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Many German consonants have the same pronunciation as in English. These are the main exceptions:
- B at the end of a syllable is softened to a sound more than P; likewise, D and G at the end of a syllable sound like T and K respectively.
- J is pronounced as English "Y" (so "jung" has the same initial sound as his English brother-in-law "young").
- In the combinations "kn", "pf"," and "ps", both letters are pronounced. This is not as difficult as it seems, even if it takes some time to get used to it. Maybe you already know the kn sound from the Yiddish word "knish". In the case of pf (as in Pferd, horse in English) and ps (as in Psychologie), just prepare to say a p, with your lips closed, and say the second letter letting them open a bit.
- V is like English (and German) "F" in words of Germanic origin (hence "Vater" has the same initial sound as "father"), but in words of foreign origin is usually pronounced as English V / German W (see below).
- W is very similar to the English "V" (our W sound does not exist in German).
- Z is pronounced as "ts".
- Qu" is pronounced as "kv". We have this in the Yiddish word "kvetch" (complaining) in English, which comes from the German quetschen (crush or squeeze).
A single S is usually pronounced as an English Z, with a few exceptions:
- Before another consonant, it is a normal S as soft as in English (so "Skulptur" has the same initial sound as the English "Sculpture").
- Sp- and St- at the beginning of a syllable are pronounced Shp- and Sht- (e.g. "Spaten" sword/shoulder).
Previous sounds are relatively easy to pronounce, as long as you remember the rules. Some of the most difficult sounds in German are R and CH. They are available in several variations:
- R at the end of a word or syllable: this is not always reported in textbooks or dictionary pronunciations, but most native speakers pronounce a terminal r very weakly; it is more than an "a" sound that sometimes pulls out the previous vowel. For example, der (determinative article) usually sounds more like "goddess". This is a particular problem for North Americans.
- R at the beginning of a word or syllable, as in rot (red), is pronounced at the back of the throat with a little scratch.
- Guttural CH: A ch is pronounced "guttural" when it occurs after an a, o, u or au, as in auch (also) or doch (ma).
- CH soft: A "ch" after any other vowel (as in pronouns ich and dich), or at the beginning of a few words (China, Chemie) is pronounced "softly". Many foreigners, and even some young native speakers, pronounce it as an English sh sound (as in "shy", shy).
- CH Greek: There is a third, less common "ch" sound that is identical to a K. It comes from the Greek letter chi (χ) and appears more often in words of Greek derivation (Chaos, Charakter), but also appears in a few German words, as in sechs (the number six).
- Foreign CH: There are many words on loan in German that retain their original
CH sounds, for example from French (Chef, Chauffeur), English (Cheeseburger,
Chips) or Spanish (Chile, Chihuahua).
There are other minor differences in the pronunciation of consonants, but they
are really too subtle and are not so important to be understood. If you can
remember everything I wrote above (even if you're not perfect on the R and CH
sounds), you're already well underway.
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