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It is said that German spelling is largely phonetic (unlike English spelling), and that there is a fairly reliable set of rules to convert spelling to pronunciation. (Sure, there are some exceptions, but I'm happy with something that works 99.9% of the time.)

Can someone tell me where I can find these rules written down? While I don't want to read a 300 page book on the subject, I do want a detailed set of rules that would work for almost all the words I encounter. Most of the pronunciation guides I find on the internet are not detailed enough.

For example, here are some examples of German pronunciation that I would like such a guide to explain:

  • When to use long/short vowels. For example, Hoch is [ho:x] but Post is [pɔst].
  • What's the rule for devoicing consonants?
  • When to use syllabic consonants? For example merken is [ˈmɛrkn̩] and mittel is [ˈmɪtl̩].
  • How to pronounce "er"? It could be a schwa (like in aber [ˈa:bɐ] or Ärger [ˈɛrgɐ]), a [ɛ] followed by a schwa (like in Vergabe [fɛɐ̯ˈga:bə]), or [ɛr] (like in merklich [ˈmɛrklɪç]).
  • What's the rule for pronouncing "ch"? Usually it's [x] after back vowels and [ç] after front vowels, but sometimes it is pronounced [ks] like in erwachsen [ɛɐ̯ˈvaksn̩].

If someone can point me to a reference that explains these sort of things, that would be excellent.

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"I'm happy with something that works 99.9% of the time" nope - it's only let's say 75%. My son just learned reading in school and when reading words, he does not know yet, there is a significant chance he uses a wrong pronounciation. –  mbx Nov 4 '11 at 11:17
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See also this –  user508 Nov 4 '11 at 13:30
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3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Have a look at this guide to German pronunciation. It seems to cover a number of the points you'd like explained.

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There is a short but quite concise overview on German pronunciation on Wikipedia. When it comes to more profound details definitions from the International Phonetic Association (IPA) are recommended.

Pronunciation examples that are found on most online dicitionaries are based on IPA rules using their clearly defined Phonetic Alphabet.

Here are a few examples of courses to learn peculiar aspects (and rules) of German:

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The Wikipedia-article is available in English too. –  feeela Nov 4 '11 at 9:46
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There's also a Wikibook, which isn't complete, but it's summarized and has a few good hints:

Wikibook – German/Grammar/Alphabet_and_Pronunciation

A simple method of recognizing whether a vowel is likely to be long or short in a German word is called the Rule of double consonants. If a vowel is followed by a single consonant — as in haben (have) [or] schon (already) — the vowel sound is usually long. If there are two or more consonants following the vowel — as in falsch (false) [or] immer (always) — the vowel sound is usually short. […]

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