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Often someone would say a German word then I would look it up with my dictionary based on how it is pronounced. I have the issue always I don't know whether to use ä or e since they are basically pronounced the same.

One suggestion would be simply to learn all the words with ä umlaut but I was unable to find a complete list online. Is there a list online or is there another way for me to tell if a word is pronounced with ä umlaut simply by hearing it.

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    The 'easiest' way is to think about to which other word it is related. For example der Gang, die Gänge. If the related word is written with a, your word is written with ä. Of course, for learners of the German language this is a quite poor approach.. – RoyPJ Jan 24 '18 at 12:08
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    How do you ever find any words in an English dictionary? :) – Carsten S Jan 24 '18 at 12:30
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    I also agree with @RoyPJ's suggestion. I've also heard of the same rule explained to German elementary school students who face the similar problem of learning the correct spelling. – EFrank Jan 24 '18 at 12:50
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    I don't see a problem here. You have only two options - if it's not "ä" then it's "e". So you'll find the word on your first attempt in 50% and on your second in another 50%.1,5 attempts in average. And not even every native speaker knows which word is with "ä", which with "e" – Eller Jan 24 '18 at 12:51
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    This problem is not really specific to German, compared to English and French it seems quite negligible there. – guidot Jan 24 '18 at 15:19
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Actually, the long ä is pronounced different from the long e but especially Northern German dialects don't make that difference except for cases where it matters:

Er sagte, er läse. (Konjunktiv II instead of the Indikativ lese)

Sie bewährte sich gut. (bewehren is a different verb.)

So, how to find out if people aren't going to help you? A word list? No chance, they are too many to remember – thousands. You only have hints:

  • There are no words with -ä, -äl, -än endings, and Bär and Mär are the only words ending in -är. This also applies to compounds so you can settle on e, el, en or er in these cases. They are the majority by far. There are exceptions, of cause, as the infamous Erklärbär.
  • äh is a long ä and people will pronounce it soft. Even in Northern Germany. No problem here.
  • If you know there's a similar word with a, most likely you just encountered a different form of that word.
  • If there's a similar Latin word with a or a French word with ai, it's the origin of the German word. This is e.g. the Käse case.

And don't be discouraged, it's one of the fields German first language speakers make the most mistakes.

  • Singulär, sekundär, tertiär, prekär, Solitär, Sanitär, Sekretär, spektakulär, populär, proprietär, pubertär, stationär, temporär, autoritär, defizitär, ...? – user unknown Jan 25 '18 at 2:49
  • Kapitän, mondän, souverän, ... – user unknown Jan 25 '18 at 2:52
  • "There are no words with -ä endings": das Prä, der Vorname Andrä (St. Andrä, Andrä Rupprechter) und die Interjektion hähä – Hubert Schölnast Jan 25 '18 at 5:30
  • "There are no words with -äl endings": das Kapitäl – Hubert Schölnast Jan 25 '18 at 5:32
  • "There are no words with -än endings": I found 42 of them (including compound words). Among them the three words that user unknown found, and: das Län, das Miozän, der Drän, das Grän und das Phän – Hubert Schölnast Jan 25 '18 at 5:43
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Don't learn all ä-words having this as an aim. It's boring, in the long run useless, since you will forget plenty of them, and the method will make you quit.

Rather let your vocabulary grow in all directions, mostly by reading as much as you can and writing (if possible, to a real pal); this pleasurable and soon you will develop a "Sprachgefühl" which will fix your ä/e-spelling, even for words you haven't seen yet.

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    I get your point, but your proposal actually is to learn them ;) – tofro Jan 24 '18 at 13:26
  • Rather read and write them (e.g. in letters to your loved one); this helps best. – Christian Geiselmann Jan 24 '18 at 18:28

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