I've become interested in learning German again. When I looked up some basic lessons to get myself started, I found this on about.com. If you click on any of those words, you can hear the word said by a German-speaker, to improve your pronunciation. The issue I’m having is that I took German in high school, and I’m noticing a significant difference between how the words are pronounced on this site, and how my German teacher would pronounce similar words. For example, try Grüß dich. The site says dish, just like it would be pronounced in English!

My teacher had me learn a different way to say the ch. I can’t explain it, but it’s certainly not like sh. It feels like it comes more from the throat.

Also, you can see on that page that some of the phrases have sch in them. These, my teacher would pronounce just like the English sh, but the site does not differentiate between them.

Actually, she seemed mildly offended when I incorrectly repeated a word after her that had the ch sound in it. Is this a regional variation? She’s from Austria, if that helps. As a German beginner, which way should I pronounce the words?

  • 2
    Welcome to GL&U! Good question, I can understand your problem with the audio files. See Milch? Milsh? Why the pronunciation difference? for a related question. (And please don't be so quick in accepting answers - it is recommended to wait at least a day to wait for more answers.) Commented May 4, 2012 at 5:52
  • 4
    As there are already some good answers, I just add a hint I gave to an American friend: "It sounds like an angry cat".
    – Black
    Commented May 13, 2012 at 16:59
  • There are a lot of German dictionaries online with audio facility where you can hear the sound.
    – rogermue
    Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 8:18
  • 3
    The pronunciation of Grüß dich on that site is decent but doesn't sound like a native speaker's. The r is rolled in a way that doesn't sound German. The ü is ever so slightly off (possibly something about length or intonation). The i sounds a bit too schwa- or e-like. And the ch, while definitely recognisable, has a tendency towards sch. (While there are regions in which people pronounce /ç/ like sch, once speakers from those regions consciously make the distinction, they do so with a proper /ç/, not with some compromise pronunciation.)
    – user2183
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 21:14
  • I agree on everything @HansAdler said. I live in Saxony where "sch" for "ch" is quite common and lived in other parts of Germany before but I never heard a native speaker with even two of these issues at the same time. When I heard that sound file, I immediately imagined an Arabic or maybe Indian woman who lives in Berlin for years/ since childhood.
    – hajef
    Commented May 26, 2019 at 13:24

12 Answers 12


There are two different pronunciations for "ch" in standard German.

  • /χ/ (as in Bach, wach, lachen)
  • /ç/ (as in ich, Mädchen)

Your question is about the pronunciation variations of /ç/. While there is just one standard pronunciation, in some dialects, though, the sound is differently spoken. In some regions the "ch" in words like ich, Mädchen, ... is spoken as /ʃ/ (which actually is the sound of "sch" as in waschen, Taschen, ...).

That is not wrong or unnatural or even funny. As the answer to the related question points out those people aren't able to speak a normal /ç/, even if they try to - at least, it's very hard and needs much concentration.

I recommend to foreign speakers to pronounce "ch" as /ç/, but remember the alternative /ʃ/.

I reread your question and now I think that "It feels like it comes more from the throat." means the /χ/-sound. As already mentioned, there are two different pronunciation and you just have to learn when to pronounce the "ch" as either /ç/ or /χ/. (The rule is very simple: Use /χ/ after a, o, u except when "ch" is followed by diminutive -chen WIKIPEDIA)

Side note (based on the comments): There is a small distinction between /χ/ and /x/. The actual German sound is the former one, but some sources shows the latter to simplify matters.

  • 1
    Please note that there is a difference between the uvular and the velar unvoiced fricative - you used the symbol for the uvular one /χ/ - but you're actually talking about the velar one in your answer which is represented by /x/. I took the liberty to fix this :)
    – Mac
    Commented May 4, 2012 at 7:39
  • 1
    @Mac No, I don't.
    – Em1
    Commented May 4, 2012 at 7:43
  • 2
    @Em1 There is less agreement on the realization of the ach-laut than this answer implies - German phonetician Klaus Kohler has argued that both [x] and [χ] are allophones of /x/ but this is not universally accepted yet. See here for Kohler's explanation of the claimed distribution.
    – DallaLiyly
    Commented Aug 30, 2014 at 17:37
  • 7
    In fact, there's a third way: Think of the words "Charakter" and "Charisma", where "ch" is pronounced as a "k". Not sure how you can fit this in any kind of rule, though...
    – Thomas
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 8:19
  • 2
    I would add words like "Dachs", "Fuchs" etc. pronunicated like "Dax" or "Fux", plus words like "China" which some pronounce as "Shina" and some as "Kina".
    – gnasher729
    Commented Aug 1, 2016 at 19:50

As Em1 pointed out, there are two different pronunciations for "ch" in standard German. BOTH sound "throaty", although they're produced in the mouth:

  • /x/ (voiced velar fricative - tongue touches the soft palate, but not the uvula) - use this when the ch is preceded by a "dark" vowel, such as a, o, u

  • /ç/ (voiced palatal fricative - tongue touches the hard palate) - use this in all other cases.

All foreign learners should concentrate on these and forget other variants for the moment - then you should be pretty safe. The good thing is: this will come natural, anyway, because it acommodates the natural movement of the tongue when talking, so it's much easier than it sounds. :)

NOTE: the /χ/ sound is the voiceless equivalent of the "French" "r", made all the way back against the uvula (the soft little stalactite at the back of your mouth). It sounds a bit like clearing your throat. Most Germans find this rather hard to pronounce, but it is commonly used by the Swiss and Tyrolians, I think. It is also common in Arab languages.

/x/ is made a bit further to the front.

Take a look at a table with the IPA and maybe play around a bit, trying the various positions of the tongue.

To answer the most important bit of your question, Hassan: Your teacher was right, Austrian or not :)

I can't listen to the example you mentioned at the moment, but I'm fairly sure this is ripuarian dialect (even if the speaker is not aware of the fact) - they typicaly use /ʃ/.

In Bavaria there's another variant, but only for word initial position: /k/

  • 1
    What makes you say it's /x/ and not /χ/? About the audio examples: The speaker pronouces the "ch" somewhere between /ç/ and /ʃ/, it's hard to tell. Commented May 4, 2012 at 8:00
  • @HendrikVogt: Ah, sorry, I edited an explanation into my answer.
    – Mac
    Commented May 4, 2012 at 8:10
  • I can't follow. The very throaty sound in Arab languages is even further back than /χ/, it's /ħ/. Also have a look at the list of IPA symbols on the German wikipedia. Commented May 4, 2012 at 8:26
  • I think the discussion about /x/ and /χ/ is superfluous. I checked several WIKI-pages and while the one says that /x/ is wrong the other says /x/ is correct. As long as nobody of us has a better source than WIKI, let's say both are right. ;p Btw. In one point @Hendrik is right. The Arab languages definitively create the sound further back.
    – Em1
    Commented May 4, 2012 at 8:40
  • 1
    @HendrikVogt: I'm actually a native Arabic speaker, and both /x/ and /ħ/ are used (they're two different letters). Anyway, I was unaware of the variations of the German Language, even within Germany itself. I guess it's just best to learn an "average" dialect, to be as universal as possible. Although, I have to say, I kind of like the sound of just saying /k/ at the beginning of words, apparently as Bavarians would.
    – Hassan
    Commented May 4, 2012 at 20:45

Just last week a choral conductor gave our group a good way to remember how to pronounce the soft "ch" in German correctly: Say the English name "Hugh", then start to repeat it but stay on the first letter "H". Note how it sounds and feels.

I think that's a brilliant way for non-German speakers, or at least native English speakers, to remember how the "soft" ch sounds.

  • 1
    As a native German speaker I can confirm that the sound at the beginning of the English name Hugh is essentially with the correct pronunciation of /ç/, as it appears in German words such as dich.
    – user2183
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 21:06

In some regions, people tend to say "China" and "Chemie" using /ʃ/ or/k/, but /ç/ is quite common, and AFAIK it's considered standard. Example: http://media.tagesschau.de/audio/2016/0127/AU-20160127-1006-0001.mp3

The reporter (the man) says /ç/

0:12 .. 0:15 "Dichtungen, Filter und Spezialchemikalien"

The businesswoman says /ʃ/

0:20 .. 0:24 "Bauindustrie, Textil, Chemie"

0:34 "... dass sich Chinas Wirtschaft ..."

1:22 "... Chinas Wirtschaft ..."

2:27 (3rd speaker) "... in China und in Asien" - /ç/

2:45 "... dass wir hier in China ..." the manager again, /ʃ/

Since it's my native language, I don't remember I once had to practice the /ç/ sound, but try to say "ich" in the following way:

first say /i/ (written "i" in german, "ee" in english) then push your tongue upwards against the top of your mouth, behind your teeth (I think that's called the hard palate but I'm not sure), leaving all the rest of your mouth exactly in the /i/ position. When I do this, the sound automatically becomes voiceless and that's /ç/. However, don't let your teeth get too close or it well be /ʃ/.

Another way is to say /ʃ/ (written "sch" in german, "sh" in english). For the /ʃ/ sound, your mouth is rounded. Now move your teeth apart, and grin.


Roughly speaking there are two variants to pronounce "ch"

  • in "lachen" the sound is produced in the back of the throat. It is perfectly similar to "ch" in "Loch Ness". I don't know the correct terminology, let's name it "throaty" sound here.

  • in "Grüß dich" the sound is produced in the mouth by pressing the tongue to the roof of the mouth. I think there is no similar sound in common english. It is not totally unlike "sh"s in "dishwasher", but you will probably be recognized by your pronunciation of this after 10 years of practice /wink/. Let's call this one "mouthy" pronunciation.

I think there is a rule (with exceptions, of course) about when the "ch" is throaty and when it is mouthy. After an "open vowel" like "a" the "ch" us usually "throaty", after a "closed vowel" like "i" it is usually "mouthy".

  • "throaty": Dach, suchen, kochen, machen, lachen, Buch, Nacht
  • "mouthy": Fichte, dich, echt, zechen, möchten, lächeln (!), Bücher (!), nächtlich (!)
  • 1
    Careful about the voiced/unvoiced thing: neither of these sounds is voiced. The only difference between them is where they're formed. See the discussion in the comments to the other answers for a variety of opinions where the darker "ch" is commonly formed :)
    – Mac
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 7:52
  • ok, my mistake.
    – towi
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 8:35

There are a lot of German dictionaries online with audio facility where you can hear the sound.

The ch-sound after the vowel a is different from the ch-sound after i. I simply call the first ch "Bach-sound. When you pronounce the German word Bach the mouth opening is wide for the vowel a. When you pronounce the ch-sound you keep this wide mouth opening and the air stream from your lungs passes the vocal cords, which have the widest opening, without any vibration. The sound of this German ch might be compared to the rough sound of an angry cat.

When you pronounce the ch-sound after the vowel i as in the word ich, your tongue position in the mouth room is high when you pronounce i. The ch-sound after i, which I simply call ich-sound is produced exactly in the same way as the Bach-sound, only with small mouth opening as it is necessary for the vowel i.

The two different ch-sounds have two different phonetic signs. Actually this wouldn't be necessary.It is almost impossible to produce a Bach-sound after i or an ich-sound after a. You would have to speak two separate syllables and you would have to change the mouth opening.

I don't know whether this theoretical explanation will help you. Normally a teacher produces the sounds, explains to you how these sounds are produced, and corrects you when you don't hit it with the first go.

I'm and old man and my knowledge of technical things in the computer sector are limited. Otherwise I would like to make a video about the way of producing the ch-sounds.

I have just had a look at a youtube video "German "CH" Pronunciation". The speaker talks a lot, but I don't think that that way will teach someone how to pronounce German ch. There are several things to show: The mouth cavity, the mouth opening and the tongue position when you pronounce the vowels /a/ and /i/. This can best be shown by diagrams showing the mouth room in a vertical cut so that one sees the mouth cavity and the tongue position from the side. When producing an /i/ the lip position changes. This can be shown with diagrams showing the mouth from the front.

The second important thing is a the behaviour of the vocal cords. There are models that can give an understanding of the vocal corrds, but it is important to convey a feeling for the vocal cords. When someone produces the loud sound of a long /aaaaa/ the vocal cords are opened wide and without any tension. They begin to vibrate and one can feel this vibration in the throat clearly. When someone produces the sound /h/ a light air stream from the lungs passes through the vocal cords without any vibration. When we produce a strong air stream the vocal cords get tension and the typical ch-sound is produced. The vocal cords are open and tense, there is no vibration. As I said before it is the sound of an angry cat.

This can't be shown with diagrams . The learner has to produce the different sounds and observe what things happen during articulation.

  • „It is almost impossible to produce a Bach-sound after i“, except if you are Swiss ;) [Or don't they do this and this is done only in mockery of Swiss German?]
    – Carsten S
    Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 21:19
  • @rogermue: Bitte keine edits im gelöschten Post - den kann nämlich niemand lesen!
    – Takkat
    Commented Mar 30, 2014 at 8:33

I'm resurrecting an old thread here, but none of the previous answers mentioned that Ch, at the beginning of a word, is not pronounced the same way.

Depending on where you are in Germany, words like 'China' or 'Chemie' are either pronounced 'K'ina, 'K'emie, or 'Sch'ina, 'Sch'emie. This pronunciation is kept if the word is the second part of a longer word, like 'Südostchina' or 'Schulchemie'.

I've never heard anyone use the /x/ or /ç/ in these cases.

  • Also see german.stackexchange.com/questions/3551/… for pronunciation variants in leading Ch-.
    – Takkat
    Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 7:19
  • 5
    You have never heard anyone pronounce China in the most common way, namely with /ç/?
    – Carsten S
    Commented Mar 30, 2014 at 10:44
  • Offensichtlich lebe ich nicht im "richtigen" Teil Deutschlands. In Süddeutschland is "Kina" die verbreitetste Aussprache, von "zugewanderten" höre ich oft "Schina". de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stimmloser_palataler_Frikativ führt /ç/ ebenfalls als "oft auch bei anlautendem ch", also muss es "irgendwo weiter nördlich" wohl so sein, aber ich kenne diese Aussprachevariante tatsächlich nicht einmal aus dem Fernsehen. Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 16:33

I found a nice youtube-video on words with "ch".

My teacher had me learn a different way to say the "ch". I can't explain it, but it's certainly not like "sh". It feels like it comes more from the throat.

It does, yes. As some other posters already pointed out, there are two ch-sounds.

One of them (the /χ/) sounds like the "ch" in "Loch Ness", doesn't it?


Many have already noted different phonetic realisations of the phoneme ch (which I am going to consistently represent with /x/ rather than /ç/ throughout this answer). /x/ comes in two allophones, which are typically distinct based on the preceding vowel (or lack thereof):

  • It is pronounced as [x] if the preceding vowel is a, o, u

  • It is pronounced [ç] if the preceding vowel is e, i, an umlaut or if there is a consonant preceding.

There is little variation in the first group through German dialects. Speakers from everywhere can agree on a common pronunciation of e.g. Bach ([bax]). Things start to get difficult for the other allophone as it occurs in dich.

Throughout most of the North, the pronunciation is pretty consistently [ç]. This is a sound not unlike [ʃ] but perceived as a little softer. This is also the pronunciation generally preferred for (German) national news speakers and other occurrances of Bühnendeutsch.

In the middle of Germany, there is a band whose realisation of the sound is much closer to actual [ʃ]. This area would include Cologne, the Rhine-Ruhr area but also Saxony.

In the Southwest, especially Rhine-Hessia, the realisation is somewhat closer to [ʒ].

And finally, in the very South and including Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and South Tyrol, the realisation gets close to [x], meaning that the allophones are no longer distinguished. So somebody from Austria, like your teacher, would be prone to use [dɪx] for dich in Grüß dich, which gives the rather throaty sound close to the /x/ in Bach.

Thus, both are correct. The phonetic realisation of your (Austrian) German teacher was merely a different one from the (German German) pronunciation guide of what you found on the site. In practice, there is no difference between the variants (although northern Germans may want to ‘correct’ you for using the southern realisation of /x/ in dich).


Also, "ch" ist pronounced as /ʃ/ in French loan words: Michelle, Chef, Charge, Château, …


You form "sh" or "sch" with the tip of your tongue The sound of "ch" is formed the same, with the center of the tongue, try putting the tip behind your lower front teeth.

While just pronouncing everything as "sch" may be easier, it doesn't sound "precise".

  • 1
    There are other answers that provide the OP's question, and they were posted some time ago. When posting an answer see: How do I write a good answer?, please make sure you add a substantially better explanation, especially when answering older questions. Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 9:22

There are three different pronounciations for "ch":

  • [⁠x⁠]/​[⁠χ⁠] (throaty): Used after a, o, u and au, but not in the suffix "-chen"
    • Buch, Loch, Bauch
  • ​[​ç] (similar, but distinct from [ʃ] (sch / english sh)): used in most other cases
    • ich, Frauchen, Häuschen (not a sch [ʃ] but a s-ch), Chemie
  • [k] (as in english chemical): Before an s; At the start of a word before a, o, u or a consonant
    • wachsen; Chor, Chlor

Words from other languages can also keep their ch-pronounciation.


Important side note: "sch" and "ch" are two different things. "sch" is always pronounced [ʃ].

There are a lot of regional differences, as some regions only use certain variants, for example the southern regions, Austria (where your teacher is from) and Switzerland nearly always use ​[⁠x⁠]​/[⁠χ⁠]​, some regions replace ​[​ç] with [ʃ] or [tʃ] et cetera.

This causes a lot of debate within the native speakers, as all dialects claim to be the (one) correct german.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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