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Widar: German pronunciation series, lesson #3. Diphthongs and Group Consonants.
Susanne: Hi everyone!
Widar: Welcome back to the pronunciation series.
Susanne: In the last two lessons, you learned how to pronounce the basic vowels and consonants that make up the German language. In this lesson, we will solve the mystery of what diphthongs are, a word I even have trouble pronouncing.
Widar: Yeah, we will also work with you on some more consonants, the so called group consonants.
Susanne: Alright. Then let’s get started with diphthongs.
Widar: Now, if you’ve got the lesson notes, it’s probably a good idea to read them as you listen so that you can see what sounds we are talking about.
Susanne: Yes. So [wieder] when I learned about German diphthongs, I remember my teacher taught us this sentence [Herr Meier baut heute ein Haus] which in English means today, Mr. Myer builds a house.
Widar: So that’s German efficiency if he can build a house in a day.
Susanne: Yeah sure. As silly as this sentence might sound, it includes the three common German diphthongs.
Widar: Can I hear it once again to see if you are right?
Susanne: [Herr Meier baut heute ein Haus].
Widar: Yeah that’s correct. The diphthongs in this sentence are I in [Meier], [au] in [baut] and Haus and [eu] in [heute].
Susanne: But what exactly is a diphthong?
Widar: A diphthong is a combination of two vowel sounds that blend and are sounded together.
Susanne: So those vowel sounds are not pronounced separately but the two are pronounced together as a new sound.
Widar: Yes and as mentioned earlier, there are three common diphthongs in German. Those are [au, ei, eu].
Susanne: Compared to a monophthong, a vowel sound whose quality doesn’t change, a diphthong is a vowel sound that glides from one quality to another.
Widar: Right. When you say the diphthong [au, au] you hear that it starts with an [a], then glides to a [u, au].
Susanne: As in our sample sentence [Herr Meier baut heute ein Haus]. Did you recognize all three diphthongs?
Widar: I hope our listeners did, the diphthong [au] sounds like the English “house”.
Susanne: Good German examples for this diphthong are “house” [Haus], “mouse” [Maus], [Frau] woman and so on.
Widar: The diphthong “I” sounds like the English “kite” or “height”.
Susanne: And good examples for this one in German are [mein] “my”, [dein] “your”, [Bayern] “Bavaria” and [Meier] the name “Maya.
Widar: And the diphthong [eu] is pronounced like the [oi] in noise.
Susanne: Good examples for practice are [heute] today, [Leute] people and [Häuser] houses.
Widar: Good examples you should practice a lot and try to pronounce them short and clipped. Don’t say [Haaus] but say house.
Susanne: But before we continue with the consonant pairs, some more notes on diphthongs. While the [au] diphthong always appears as a combination of the letters [a] plus [u], the other two diphthongs can be spelled in several different ways.
Widar: Which gives you a hard time identifying a diphthong in the text or article. This is because the pronunciation of diphthong is expressed with a broad variety of vowel and consonant combinations on paper.
Susanne: Lucky for you, we are here to help. You will find the diphthong I as [e] plus I in [mein] “my”. [a] plus [Ypsilon] y in [Bayern] “Bavaria”, [e] plus i in [Mei] and a plus [Ypsilon] y in the old forms of the name Maya.
Widar: And for the diphthong [eu], the German language uses letter combinations of E plus [u] and [u] [heute] “today” or [Leute] “people” and the other combination is [ä] plus [u] in [Häuser] houses.
Susanne: Okay. That’s got something to memorize. Please check our accompanying PDF guide for further information on diphthongs.
Widar: We are going to continue with group consonants now. While they are not considered to be diphthongs, the term only used for combinations of two vowel sounds, we will continue talking about sound combinations.
Susanne: In the last lesson, we introduced you to basic German consonants. In most varieties, the German language uses about 10 additional consonant pairs.
Widar: Our examples will be fun to listen to and repeat so that you will learn them in no time.
Susanne: Okay which one will we talk about first [wieder].
Widar: Remember, when we told you that Germans decide between voiced and voiceless consonants.
Susanne: Yeah the [p] and [b] and [t] and [d] and [k] [g], [pf] [w], [s] [ss) are all the basic voiceless/voiced pairs.
Widar: Good. Now there is an additional voiceless/voiced pair we need to talk about. The [sch, ge] pair.
Susanne: So let’s say that you met a pretty girl in your language class at school and you talk about her with your best pal after school, you would say
Widar: [In der Schule habe ich ein schönes Mädchen getroffen].
Susanne: In school, I met a pretty girl. Did you recognize the [sch] sound?
Widar: It’s the [sch] sound in [Schule] school and [schön] pretty. This consonant sound is made of three letters S plus C plus H. SCH.
Susanne: So any time you see a word with the combination of S C H [sch] you know it has to be pronounced [sch].
Widar: The German [sch] is never split but you might find German words written S is followed by an H. Now in case it’s a foreign word from English like show, the [sch] sound written S plus H is pronounced like the German [sch]. In some cases, a German word like [Grashalm] blade of grass is written with an S followed by an H but here S and H are pronounced separately.
Susanne: Don’t worry. That will not happen too often. Okay [sch] is the so called voiceless consonant sound whereas it’s voiced counterpart is [ge].
Widar: The [ge] sound just occurs in the initial position of words of foreign origin and in written German, it is expressed with the letter G [g].
Susanne: Good examples for this sound are the [ge] as in [ge] genre [Genie] genius. A variety of [ge] is pronounced [ge] as in the English word jungle but this appears in just a few loan words.
Widar: Now let’s try [sch] and [ge] together. [ich bin ein Genie in der Schule].
Susanne: I am a genius at school. Can you say that again in German?
Widar: Of course. [Ich bin ein Genie in der Schule].
Susanne: You wish. If you want to impress Germans, remember that sentence.
Widar: Yeah okay. That should do it for [sch] and [ge]. Other interesting paired consonants are [sp] and [st] often used combinations of the consonants S plus P S and P and S plus T, S and T.
Susanne: In standard German dialect, at the beginning of the word, the S and the SP and ST sounds like [sch]. For that reason, words with SP or ST in the initial word position sound like [schp] or [scht].
Widar: Examples are [Spiel] game or [sprechen] to speak and [Stadt] city or [studieren] to study.
Susanne: So both paired consonants might look like the English Sp or ST found in speak or stone but they are pronounced [schp] or [scht].
Widar: If you have a hard time pronouncing [schp] and [scht] think of the English word shine and say it a couple of times. Then just say [sch] with round lips and an open mouth and add [p] or [t] at the end. [schp, scht]
Susanne: That will help for sure.
Widar: And if you think rounding your lips and saying it a dozen times looks silly, think of 82 million Germans doing it hundreds of times a day.
Susanne: Silly Germans.
Widar: Yeah. Great, okay let’s see what else we have in store today.
Susanne: Yes. As we’ve just learned, Germans seem to love strange sound combinations. One of the more noteworthy ones is [pf].
Widar: [pf] consists of the consonant letters P and F. Listen carefully and you will recognize that there is a [pf] sound pronounced shortly before the [f]. Examples are [Pferd] horse [Pfeffer] pepper [Pfennig] penny.
Susanne: [Pferd] horse [Pfeffer] pepper [Pfennig] penny.
Widar: Remember how to build a [p] sound where a puff goes along with it and add a [f]. Then you have [pf] as in [Pferd].
Susanne: Now, the good thing about German is that if you think this was hard to pronounce, there is always something that tops it.
Widar: I know where this is going.
Susanne: Germans love combinations of three consecutive consonants. The most graphic example of this is the word [Pflanze] spelled pflanze [Pflanze] which in English means plant.
Widar: It starts with a combination of [pf] followed by the consonant L.
Susanne: [Pflanze]. What a nice combination!
Widar: If it’s too heavy for you, a simple [f] sound before the L will do it. [Flanze] but try to build it with [pf].
Susanne: Okay only two more grouped consonant sounds to go before we wrap up this lesson.
Widar: First is [q] similar to English, in German the letter Q [ku] is always followed by the vowel [u].
Susanne: The difference is that the German [q] is pronounced as if it were written [qu] K plus [w] as in [Quark] curd or [Quitting] receipt.
Widar: This is how you build [qu]. Firm your lips as if you want to say the English “cave” and say it a few times, cave. Now leave out the [a] and say [qu].
Susanne: It’s as simple as that. Now try it again [Quark, Quittung].
Widar: I bet that every one of you had some English lessons in school. Otherwise you wouldn’t understand a single word I am saying here. I remember back in my school days, the trouble we had pronouncing [th] the th.
Susanne: I can imagine that. Even some native English speakers have trouble with it.
Widar: First of all, The German language doesn’t use [th] th as a sound but a lot of foreign words have a [th] th at the beginning or in the middle of the word.
Susanne: Well in English, you say the [th]. In German, the [th] is silent. So [th] th is pronounced more like the English name [thomas].
Widar: German examples are [Theater] “theatre”, [Thema] “topic” and [Theologie] “theology”.
Susanne: All right. That should do it for today.
Widar: Well thanks for joining us everyone.
Susanne: And thanks for listening to us yelling sounds at you.
Widar: Yeah and keep practicing that pronunciation and we see you next time.
Susanne: On germanpod101.com
Widar: Ready to test what you just learned.
Susanne: Make this lesson’s vocabulary stick by using lesson specific flashcards in the learning center.
Widar: There is a reason everyone uses flashcards.
Susanne: They work.
Widar: They really do help memorization.
Susanne: You can get the flashcards for this lesson at
Widar: Germanpod101.com.
Susanne: Okay. Thank you for listening.
Widar: [Bis bald]!
Susanne: See you soon.