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Introduction to the German Language

Phew! We know! Thats a lot of introduction! Eager to start speaking German and don't have the patience to read through? then read a summary of this introduction.

The Alphabet
Roman Type German Name
A aah
B bbay
C ctsay
D dday
E eay
F feff
G ggay
H hhah
I iee
J jyot
K kkah
L lell
M memm
N nenn
O ooh
P ppay
Q qkoo
R rair
Roman Type German Name
S sess
T ttay
U uoo
V vfow
W wway
X xix
Y yipsilon
Z ztset

Modified Vowels (Umlaute)
Roman Type German Name
Ä äa-Umlaut
Ö öo-Umlaut
Ü üu-Umlaut
Äu äuau-Umlaut

German is pronounced more vigorously and energetically than English. Both consonants and vowels are uttered more forcibly. In the use of lip and tongue and in the expenditure of breath English is a lazy language in comparison with German.

The only silent letters in German are h after a vowel and e in the combination ie. When used in this manner, h and e indicate a long vowel: wohnen, Uhr, die, bieten. In a few words derived from the Latin, however, the e after i is sounded: Familie (ie=i+e), Italien (ie=i+e).

German vowels are pure vowels, retaining the same sound throughout their utterance. They do not glide off into other vowel sounds, as the English vowels often do, particularly the long vowels (gate = ga+eet, rode = ro+ood)

Vowels are pronounced distincly and, with the exception of unaccented e, are never slurred, as is so common in English.

The difference between long vowels and short vowels is greater than in English, long vowels being pronounced very long, and short vowels very short.

Lip rounding, as for o and u, and lip-retraction, as for e and i, and much more pronounced and energetic than is the case for similar sounds in English.

Accented initial vowels are preceded by a glotaal stop. The breath is stopped for an instant in the throat by the closing of the glottis, which opens suddenly with a slight puff or explosion as the accented initial vowel is spoken. The glottal stop prevents the carrying over of consonants, as is commonly done in English.

Native German words, as a rule, are accented on the root syllable, which is generally the first syllable. Accents are not printed in German.

The Vowels

Simple Vowels

Quantity. A vowel is long when doubled or followed by h:Haar, stehlen, Ohr.

A stressed vowel is usually long when followed by a single consonant: Brot, Hut, beten.

A vowel is always short when followed by a double consonant: Bett, Kissen.

A vowel is usually short when followed by two or more consonants (of which the first is not h): Bank, Heft, Kinder. Note, however, that a long vowel remains long even when the addition of inflectional endings causes it to stand before two consonants: leben live.

Before ch and ß a vowel may be long or short; e and i, however, are regularly short in this position.

A number of very common prepositions and pronouns have a short vowel, although only one consonant ollows the vowel; i.e. an, bis, mit.

Unaccented vowels are usually short: haben. The length of vowels is not indicated in German.

In the following paragraphs English equivalents for the German sounds are given whenever possible. It is to be borne in mind, however, that these equivalents are often only approximate.

a long is like Enligsh a in father: kam, Haar, Bahn.

a short is the same sound as the preceding, but pronounced more quickly: kamm, hast, Bahk.

e long is like Enligsh a in mate, but with energetic lip-retraction and without diphthongal glide: Beet, nehmen, heben.

e short is like Enligsh e in met.

e in unaccented syllables is slurred like English a in comma, or e in the boy: habe, geben, getan.

i long (often written ie) is like English i in machine, but with tense lip-retraction and without diphthongal glide: liegen, Biene, ihm.

i short is like English i in hit: Mitte, nimmer, im.

o long is like English o in go, but with energetic lip-rounding and without diphthongal glide: Bohne,Hof,Lohn.

o short is a sound not found in English. It must be learned by hearing the lessons' texts: Bonn, floß, Gott.

u long is like English oo in pool, but with tense lip-rounding and without diphthongal glide: Kuh, Mut, Bube.

u short is like Enlighs u in pull, but with the lips more rounded: Kunst, Mutter, dumm.

y is pronounced either like German i or like German ü;it occurs chiefly in foreign words: Lyrik, Myrte.

Modified Vowels (Umlaute)

ä long German e: Fäden, Käse, Läden. Some Germans give to long ä a more open sound, similar to English e in there; this is the stage pronunciation.

ä short German e: älter, Bänder, hätte.

ö long German e pronounced with energetic lip-rounding: hören,Öfen,Töne.

ö short is like short German e pronounced with rounded lips: Götter,Röcke,öffnen.

ü long German i uttered with tense lip-rounding: Hüte,müde,über.

ü short German i uttered with rounded lips: dünn,müde,über.

The Diphtongs

All German Diphtongs are long.

ai and ei = English i in mine: Mai,Main,nein. Do not confuse ei (nein, like English wine) and ie (Bier, like English beer).

au = English ou in house: Haus,Maus,kaufen.

eu and äu = English oi in oil: Leute,heute,Häuser.

The Consonants

Double consonants are pronounced like single consonants. They indicate that the preceding vowel is short.

Final consonants are cut off sharply after a short vowel. Do not prolong l, m, or n as in English.

A number of the consonants have approximately the same sound as in English. These are not treated in the following.

b at the end of the word, at the end of any component of a compound word, before a suffix beginning with a consonant, and before s, t, and st = English p.

c is found only in foreign words except in the combinations ch, ck, and sch. Before e, i, y, and the umlauts it is pronounced like English ts: Cent, Cäsar. Elsewhere c is pronounced like English k: Cousine.

ch has two sounds, referred to as the ach and the ich sounds, neither of which occurs in English. The ach sound is heared after a, o, u and au; the ich sound occurs after the other vowels and diphthongs and after consonants. Note that the suffix -chen always has the ich sound.
In words from the French, ch = English sh: Chef.
In some words from the Greek, initial ch = English k:Chor, Christ. It has the ch sound of ich in Chemie and China.

chs = English x except when the s is an inflectional ending or a part of it. Fuchs, but wachst.

ck = double k:Backe, Ecke, Stück.

d final and before s, t, and st = English t

g = English g in go, except when final or before s, t, and st; in this position it is pronounced either as English k or as German ch.

h initial (at the beginning of a word, of any component of a compound word, or of a suffix = English h. Otherwise, h is silent.

j = English y in yes.

kn = English kn, both sounds being uttered closely together: Knabe, Kneipe, Knospe.

l is pronounced farther forward and more distinctly than English l. In pronouncing German l press the front of the tongue firmly against the upper teeth and gums: Lied.

ng = English ng in singer, not ng in finger.

pf = English pf, both sounds being uttered closely together: Pfarrer, Pferd, Pflaume.

ph = English f.

qu = English kv, both sounds being uttered closely together: Quelle.

r has two pronunciations, the uvular r and the tongue, or trilled, r.
The uvular r is made by the vibration of te uvula. It is widely used, but is diffcult for English-speaking people to acquire.
The tongue r is formed by vibrating the tip of the tongue against the upper gums. It is used on the stage and to some extent off the stage: reden, Rose, Frau, Herr.

s when initial before a vowel and when between two vowels or between l, m, n, or r and a vowel = English z: sagen, Sohn, Aufsatz, lesen.
In sp initial and st initial, s = English sh: springen, stark, stein, vorstellen.
Elsewhere: s = English s in son: Erbse, fast, ist.

ss and ß (called a "scharfes s", used in place of "ss" after a long vowel or at the end of the word) = English ss in less: lassen, Kissen, Füße.

sch = English sh: schon: Schule, Tisch.

th = English t.

ti before a vowel = English ts.

tz = English ts.

v = English f.

w = English v: Wasser: Winter, schwimmen.

z = English ts: zehn, Zimmer.


The most important rules fo the division of words into syllables are:

1. A single consonant goes with the following vowel: re-den.

2. The consonant combinations sch, ß, st, ch, ph, and th go with the following vowel: Bü-cher, Fü-ße, ko-sten, Wischer.

3. Of two or more consonants, the last one goes with the following vowel: Me-sser, Rich-ter, sin-gen, kämp-fen.

4. ck becomes k-k: Dek-ke (Decke).

5. Compounds are divided into their component parts: Haus-tier, dar-aus, hin-ein.

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