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Lesson Transcript

Rebecca: Welcome back to GermanPod101.com! In this lesson, we'll show you how easy it is to start speaking German.
Widar: That's because we'll be focusing on pronunciation!
Rebecca: Believe it or not, pronunciation is one of the easiest aspects of the German language. We'll show you just how easy it is and give you tips on how to perfect your pronunciation.
Widar: In this lesson, first we'll talk about sounds and syllables, and then we'll talk about the stress.
Sounds and Syllables
Rebecca: Okay, first we want to take a look at how German sounds and syllables work. German doesn't have that many sounds compared to other languages, right?
Widar: Compared to Chinese, for example, German doesn't have too many, but there are quite a few vowel sounds.
Rebecca: Remember All About lesson #2. As we introduced you to the writing system, we stated that German has eight vowels and twenty-two consonants.
Widar: Yes, that makes a total of thirty letters, but there are more than thirty sounds. Don't worry, some sound very similar or are just used in some German dialects.
Rebecca: Yeah. That is because German is a pluricentric language. There are a number of different pronunciations of standard German, but they agree in most respects.
Widar: You will see it's easy to learn the basic sounds. When you know these, everyone in Germany will understand you!
Rebecca: Before we continue, let me explain the concept of syllables. German uses letters and arranges them in blocks of syllables to form words. A syllable is usually made up of one or some consonants and one vowel, but some of them contain only one vowel.
Widar: The word "trin-ken" ("to drink") consists of two syllables. The first one, "trin," is made up of three consonants and the vowel "-i," while the second syllable, "ken," is made up of two consonants and the vowel "-e."
Rebecca: Okay. Then let's have a closer look at German vowels.
Widar: German vowels exist in two versions…long vowels and short vowels. The first one is "-a." You can find the long "a" vowel in "Pate" ("godfather") and the short one in "Paste" ("paste").
Rebecca: "-a" [ long ] and "-a" [ short ].
Widar: Then we have the "-e" vowel. Long "-e" as in "Erde" ("earth") and short "-e" as in "Erbse" ("pea").
Rebecca: "-e" [ long ] and "-e" [ short ].
Widar: Further, we have "-i"; long "-i" in "Igel" ("hedgehog") and short "-i" in "Insel" ("island").
Rebecca: "-i" [ long ] and "-i" [ short ].
Widar: Next, is the "-o" vowel. Long "-o" in "Ton" ("sound") and short "-o" in "Tonne" ("barrel").
Rebecca: "-o" [ long ] and "-o" [ short ].
Widar: Then we have the "-u" vowel. Long "-u" as in "unten" ("below") and short "-u" as in "Bus" ("bus").
Rebecca: "-u" [ long ] and "-u" [ short ].
Widar: "-a," "-e," "-i," "-o," and "-u" are the five basic vowels we know from the alphabet. Then we have the umlauts, "-ä," "-ö," and "-ü." We find "-ä" just in a long version, as in "Ärmel" ("sleeve"); the short "-ä" vowel is similar to the short "-e."
Rebecca: What about "-ö" and "-ü?"
Widar: Both have long and short versions. The long "-ö" is found in "Flöte" ("flute"), and the short "-ö" is found in "öffnen" ("to open").
Rebecca: "-ö" [ long ] and "-ö" [ short ].
Widar: And finally, long "-ü" in "Tüte" ("bag") and short "-ü" in "Küste" ("coast").
Rebecca: "-ü" [ long ] and "-ü" [ short ].
Widar: These are the basic vowel sounds you need to learn, but there are some more.
Rebecca: Maybe we should have a quick look at diphthongs. What is a diphthong, Widar?
Widar: A diphthong is a combination of two different vowels. A combination of two vowels of the same kind is not considered a diphthong though, such as in "school," where we find two "-o" vowels, indicating a long "-o."
Rebecca: You should know diphthongs from English. For example, "neutral" has the diphthong "-eu."
Widar: The most common German diphthongs are "-ei," "-au," and "-eu"…"-ei" as in "Eis" ("ice cream"), "-au" as in "Raub" ("robbery"), and "-eu" as in "neu" ("new").
Rebecca: Let me add one quick remark about weakened vowels. In certain cases, the vowel is not emphasized. The best example of this is the "-e" in the last syllable of a word at the end of sentences. For example, "Wir wollen geh'n." ("We want to leave.") Correctly spoken, it should sound like "Wir wollen gehen," but it's common to say "Wir wollen geh'n."
Widar: Yeah. Good that you mentioned it.
Rebecca: That's quite some stuff to learn. What about consonants and their pronunciation?
Widar: Here we're not going to go over the pronunciation of all the consonants, but if you're interested, you can listen to our pronunciation series designed to help you master German pronunciation. Rather, we're going to discuss how to stress syllables.
Widar: So let's move on to the next topic, "stress."
Rebecca: And not the kind you feel at work and stuff. We're talking about stress as a part of pronunciation!
Widar: English uses stress a lot, right?
Rebecca: Yes, English has a lot of stress in it. Try saying the word "important" aloud. "ImPORTant." Notice how the PORT part of the word stands out? That's because this syllable is stressed. How try saying the word "interesting." "INTeresting." Can you hear where the stress is? It's on the first syllable - INT! Now, if you are a native English speaker, you probably aren't even aware of this. It just comes naturally.
Widar: Maybe this is obvious, but remember that vowels can be stressed, and consonants cannot!
Rebecca: So how about stress in German, Widar?
Widar: Like English, German also has stress, but stress usually falls on the first syllable.
Rebecca: Give us some examples, please…
Widar: "Arbeiter" ("worker"); "AR-bei-ter" [ slow ].
Rebecca: The first syllable, "AR," is stressed.
Widar: "trinken" ("to drink"); "TRIN-ken" [ slow ]. You see, stress applies for all kinds of words…nouns, verbs, adjectives, and all other parts of speech.
Rebecca: Stress on the first syllable is called initial accent. The first syllable is held for a longer length of time than the others and given more stress. But there are some exceptions…?
Widar: Indeed. Many loan words, especially proper names, keep their original stress. A French guy named "Gustáv" will still be called "Gus-TÀV," not "GUS-tav." But that's not all. Verbs that end on the suffix "-ieren" receive stress on their penultimate syllable…for example, "stud-IE-ren" ("to study"), "ba-lan-CIE-ren" ("to balance") and many more. And compound adverbs, starting with "her-," "hin-," "da-," and "wo-" as their first syllable part, receive stress on their second syllable…for example, "her-AUF" ("up here"), "da-HIN" ("there"/"to that place"), "wo-HIN" ("where…to").
Rebecca: German also distinguishes stress between separable prefixes (with stress on the prefix) and inseparable prefixes (with stress on the root) in verbs and words derived from such verbs.
Widar: There's a list of prefixes you need to memorize to stress it right. Words beginning with "be-," "ge-," "er-," "ver-," "zer-," "ent-," and "emp-" receive stress on the second syllable. Words beginning with "ab-," "auf-," "em-," and "vor-" are stressed on their first syllable.
Rebecca: That's quite something to memorize.
Widar: Yes. To get good at this, practice copying native speakers!
Rebecca: As Widar mentioned before, stressing syllables the way we do in English when speaking German will sound unnatural, so be careful!
Widar: Keep in mind that listening and repeating is really the key to improving your pronunciation. Listen to and copy native speakers as much as you can.
Rebecca: And check back for our next installment of All About German!


Widar: Before we go, we want to tell you about a way to drastically improve your pronunciation.
Rebecca: The voice recording tool...
Widar: Yes, the voice recording tool in the premium learning center.
Rebecca: Record your voice with a click of a button,
Widar: and then play it back just as easily.
Rebecca: So you record your voice, and then listen to it.
Widar: Compare it to the native speakers...
Rebecca: And adjust your pronunciation!
Widar: This will help you improve your pronunciation fast! Thank you for listening.
Rebecca: See you next time!
Widar: Tschüss
Rebecca: Bye!