German Consonant Combination Pronunciation
Things start to get a bit tricky in German when you try to pronounce combinations of consonants. This is where German pronunciation really differs from English pronunciation. In this part of my German pronunciation guide I will teach you how to move your mouth in order to form all of these sounds for German consonant combinations. If you would like to take a deep dive into German pronunciation, you can download my Beginner German e-book or my German pronunciation guide.
The most discussed consonant combination in the German language has to be the “CH” combination. It has two distinct sounds. I call them the front “CH” and the back “CH”. The first is the easier of the two, as it occurs in the English language, too. The second is popular in Scottish words such as “Loch”.
The front “CH” sound which is the same as the sound you hear at the beginning of the name “Hugh”. There is a list of letters that you can memorize if you want in order to figure out when to use this sound, but honestly, it just feels right to use this as opposed to the other sound. The letters used before this sound are “E”, “Ä”, “I”, “EI”, “IE”, “EU”, “ÄU”, and “Ö”. It is also used after a consonant. Easy version, if the sound preceding the CH comes from the front of your mouth, use the front “CH”.
The other sound is from the back of the throat and is made after vowels that come from the back of the throat. This includes: “A”, “O”, “U”, and “AU”. In order to make this sound, start with the long “O” sound, stop your vocal chords, and slowly close the gap in the back of your throat until the friction of the air passing through makes a bit of sound. It is that throat clearing sound that appears in comedic acts about the German language. This sound often causes people to think the German language is harsh, but in reality you should avoid making it sound like you are working out a phlegm ball.
If you add an “S” to the end of the “CH” combination, it sounds more like “KS” instead.
Next up on my list is the combination of “CK”. It is the same as in English, but I figured it needed to be on the list anyway.
If you see “GN” in German, you pronounce both letters one after the other. This is pretty rare, but it is necessary that you know how to say it.
If you reverse the “G” and “N” to get “NG”, it acts pretty similarly to the “NG” combination in English.
“NK” sounds similar “NG”, but obviously has a “K” sound at the end making a more abrupt stop to the word.
Unlike in English, when you see “KN” together in German, you pronounce them both.
If the letters “P” and “F” are next to each other it sound like you are shooting the letter “F” out of your mouth with a burst of air.
The “PH” combination is the same as the English and most of the time these words are the same as the English, but with German pronunciation, because words with “PH” are always of foreign origin.
“QU” was mentioned in the last page, as the letter “Q” is always followed by “U”. In case you forgot or you missed the last video, it is pronounced like the English letters “K” and “V” together.
In order to make the English “SH” sound in German, there are a bunch of different options, but the most direct approach is the letters “SCH” together. This makes exactly the same sound as the English “SH” combination.
When I add the letter “T” to “SCH”, like in the beginning of the word “tschechisches”, the combination of “TSCH” sounds like the English “CH” sound in “choice” or “chance”.
SP & ST
When “S” is combined with either the letter “P” or the letter “T” at the beginning of a word, it has that same “SH” sound as “SCH” did followed by either “P” or “T”. This takes a bit of getting used to.
When those letters are combined anywhere else in the word, they are pronounced as they are in English “SP” and “ST”.
The English “TH” sound does not exist in the German language. Zis is ze reason for ze Germans sometimes sounding like zis ven speaking English (read in a fake German accent). If you see “TH” together in German, it is pronounced as the English “T”.