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

  • 2
    "ü" and "ö" are very difficult to pronounce, at least for me. – user128 May 25 '11 at 18:29
  • 1
    @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
  • 1
    @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
  • 1
    @Explorer: hint for pronouncing "ü" - Say the i: sound and round your lips while doing so. Say "fiehl" with rounded lips and it will sound like "fühl". Similarly for "ö" - say the e: sound with rounded lips. – teylyn May 26 '11 at 4:06
  • 1
    Funny enough: German people can't pronounce squirrel, and everyone else in the world can't pronounce Eichhörnchen. – Federico Poloni Jan 6 '16 at 19:01

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.

  • 1
    Like "g" in "fertig". – user128 May 25 '11 at 18:34
  • 2
    @fzwo: TeX stand for the greek letters tau-epsilon-chi and is thus pronounced [tɛχ] (although in Germany many peoply pronounce it [tɛç]). – FUZxxl May 25 '11 at 18:42
  • 3
    @FUZxxl: No, TeX is supposed (by Knuth) to be pronounced with a "ch" as in nach, but I don't know any German who does this. They all say it with a "ch" as in ich or frech. – Hendrik Vogt Jun 6 '11 at 17:04
  • 2
    @Alenanno: No, the pronunciation of "ch" depends on the vowel preceding it. – Hendrik Vogt Jun 6 '11 at 17:07
  • 1
    @Hendrik Isn't this exactly what I said? – FUZxxl Jun 6 '11 at 17:16

Try to speak the German word for "matchbox"

Streichholzschachtel [ˈʃtʀaɪ̯ç.hɔlʦˌʃaχ.tl̩]

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

  • 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"? – FUZxxl May 26 '11 at 9:11
  • @ladybug: I suppose there are many words for which there is no synonym. Is there a synonym for matchbox? – O. R. Mapper Mar 21 '15 at 22:20

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.


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.


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.


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).

  • 2
    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
  • @Phira: Given that the tzsch in that example spans a word boundary (within the compound), I don't think it's a good example. Otherwise, you could argue that English has the exact same thing, e.g. in a sentence like "Vince should leave." The ce sh would form the same combination of sounds, but there's no issue about that because the ts sound and the sh sound belong two different words and syllables. – O. R. Mapper Mar 21 '15 at 22:24

It's not simply a matter of the isolated sounds; their "phonetic context" also matters. I have no problem with the sound at the end of ich, dreißig, fertig, etc. but I can't say Eichhörnchen at normal speed.

  • 1
    Try the Bavarian Oachkatzlschwoaf ;) – Jan Dec 30 '15 at 17:27

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