In reading Fluent Forever. The author makes a point of something I had begun to suspect on my own: Learning to hear and correctly pronounce a language will help you learn much faster, because your brain can make sense of the sounds it hears and you can more directly benefit from reading because you will be able to pronounce whatever you read. German being much more consistent with spelling helps a lot too.

I've tried the whole “record yourself and compare to a native speaker” thing, and that does help quite a bit. But I’m only guessing at how to make those sounds, and kinda stumbling by trial and error before I get it right. As a result, I end up practicing every single word that way, which seems impractical.

I know that choral singers have some sort of methods for this, I just can’t seem to locate a good, rigorous resource.


What I want is a way to learn to form the sounds with my mouth. Now, a number of the books I have include basic pronunciation guides, but these mostly compare the sounds with English sounds (“it's like an e but with your lips rounded...*”). The IPA resources I’ve seen have diagrams and such that seem to indicate something about what to do with your tongue and so forth, but it requires a lot of assumed knowledge to make sense of those diagrams. Once you have learned the sound that goes with an IPA symbol, you then have to learn what letters in German that symbol gets attached to.

Ideally, I would like some resource that shows me with lots of pictures and diagrams exactly what I need to be doing with all the different parts of my mouth, and practice drills to learn to make each sound without thought. What resources are dedicated to learning German phonemes?


UPDATE

Since this keeps getting upvotes, I figured I would update with what I finally found:

  • Der Kleine Hey (ePub version with embedded videos / book with DVD version / DVD only version), as mentioned in the answer. It is in German, which makes it a bit difficult for a language learner, but what I find most valuable is the example pronunciation texts for each sound, and the example videos of those passages being spoken by professionals. Don't bother getting the text-only version, get the DVDs or enhanced ebook (ePub with embedded videos).

  • Fluent Forever Pronunciation Trainer was most helpful at helping me memorize the spelling<->pronunciation rules, which makes reading basic German much more helpful. I did not find the minimal-pairs in that set very effective, because you never hear the two pair sounds side-by-side.

  • The Diction Police Podcast is aimed at professional singers, but I also found it helpful in learning about common mistakes and more nuanced tips. The example texts are read aloud, not sung, so it is still useful for normal folks. You do need to keep in mind that there are differences in sung German vs spoken German, but these are usually explicitly pointed out.

  • 1
    Welcome to German Language SE. We prefer to have one question per question only and thus I removed your second question. But I would encourage you to ask it as a separate question. – Wrzlprmft Jun 15 '15 at 7:06
  • There seem also to be Fluent Forever videos available that might be more helpful than books, pronunciation-wise: youtube.com/watch?v=mzrLZi6fipA – anemone Jun 16 '15 at 11:34
up vote 5 down vote accepted

The classical book concerning this topic is Der kleine Hey, which is also used by professional singers. As I just learned, there is also an edition with an enclosed DVD (ISBN 9783795707026), which gives an impression, how the mouth should look like etc.

  • 1
    That looks fantastic! Too bad I don't know enough German to...learn how to speak German... :/ – mooglinux Jun 17 '15 at 4:08
  • Finally decided to mark this as the correct answer because I just could not find anything else that really covers it. I found the ebook version, which allows liberal use of Google Translate to parse through. The most valuable thing is the example texts and seeing pro's saying them. That, plus the podcast "The Diction Police" and the Fluent Forever Pronunciation Trainer are what got me to a modest grasp of German pronunciation. – mooglinux Nov 5 '15 at 16:27

This is going to be a not-so-good answer, because I’m not going to be able to point you to any resources. Why? Because it is hard to attempt to learn sounds from pictures and descriptions.

The best advice I can give you is just to listen to German. You do not need to understand what is said, you need to give your brain some background noise in the language you want to learn — precisely why learning a foreign language in the country it is spoken in is generally considered easiest (and why learning Swedish in Finland is perceived as harder than learning Swedish in Sweden).

So you could, for example, just turn on a German radio station via the internet and listen to that throughout the day. They’ll still give you music much like you can hear at home, but there will be discussions, news, people phoning, jokes etc. in German which will help your brain get accustomed to the sounds of the language.

Only when you have grasped the sounds themselves should you attempt to reproduce them. A good test would be ‘can I now distinguish German from (say) Dutch or another different language just by hearing?’ I understand maybe ten percent of the words in an average Finnish sentence, but I can pinpoint it to being Finnish rather easily. That is the point when you should just use trial and error to reproduce the sounds you’re hearing and attempt to get them right.


This method actually does a lot of things automatically. You might already notice phonetic distinctions that are not phonemic — whether they turn up due to the surrounding letters (Wicht and Wucht; wenig and weniger (Northern pronounciation)) or whether they are at the discretion of the speaker (the different ways to render /r/). You might instinctively choose one that is ‘easier’ to reproduce.

It also helps you get the tone of your sentences right. You might read on paper that Finnish uses a falling intonation for question, but unless you keep hearing ‘meneekö bussi keskustaan?’ with the same falling intonation your brain might keep wanting to use rising intonation.


Of course, this method isn’t perfect. There is a reason why Russian children get a spoon stuck in their mouth to practise rolling the r.[1] But this type of extremely advanced hints are only for the really final level — even without the correct r you would be well understood if you get the other parts right.


[1] That’s at least what a Ukranian colleague told me.

It wasn’t nice having a spoon in your mouth!

  • I am working on the listening part too. My original question was about both, but a mod edited it down to just one question. I did get the Fluent Forever German Pronunciation Trainer, and have started looking around online for some other recordings of Minimal Pairs to use to train my ears. – mooglinux Jun 16 '15 at 12:53
  • @mooglinux No, you’re misunderstanding me. I’m saying ‘go look for German radio and listen to everyday German, the rest will come by itself’. And Wrzlprmft might have a ton of rep, but he isn’t a mod ;) – Jan Jun 16 '15 at 12:54

There is this IPA-based German pronunciation site called Sounds of Speech from the University of Iowa. It's a Flash-based web application with animated diagrams (Android and iPhone apps also available). They have this for American English and Spanish, too. http://soundsofspeech.uiowa.edu

(Silly, though, that the infos are completely in German-language, so that beginning students, who would benefit the most from it, are not really accommodated.)

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