1

My German book [1] says that ä is pronounced like the "ay" in "say". However, I have difficulty pronouncing it this way in words like fällt or fällst. Does the double consonant after ä shorten the vowel? Does it change its quality? How would you pronounce the words fällt and fällst? Would you pronounce fällt the same way we pronounce the English noun, "felt" (the textile)? This is the way which comes most naturally to me, but I suspect it might be a little off.

If there are regional differences in the pronunciation of these words, then I appreciate any explanation. Anything to help me say them with confidence. Thanks!

[1] The Everything Essential German Book by Edward Swick.

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    Forget about pronouncing ä like ay, it is like the e in felt or belt. – Björn Friedrich Aug 28 '17 at 6:21
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    ... at least when the "ä" is followed by a double consonant it is pronounced like Björn says. – Martin Rosenau Aug 28 '17 at 6:22
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    There is one difference between the German word "fällt" and the English word "felt": In English many words have an implicit "R" before an "L": "felt" is pronounced like "ferlt". This is not the case in German; there is no "R". – Martin Rosenau Aug 28 '17 at 6:26
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    @MartinRosenau It's not an implicit "r", it's just a different pronunciation of "l". The English "l" is velarized, i.e., the back of the tongue is raised. In the Cologne dialect, the "l" has a similar sound. – Uwe Aug 28 '17 at 6:35
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    If anything, it should only be the "a" sound from "say", not including the "y". Or if you really want a combination of characters, the "ai" from "said" is more appropriate, too. Weird book. – Annatar Aug 28 '17 at 8:17
7

I recommend pronouncing fällt like you would pronounce

Welt

bellt

stellt

Held

Feld

Zelt

and you will make no mistake.

Or you make a sentence out of it:

Der Held gefällt, auch wenn er bellt,
bevor er in die Höhe schnellt.
Sein Zelt hat er aufs Feld gestellt.
Es ist die Welt, die ihm zu Füßen fällt.

and pronounce everything the same way, just altering the initial consonant / consonant cluster / syllable.

  • Warum "dem Held" und nicht "dem Helden"? Ist das poetisch betingt? – Beta Aug 28 '17 at 9:28
  • Herrje, du hast recht, es müsste "dem Helden" heißen. Ich verliere offenbar, im Ausland weilend, mein deutsches Sprachgefühl. Ich werde den Beispielsatz ändern... – Christian Geiselmann Aug 28 '17 at 10:10
  • "...auch wenn er bellt..."? – Arminius Aug 28 '17 at 11:24
  • @Arminius - In der Tat. Er. (Habe ich gestern zu viel getrunken? Wo ist mein Hirn?) – Christian Geiselmann Aug 28 '17 at 12:42
  • There is a great instrument that puts speech in writing: the IPA (international phonetic alphabet). This can be found in dictionaries and on the internet on many homepages, for example here: internationalphoneticassociation.org/sites/default/files/… – Joni Aug 28 '17 at 12:44
6

You can listen to the pronunciation of almost every German word here: https://de.forvo.com

If you search for fällt, you'll land on https://de.forvo.com/search/fällt/ where you can find 15 phrases, that all contain the German word fällt, spoken by different native speakers. Some of them are even spoken by more than one speaker, so that you even have more than 15 different audio files.

There are also some examples for fällst, but not as much as for fällt.

The speakers are not professional speakers (i.e. they have no specific education in speaking like actors, radio announcers or something like that. They are just "normal people".)


If you want to listen to professional speakers, you need to visit http://www.adaba.at (adaba = Aussprachedatenbank = pronunciation database). Unfortunately this websites has an awful usability, so let me explain how it works:

  1. Go to http://www.adaba.at
  2. In the 2nd window, titled »Suche« (which means search):
    • click on »Orthographische Suche« (orthographic search)
    • enter the word, that's pronunciation you want to know into the search field (for example: »fällt«)
    • click on the magnifying glass (leave all other settings as they are, or use them to refine your search as you wish)
  3. After a few seconds all words that contain your keyword will be listed above, in the 1st window, titled »Ergebnis« (result)
  4. Select an item from this list (click it)
  5. The phonetics will be shown in the country-list in the center of the Ergebnis-window. The flags mean:
    • red, white, red: Austria
    • black, red, gold: Germany
    • white cross on red background: Switzerland
  6. you can listen to a male and a female professional speaker for each country
    • red: female
    • blue: male

So, there are six speakers, and all of them are professional speakers, i.e. it's their profession to speak in the public. For example, the male Austrian speaker is Peter Fichna (he already died some years ago), who was for many years the chief speaker of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation.


You can learn from both websites (the amateurs site and the professional site), that most of the German words are pronounced a little bit different in different regions. So don't care too much about the perfect pronunciation. As long, as you are close enough, you will be understood.

Also note: If you didn't learn German as a child, you always will keep an accent, depending on your native language. It is almost impossible for an adult learner to get rid of such a foreign accent. But that doesn't matter. People will know that you are not a native speaker as soon as you speak your first word, but nobody really cares.

You will know lots of people with foreign accents too, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who still has a really awful German accent, but in spite of this he became a famous actor and even a governor.

2

The sound of »ä« is very close to the »a« in

bare feet

The sound is short e. g. in

das Gefälle

and long e. g. in

sägen

Unfortunately I have no rules for the cases of short / long, at least it should be true, that it's short if a double consonant follows.

2

I recommend never trying to equate the pronunciation of sounds of a language you want to learn with the pronunciation of sounds of a language you are proficient in. It is rare for two languages to have an exact mapping. More often than not, it will lead to you having a terrible accent because of how you mapped the sounds back to your original language.

It gets worse when you forget that you need to map sounds to certain other sounds and pronounce letters as you normally would. The closest example I can think of at the moment: Germans when trying to speak Finnish often map the Finnish ä to the German ä. This sound to Finnish ears sounds more like an e and can lead to dire misunderstandings.

My recommendation is to listen, listen and listen. Listen to sounds until your brain has become familiar with them. When you start to recognise distinctive differences, try to reproduce the sounds as you heard them. And throughout all of that never try to learn the sound of ä in fällt as being the same sound as in the English word belt (even though it is).

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    The subtlety is well apparent with the example "sägen" given below: Pronounce Sägen like Segen, it will not appear wrong. Pronounce Segen by the most distinct pronounciation of Sägen, it will probably end in a misunderstanding... – rackandboneman Aug 29 '17 at 14:20

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