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In my dialect of English, we pronounce tr like chr (IPA: [t͡ʃɹ]; like tsch if using the German spelling of the sound).

  • Tree is pronounced chree.
  • Train is pronounced Chrain.
  • Track is pronounced Chrack.
  • Trade is pronounced Chrade.

Where the ch beginning is similar to choose, chop or chat, but not like Christ. If I said train like how it is spelled, people would get confused because it would sound like terrain.

I heard my German teacher pronounce the word tragen in the same way so it sounds like tschragen. Does German pronounce tr that way? If not, how should I pronunce tr and how can I learn this pronunciation?

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In English, t and r are both produced with the tip of the tongue, but at slightly different positions. When the tongue glides back from the t position to the r position, you get something like a sh /ʃ/ in between. In German, r is either pronounced in the back of the mouth (with the uvula) or with the tip of the tongue, but in the latter case, the tongue is not moved back from the t position, so there is no /ʃ/ in between.

  • So "tr" in German is pronounced like you would other sounds like "kr", "br" and "fr," but with a "t" sound beginning? – Blubber May 16 '15 at 19:25
  • Would this also extend to "dr" being "jr" in English? – Blubber May 16 '15 at 19:48
  • @jwcoding Concerning your first question: Yes, it's /t/ followed by some r-sound, and there are several possible r-sounds to choose (depending on the dialect), but there is never the glide effect that one gets when /t/ is followed by the English (or rather the American) /r/. Concerning your second question: I guess it's the same, at least for some English speakers (it doesn't happen with every possible English r-sound). – Uwe May 17 '15 at 0:46
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You finally stated your actual motivation to ask this question, namely that your German teacher had pronounced a German word with the same tr-slurry, turning tragen into /tʃra:gən/.

But languages, despite being related, have completely different ways of using sounds and wildly different expectations of which sounds and which sound differences are important or not. Even languages which are really close, such as German and Dutch do not share many pronounciation characteristics — or frankly, pronouncing a name like Geert the Dutch way would not be understood in German to include a G out of the blue.

English and German are even less related than Dutch and German, so you can expect any pronounciation nuace present in English to be not true for German.

  • English t can be realised as many things, from a glottal stop (‘wha’?’) over a normal t and, as you said, a ch-sound up to sh (nation).
  • Japanese t is turned into a weak ch when followed by i and into ts when followed by u.
  • I’m not even going to touch on the topic of Swedish t’s, which I assume to be worse than English. (Although I’m not sure which letter of Stenstorp is considered to create the i-sound in there.)
  • Finnish t is always t no matter which surroundings it has.
  • German is nice, because a t is usually a t, the only exception I can think of now being Latin words having a suffix starting with -ti (Nation, Potential)

In general, if you’re learning a language and realise your teacher is doing something that they would do with the same sounds of their native language, assume that phenomenon not to apply to the target language until proven otherwise by native speakers!


How to learn the proper pronounciation /tr/:

  • Start by trying to learn the r. It’s wildly different from any of the many ways English pronounces r.

  • Attempt to say tr. You’ll notice that using one of the correct ways to pronounce the German r, there is hardly any motivation to slurry the tr together into tschr.

  • I'm sorry if I offended anyone by assuming that it applied to German, but I just didn't know how to pronounce it, so I asked. – Blubber May 17 '15 at 23:15
  • +1 for "German is nice, because a t is usually a t, the only exception I can think of now being Latin words having a suffix starting with -ti (Nation, Potential)" – Blubber May 17 '15 at 23:16
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    No, not offending, just mainly confusing. But by leaving out the (imho) important part of your question, namely hearing it from your German teacher, all of us were like ‘so … why is he asking that?’ ;) – Jan May 17 '15 at 23:17

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