they make one sound. In German the diphthongs include: “AI”, “AU”, “ÄU”, “EU”, “EI”, and “IE”.
The combination of “A” and “I” make the sound like the English long “I” sound.
This is pronounced like someone stepped on your toe. In fact, the German spelling for “ow” is “aua”. It is pronounced like a person with a Boston accent saying “hour”.
Adding an umlaut, those two little dots above the letter “A”, makes it sound like you are trying to get someone’s attention in a British pub. Äu mate.
This is pronounced in exactly the same way as “ÄU”. If you remember from earlier, “Ä” is pronounced like the German long “E” sound. This means that “EU” would logically have the same pronunciation as “ÄU”.
EI & IE
This same sound you get when combining “A” and “I”, can also be created using a combination of “E” and “I”. If you are an English speaker, the two possible combinations of E and I are incredibly confusing. They are generally pronounced in the opposite way English speakers think they should be. When the “I” is second, it is the English long “I” sound. If the “E” is second, it sounds like the English long “E” sound.
Beginner German with Herr Antrim E-Book Sample from the Pronunciation Chapter
Below you can see a couple of pages out of Herr Antrim’s new e-book “Beginner German with Herr Antrim”. When you purchase the e-book, you also gain access to a ton of extra materials including:
- worksheets for all of the lessons (except the pronunciation chapters)
- answer keys for each of the worksheets
- mp3 downloads to help you practice your pronunciation
- access to online flashcards
- and more!