How do I learn to pronounce

Ä (at least 2 different: "Ärzte" + slightly different "Ärmel", "ätzend")

Ö (at least 2 different: "Öl", "Öffnung" + slightly different "Löffel")

Ü (at least 2 different: "Übung", "üppig" + slightly different "Künstler")

Z ("zwei")

CH (2 very different: "Licht" + very different "Buch", 2 slightly different: "Buch" + slightly different "Jacht")

like a German?

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    Can you specify what languages you know or can pronounce well, as the answer strongly depends on it? – Wrzlprmft Sep 10 '14 at 10:56
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    ...the person who wants to learn speaks Farsi (native), English (advanced), Arabic and German (A2) – user9256 Sep 10 '14 at 11:05
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    Almost forgot: Note that there are also two ways each to pronounce ö and ü in German (long and close vs. short and open). Compare Öl and Öffnung; Übung und üppig. Wikipedia on this. – Wrzlprmft Sep 10 '14 at 11:22
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    @Grantwalzer: It’s always the same sound ([ɛ]), only the length differs. – Wrzlprmft Sep 10 '14 at 15:50
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    Are you sure that the person already pronounces the other vowels correctly? – Carsten S Sep 11 '14 at 6:12

There's no obvious difference in pronouncing Ärzte or Ärmel. As for ätzend, the ä is slightly more "e-like" than the usual ä, as it is a short vowel. Ä is close in pronunciation to the a in that or cap - an a pronounced more "e-like".

Is pronounced like the u in purse or the e in Perth. EDIT: It is possible to practice the ö by forming an o with your lips and saying an e, or by saying Perth with extremely rounded lips.

Is pronounced by forming an o with your lips but actually trying to say i.

The z in zwei is pronounced like ts in English.

In Buch it is pronounced the same way you'd pronounce Nakhla (‏نخلة) or the Scottish word loch. For Licht there's no real equivalent in English, but you could try it by placing the rear of your tongue to the to rear-top of your palate (like when saying the Spanish ñ in señor and then without a voice try to breathe out of your mouth (sounds like a cat hissing). Also note that in some cases ch is also pronounced like k as in character.

The subtle differences for the short or long umlaut vowels don't matter that much at first. You will get it by listening and trying to imitate.

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    For explaining "z" to English speakers, I find it helpful to point out that it's always pronounced as in "pizza". – Robert Sep 10 '14 at 14:54
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    Having some knowledge in Arabic, ch is not at all pronounced like Ahmed. Moreover, there are two forms of ch: Compare Loch, Bach, and Buch vs. Ich, Licht, and Recht. In the former examples ch is pronounced like the Greek letter chi or the Arabic letter kha (like in Khaled or Khalifa), the latter sounds different and has no equivalent in English or Arabic that I know of. – countermode Sep 10 '14 at 16:43
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    @countermode Did you even read what I wrote about ch or did you just read the first sentence? First of all I am clearly saying there are even three variants of pronounciation. Secondly I distuinguish well between the guttural and palatial ch. As far as I know "Ahmed" is pronounced "Achmed". If that's not the case I'll remove that, but it's pronounced like loch, which I am saying. As far as I know, "chi" is pronounced "kee" in English, due to the lack of an equivalent sound, which I why I'm giving hints on how to form the sound. Next time, please read before commenting. – Thorsten Dittmar Sep 11 '14 at 6:59
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    Sorry for not perusing your answer properly. ~ Only Germans say "Achmed" when they read "Ahmed" - English speakers get it usually right. But "Achmed" this is definitely not the correct pronunciation of the Arabic name أحمد. – countermode Sep 11 '14 at 7:22
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    Some English native speakers pronounce names like Hugh and Hugo not as starting with /'hju…/ but /'çu…/ (or something closely resembling that), i.e. the German ich sound (which incidentally never starts a word). – Crissov Nov 6 '15 at 11:57

It is not easy to explain the special vowels of German, which traditionally are called Umlaute. But I remember having explained the articulation of ü to an American young man. My explanation was as follows: Say a long /i/ and keep your tongue in this i-position, i. e. the tongue is near the palate. Now round your lips strongly and push your lips forward as if you want to give someone a kiss. And now try to say i. It worked and the young American produced an ü-sound for the first time in his life.

A long /ö/ is produced with the same lip-rounding as a long /o/. But the tongue is in a slightly higher position.

Long /ä/: Try to say a long /a/ and then a long /e/ and observe the shift of your tongue position. In /a:/ the mouth opening is at a maximum. In /e:/ the tongue is in a middle position between /a:/ and /i:/. There is a tongue position between /a:/ and /e:/.

I don't know whether this helps. Teaching such articulations needs practical experience with learners and that is something I don't have. But I would be interested if my explanations were helpful.


4 steps to a German [ch] as in "ich"

  1. Pronounce an English [k] as in "cake" - with this your tongue is almost in right position, but a bit too far in the back

  2. Now try to pronounce a 'long' [k] - you will hiss air instead of the short [k]

  3. Now there are 2 things to do additionally at same time while still doing 2:

    • move the tonge slighliy forward

    • attatch the middle top of tongue (not the front) to the top of mouth

Play with step 3 until you have the right sound. Keep pressure on tongue while doing this.

  1. You might also have to adjust/increase the pressure on the tongue and/or to close the mouth a bit more

You will have to listen carefully to native [ch] in order to know, when your sound is more or less correct in steps 3 and 4.

Hope it helps.

  • I was with you up until 2. I feel at this point, while hissing, you rather have to make your mouth in the same shape as if pronouncing an 'e' ('i' in German) or trying to smile, which is why it rather flows more naturally when pronouncing ich, as your lips are already in the right position from pronouncing the 'i'. Moving the tongue forward will yield a more 'ish' sound, whereas attaching the top of the tongue will yield a more 'ick' sound; both are not incorrect, but non-standard/regional. – ardila Feb 22 '16 at 16:53

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