Take the 2-minute tour ×
German Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for speakers of German wanting to discuss the finer points of the language and translation. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Is there a sound in the German language that is similarly difficult for English speakers as th is for German speakers?

share|improve this question
    
"ü" and "ö" are very difficult to pronounce, at least for me. –  user128 May 25 '11 at 18:29
    
related: german.stackexchange.com/questions/167/… –  Jan May 25 '11 at 18:33
    
@Explorer “ö” is almost exactly the same sound that you get when pronouncing “further” with a British accent (i.e. with a silent “r”). The only difference is that in German the sound is usually closed. Not many people seem to know this. –  Konrad Rudolph May 25 '11 at 19:53
    
@Konrad Rudolph: Really? that's "ä" or "ö"? I pronounce "further" something like "ä". So I should improve my English before learning German! –  user128 May 25 '11 at 20:22
    
@Explorer You had me momentarily surprised, but then I saw in your profile that you come from Norway. And indeed, my experience with Norwegians is that they would pronounce it more like “ä”. For the “ö” pronunciation, listen e.g. here: dictionary.reference.com/browse/further –  Konrad Rudolph May 25 '11 at 21:16
show 4 more comments

6 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

The ulvular trill of the German r is tricky for us. I can do it after a vowel but not very well at the start of a word.

The ch in ich takes a while to master, but mostly because beginners tend to assimilate it with English sh, not because it's terribly hard. The ch in nach is easier.

ü also takes a while to get to grips with.

I consider none of the other vowels (and diphthongs) difficult to articulate for an English speaker, but for a beginner it's natural to substitute them with a similar but different sound that's more familiar. In the same way, a English speaker with a non-rhotic accent may have a tendency to pronounce word-final -er as a schwa as in those varieties of English.

share|improve this answer
    
Indeed. I'll point out that with reading, all of the umlaut vowels cause problems. English doesn't have any diacritic marks, and so some people seem almost incapable of figuring out how to look for the umlaut when they're reading and just guess. –  kitukwfyer May 25 '11 at 17:03
    
For the TeXnichians reading this: the ch in nach is spoken like the X in TeX. –  Hellenologophilist May 25 '11 at 17:11
    
@FUZxxl: That's because it's in the end of the word, right? Like "B" pronounced "P" in that position? –  Alenanno May 25 '11 at 18:24
    
@FUZxxl wow, really? I didn't know TeX was supposed to be pronounced like that! I always thought it was pronounced "tek". –  fzwo May 25 '11 at 18:26
1  
Like "g" in "fertig". –  user128 May 25 '11 at 18:34
show 7 more comments

Try to speak the German word for "matchbox"

Streichholzschachtel [ˈʃtʀaɪ̯ç.hɔlʦˌʃaχ.tl̩]

and then you know, which consonants are difficult to pronounce.

share|improve this answer
7  
OK, those clusters are hard. I might have to stick to "Das Ding, in dem die Dinge sind, mit denen man Feuer macht". –  misterben May 25 '11 at 17:16
    
funny thing is, there isn't even a synonym for that in German. Not even in everyday language! –  ladybug May 26 '11 at 7:55
    
What about Zündholzschachtel, which is a bit easier? –  misterben May 26 '11 at 9:05
    
Or "Zündholzbox"? –  Hellenologophilist May 26 '11 at 9:11
add comment

Most native English speakers have difficulties with the sound ch, pronounced like the guttural ch in Scottish "loch."

Also, the correct pronunciation of the different forms of r is a problem for many people from English speaking countries.

share|improve this answer
add comment

My father (American) always had huge differences with the German R. He tended to form it from the tip of the tongue (rolling). I guess the difficult part was realizing how similar the German and English versions are.

share|improve this answer
add comment

As a Brazilian, my native language is Brazilian Portuguese. I found it much, much easier to learn the German phonemes than the English ones, both to understand and to pronunce them.

However, there are some phonemes that are a bit tricky in German. The umlauted vowels are a bit of a challenge. However the ch is way harder. I can say I did not "get it" yet.

The r (uvular trill) is somewhat hard, too, but not impossible.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Try ,,tzsch''. I've seen in it only in names and even native speakers argue about how one should pronounce this. In upper saxon it is pronounced like ,,tsch'' (without the z).

share|improve this answer
    
Isn’t the “z” in “tzsch” always silent? –  Konrad Rudolph May 25 '11 at 19:55
    
Tja, I guess that tells you how close to speaking Saxon we are here in Berlin :-) –  Sean Patrick Floyd May 25 '11 at 20:27
1  
@Konrad: Yes, I agree for single words, but I guess "Blitzschlag" is not easy. –  Phira May 28 '11 at 20:58
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.