[diacritics] | [vowels] | [diphthongs] | [other vowel combinations] | [consonants] | [stress] | [bottom]

German is the single most important language for classical radio announcers to get right. It's easier than it looks: no letters are silent, the rules are fairly consistent, and some of the more peculiar vowel sounds (the umlauts, in particular) resemble sounds that are familiar from British English. Note that not just proper nouns but ALL nouns are capitalized.


German uses the umlaut to alter the sounds of the vowels a, o and u: ä, ö and ü are distinctly different sounds than their un-umlauted relatives. One occasionally sees them printed in alternative spelling as ae, oe and ue, especially when someone has had trouble figuring out how to print an umlaut. The German alphabet also uses one extra consonant: the letter ß is called "es-tset", and is pronounced like an ordinary English s. One sometimes sees it printed as ss.


As in English, German vowels generally have both long and short variants, and would-be long vowels are often shortened when they precede multiple consonants (e.g. Schmidt = shmit, not shmeet). Likewise, would-be short vowels are lengthened by doubling of the vowel (e.g. Staat = shtaht, Boot = boht, See = zay), or by the letter "h" placed after the vowel (e.g. Mahler = mah-ler, ohne = oh-nuh). Don't ever pronounce ee or oo the English way in a German word. Also take note of the German final e: it's not silent, but it is very short.

aah, short and long a are basically the same
ä, aesomewhere between ay as in "say" and eh, e.g. Götterdämerung = gö-ter-dehm-mer-oong [audio sample]
e (long)ay, as in "say"
e (short)eh, like the e in "bend";
e (final)uh, an unstressed schwa, like the a in "Emma" but shorter (e.g. Alle = ahl-luh [audio sample]); NEVER pronounce a final e as ay, as you would in Spanish or Italian!
i (long)ee
i (short)ih, like the i in "if"
o (long)oh
o (short)aw, as in "awe" but slightly rounder, more like the vowel in the British pronunciation of "thought"
ö, oeö: something like the French "eu" or the British "ur" in the word "burn", e.g. Schoenberg = Schönberg = shön-berg [audio sample]
u (long)oo, as in "root"
u (short)u as in "put" or oo as in "book"
ü, ueü: like the French u, or something like ee but with rounded lips; e.g. von Bülow = fon büh-loh [audio sample]
yü, same sound as ü


These sounds are always the same. Do not confuse ie with ei, unless you want to annoy many people.

ai, ayiy, like the word "eye"
äuoy (e.g. Tannhäuser = tahn-hoy-zer [audio sample])
ei, eyiy, like the word "eye", e.g. Leiden = liy-den, Hermann Prey = hehr-mahn priy [audio sample]
ieee, e.g. Lieder = lee-der

Other vowel combinations

ae, oe, uealternate spellings for ä, ö and ü
aa, ee, oolong versions of a, e and o

All other combinations of vowels are meant to be pronounced as separate syllables (e.g. in Theo Adam, Theo = tay-oh, and Mozarteum = moh-tsar-tay-oom).


Two rules you should know but can get away with not following: r is swallowed at ends of syllables as in British English (it colors the preceding vowel but is not pronounced), and voiced consonants at ends of syllables become voiceless (d becomes t, etc.).

c [+a,o,u]k
c [+i,e]ts
ch [after a,o,u]kh, slightly gutteral but not as heavy as you think; can be approximated as k or in some cases h; e.g. Verklärte Nacht = fer-klehr-tuh nahkht [audio sample]
ch [after e,i,ä,ö,ü]sch: similar to both sh and a slightly gutteral h; usually best approximated as sh, e.g. Dichterliebe = disch-ter-lee-buh [audio sample]
gg, almost always hard, as in "goat"; occasionally zh, but only in borrowed French words (e.g. Etage = ay-tah-zhuh)
-ig (final)isch, like "ich" (see ch above); e.g. Ewigkeit = ay-visch-kiyt [audio sample]
jy, e.g. Johann = yo-hahn
ngng as in "singer", usually NOT like the n-g in "finger": e.g. Nibelungen = nee-buh-lung-en [audio sample], not nee-buh-luN-Gen!
qukv, e.g. Konsequent = kon-zeh-kvent
rr: slightly gutteral trill, similar to French (e.g. Die Walküre = dee vahl-kür-uh [audio sample]), but for most purposes a light American r will do
s (normally)z, e.g. Siegfried = zeeg-freed
s (final)s, e.g. Das Rheingold = dahs riyn-gold
s (equivalent to ss; this letter is called "es-tset")
schsh, always (do not confuse with Italian), e.g. Schubert = shoo-bert
sp, stshp, sht at beginning of a syllable, e.g. Stadt = shtaht, Harfenspieler = harf-en-shpeel-er; otherwise just like English, e.g. beste = best-uh
tht, e.g. Bayreuth = biy-royt [audio sample]; not like English!
vf, except in some French and English borrowings
w (except final -ow)v, e.g. Volkswagen = folks-vahgen
-ow (final)oh, e.g. Flotow = flaw-toh [audio sample], von Bülow = fon büh-loh [audio sample]


The vast majority of German words are stressed on the first syllable. This rule fails most commonly in the following cases:

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