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Lesson Transcript

Widar: German pronunciation series, lesson #2. Basic German Consonants.
Susanne: Hi everyone and welcome back to the pronunciation series here at germanpod101.com
Widar: Hallo.
Susanne: Thanks for being here with us for this lesson. [Walter], what are we looking at in this lesson?
Widar: Well today, you will work on your German consonants pronunciation.
Susanne: If you are interested, a consonant is a sound that is obstructed by either your lips, your tongue or your teeth while producing it.
Widar: Oh what a very scientific definition.
Susanne: No, no just the definition from my dictionary.
Widar: Also what makes a consonant a consonant is that you usually can’t have a word made of consonant sounds only.
Susanne: In German, oh no, you can’t.
Widar: Well it’s because consonants show constriction or closure at some point along the vocal tract. You might be able to say an interjection like hmm which is made of the two consonants H and M but there is no normal German word made up only of consonants.
Susanne: Right.
Widar: Okay before we introduce the new sounds, let’s just quickly recap what we studied in lesson #1.
Susanne: Sounds good.
Widar: How many vowels does German have?
Susanne: 15 vowel sounds.
Widar: Which are:
Susanne: 5 pairs of long and short basic vowels [a, e, i, o] and [u], then two pairs of long and short umlauts [ö, ü] and the long [ä] umlaut.
Widar: Right. Altogether 15 vowel sounds.
Susanne: Okay let’s take a look at basic German consonant sounds. How many consonant sounds are there in German?
Widar: 25, but today we will only look at the basic ones, not the consonant pairs. Now if you’ve got the lesson notes, it’s probably a good idea to read them as you listen so that you can listen what sounds we are talking about.
Susanne: Yes and again, don’t mistake, consonant for letter. In German there are 22 consonant letters with 25 consonant sounds.
Widar: And rest, some of those letters are used to display the same sound. Others have to be put together to display distinct sound.
Susanne: So is there a chance to arrange these sounds in different consonant groups?
Widar: Good that you asked. Indeed there is, but it’s quite complex. You can read all about it in our accompanying PDF guide. Here we will show you how to pronounce the consonants. We will do some grouping but not on the scientific level.
Susanne: Alright then, let’s get started!
Widar: Well, we share most of the German consonants with other languages but of course non-native speakers might have a really hard time pronouncing some of them.
Susanne: Like the [rr] right?
Widar: [rr] ra, re, ri, ro, ru.
Susanne: Beautiful. Was that some kind of poem?
Widar: Well maybe it’s a short poem.
Susanne: So as you’ve just pointed out, the [rr] sound is very challenging.
Widar: Except for Germans.
Susanne: Do you have a tip as how to pronounce a nice [rr].
Widar: Yes. The [rr] sound comes from your throat right and so does the sound [g].
Susanne: Now pretty much all of you know how to make a [g]. The German [g] sounds like the English [g] in good.
Widar: So we are going to make that [ar] happen by linking it with [g].
Susanne: Okay for example [Gras] which means grass and is spelled gras [Gras].
Widar: Yes. Now you know the feeling you have in the back of your mouth when you say [g].
Susanne: Well try to force it a little and your [rr] should come out.
Widar: Don’t hesitate to exaggerate at first.
Susanne: And don’t mind the people around you on the bus.
Widar: At the worst, they will think you have some dust stuck in your throat.
Susanne: Another good word to practice your [r] is [groß] which means big and it’s spelled groß [groß]. Go ahead and repeat after each word.
Widar: [Gras, groß, Gras, groß].
Susanne: Okay, now there is another sound that sounds almost similar, right?
Widar: Yes it’s the [r] sound. While people in the Northern and middle parts of Germany won’t use it, you might hear this vibrant [r] sound in Southern Germany.
Susanne: Can you give us examples?
Widar: [Gras, groß, Garten].
Susanne: Nice. Sounds almost like the Russian [r].
Widar: Yeah, absolutely.
Susanne: Okay. Next we have a bunch of consonants called the [fortis lenins] pairs. So what does [fortis lenis] mean?
Widar: Ten basic consonant sounds build 5 [fortis] pairs. [lenis] refers to consonants either being voiceless or voiced when spoken. Those consonants occur in pairs at the same place of articulation and also in the same manner of articulation.
Susanne: And while there is no standard German with a bunch of standard German dialects, in some parts of the country, those [fortis] and [lenis] pairs are pronounced either voiced or voiceless. Here we will teach you how to pronounce those consonants in a northern standard dialect. So those pairs are
Widar: [p-b, t-d, k-g, f-w] and [s-z].
Susanne: Let’s take a look at the first pair, the [p] and [b] sounds.
Widar: [p] as in [Oper] opera is a voiceless consonant.
Susanne: [Oper].
Widar: Okay. Its voiced counterpart is [b] as in [Bucht] bay.
Susanne: In English, when we make the [p] or [b] sounds, a puff of breath goes along with it. Try it. Try saying words like bat or bit by holding your hand in front of your mouth. You can feel the puff of air right?
Widar: And German, it’s exactly the same thing.
Susanne: [b] as in [Bucht]. You can really feel the puff of breath.
Widar: That’s why we call them [plausive] consonants.
Susanne: It reminds me of explosive.
Widar: Yeah indeed. That puff of breath comes out of your mouth similar to an explosion when you make a [b] or [p] sound, your lips also have to bump into each other while producing the sound.
Susanne: Okay, what’s the next pair?
Widar: It’s the [t] and [d] the first sound is the voiceless [t] as in [Tee] tea.
Susanne: And the voiced [d] is pronounced as [d] in [Danke] thanks or [dumm].
Widar: Again with both [t] and [d] a puff of breath goes along with it. So they are also [plausive] sounds.
Susanne: Then we have the [k] and [g] pair.
Widar: Voiceless [k] as you would find in [Katze] cat or [König] king. In certain cases, when [k] follows a short vowel sound, it’s written as ck, a combination of C and K. An example is [dick] thick spelled dick [dick]. Short I vowel is followed by ck.
Susanne: It’s voiced counterpart is [g] as in the already mentioned [Gras] or [groß] and again, as you can hear, [k] and [g] are plausive sounds.
Widar: Okay. Let me tell you one more thing here. In most varieties of German, the opposition between [fortis] and [lenis] voiced and voiceless is neutralized in the syllable [coda]. We call that terminal devoicing.
Susanne: Can you give me an example for terminal devoicing.
Widar: Sure. Look at words like [Hoffnung] hope [Lob] praise and [Freund] friend. They all end with voiced consonants [g, b] and [d] but will be pronounced like short voiceless [k, p] and [t].
Susanne: If you wondered why Germans pronounce [k] and [p] like [t] at the end of the last syllable of a word, this is your answer. Now let’s quickly look at the last two voiced voiceless pairs.
Widar: First is the [f] and [w] pair. [f] is voiceless and pronounced like the [Vater] in father.
Susanne: Good examples of the [f] consonant are the [v] in [Hafen] harbor or the [v] in [frei] free.
Widar: When you say [f], you use your lower lip and your upper teeth. They rub each other. It’s very easy to say try it [f].
Susanne: [frei, Hafen, Fahrt].
Widar: Great. It’s voiced counterpart is [w] is pronounced like the [w] in vacation. German examples are [Winter] winter or [Wunsch] wish.
Susanne: Right. When you say [w] you also use your lower lip and upper teeth to express it.
Widar: Now here we need to talk about letters for a second because German knows two letters to express the [f] and [w] sound.
Susanne: Right.
Widar: In many cases, the [f] sound is expressed with a letter F but in certain cases, you can also use the letter V to express the [v] sound. The German word for father for example [Vater] starts with a V instead of an F. It’s spelled Vater [Vater].
Susanne: But on the other hand, there are other words written with [w] but spoken as [v] like [Vase] spelled vase [Vase]. So is there a rule to it?
Widar: Indeed there is. If you find German words with a [w] letter, they are pronounced as [v] in words of Germanic origin and [w] in words of foreign origin.
Susanne: That’s an important rule to remember. Okay the last pair is [s] and [z].
Widar: The voiceless [s] is pronounced [s] as in the English word [Bus]. It’s either written with the S letter from the alphabet as in [Hast] rush spelled Hast [Hast] or with double s as in [Krass] spelled Krass [Krass] or written with the so called ligature letter [ß].
Susanne: [ß] as in [Straße] spelled [Straße]. The voiced consonant sound is [z].
Widar: You can compare the [z] sound to the English [z] sound in Zoo. It’s written with the same S letter from the alphabet we use for the voiceless [s] sound and appears only if it forms the syllable onset. Good examples are the numbers [sechs] 6 and [sieben] 7 or the noun [Ansage] announcement.
Susanne: One more remark on the German alphabet here. The last letter is [z] Z. Z is always pronounced [z] as in [Ziel] goal.
Widar: So what is [Ziel], Rebecca?
Susanne: My Ziel is to learn how to pronounce all German vowels and consonant sounds.
Widar: [ts] also indicates that the preceding vowel is short. For example, the word [Akzent] spelled Akzent [Akzent]. The vowel [a] is short followed by K and Z.
Susanne: Okay, so now we have a few more basic consonants to discuss.
Widar: First is the H sound spoken as [h] in German like the English home. When [h] follows a vowel, it is silent.
Susanne: For example, the verb [sehen] to see is spelled sehen [sehen]. Did you hear an [h] sound. I couldn’t hear it.
Widar: That’s because it’s the silent H. After vowels, H is silent and only indicates that the vowel is lengthened. When H precedes the vowel, then the H is pronounced.
Susanne: This happens at the beginning of a syllable as in [Haus] home [haben] to have or [Abhang] slope.
Widar: Then we have the J consonant. In words of German origin, it is pronounced [Jahr] year or [Januar] January, but in modern loan words, it follows the pronunciation of the language it’s taken from.
Susanne: The famous example for the loan word variation is the [Jazz] in jazz. You won’t hear people saying [Jazz].
Widar: The next consonant is [l]. L is always pronounced [l] in German like the English lamp.
Susanne: Some good examples are [Lampe] lamp and [Land] country and [Liebe] love.
Widar: Finally, we have three more nasal sounds [m,n] and [m].
Susanne: All three sounds are voiced sounds [m] as in Manhattan [Mann] man or [Milch] milk.
Widar: Like with the [p] and [b] sounds, your lips also have to bump into each other while producing the sound [Mann, Milch] milk.
Susanne: The second sound is the [n] consonant as in [Norden] north or [Pfanne] pan. And lastly we have the [*] consonant which is pronounced like the English angry.
Widar: In written German, it is expressed with the letters N and G as in [singen], to singen, sin[gen].
Susanne: Great. Okay I think we will stop here with consonant sound practice. What do you think [Walter]?
Widar: Yes, I think there is enough in there to get you started with German consonant sounds.
Susanne: One last question. For whom do you think it’s easiest to pronounce German?
Widar: I know it’s quite easy for French people. We share most of our sounds with the French. They might only have a hard time saying the [h] sound. And maybe people from the Netherlands. There are also quite a lot of similarities there.
Susanne: How about English speakers? Is it hard to learn for them?
Widar: Well they might have trouble with the few tricky consonants at first but we are here to help.
Susanne: All right. That should do it for today.
Widar: Well thanks for joining us everyone.
Susanne: Thanks to listening to us yelling sounds.
Widar: Yeah keep practicing that pronunciation and we see you next time.
Susanne: On germanpod101.com.
Widar: Before we go, we want to tell you about a way to improve your pronunciation drastically.
Susanne: The voice recording tool.
Widar: Yes the voice recording tool in the premium learning center.
Susanne: Record your voice with a click of a button
Widar: And then play it back just as easily.
Susanne: So you record your voice and then listen to it.
Widar: Compare it to the native speakers.
Susanne: And adjust your pronunciation.
Widar: This will help you improve your pronunciation fast. Tune in next time for another refreshing German session. Thank you for listening.
Susanne: See you next time.
Widar: [Tschüss]!
Susanne: Bye.