Learning German - The Basics

Although there are a few sounds in German which will be unfamiliar to you as a native speaker of English, on the whole English speakers find German easier to pronounce than French. Since the main thing is to be understood, don't worry if your pronunciation is less than perfect.

German alphabet

The German alphabet contains all the 26 letters, small and capital, of the English alphabet. In addition, three of the vowel letters - a/A, o/O, u /U - also appear in the forms ä / Ä , ö / Ö , ü / Ü , which represent entirely different sounds from the same letters without the 'Umlaut' symbol ( ¨ ) above.

Here are the letters of the alphabet with their names given in our imitated pronunciation.

ah yot es
b eh k ah t eh
ts eh el oo
d eh em fow
eh en v eh
ef oh iks
g eh p eh uepsilon ( uep / si / lon)
h ah k oo tset
ee er

Vowels & Vowel Combinations

Although there are only eight vowel letters in German (the five of the English alphabet, plus ä, ö, ü ), there are potentially 16. In practice 15 vowel sounds, because each vowel letter has two pronunciations, a long and a short one, It is vital to note and produce this distinction, as the long-short contrast is accompanied by a difference in the nature of the sound. The spelling is sometimes an aid to knowing whether a vowel is long or short:
A vowel is long if
  • The vowel letter is doubled: Beet, Saat, Boot
  • The vowel letter is followed by Bahn, Huhn, Lohn
  • The vowel is followed by fies, mies, Grie ß
  • The vowel letter is followed by ß , which is in turn immediately followed by a vowel letter in the same word: Füße, Blöße, Maße
A vowel is short if
  • The vowel letter is followed by a doubled consonant letter or by ck H ütte, Affe, Zweck
  • The vowel letter is followed by ss , which is in turn immediately followed by a vowel letter in the same word: Flüsse, wissen, Masse
  • The vowel letter is followed by ng Rang, jung, ging

German Spelling & Pronunciation

There is a far greater consistency between spelling and pronunciation in German than exists in English. However, some letters consistently require a pronunciation different from the same letters in English, and some letters appear in combinations unfamiliar in English. All names begin with capital letters. The pronoun Sie , the formal word for 'you' and related words (e.g. Ihr 'your') always begins with capitals.

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