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How to speak German

An Introduction to the German Alphabet

Learning German can be an overwhelming experience. In fact, it’s considered one of the most difficult languages to learn across the world (for non-English speakers). There are three different genders for nouns, a variety of complex grammar rules, and some really, really long compound words. However, with a little practice and a strong foundation, you can master the German language—it just takes time. The first step to take on your journey to achieving fließende Beherrschung der deutschen Sprach (fluency in the German language) is to learn the alphabet. Here, we’ll provide a comprehensive introduction to the German alphabet including pronunciation, spelling, and a few ways to help you remember it all.

How Many Letters are in the German Alphabet?

Technically, there are 26 German alphabet letters. However, there are additional characters, such as umlauts (ä, ö, ü) and the eszett (ß) used in German as well. If you count these special characters, it brings the total number of letters in the German alphabet to 30—22 consonants and 8 vowels. However, many people omit special letters in word count, as they’re essentially just variations that help clarify pronunciation. All of the letters in the German alphabet, and the special characters, are gender neutral. This means that when you use them in a sentence, they will be preceded by the prefix, das.

German alphabet

German Alphabet Spelling

The German alphabet letters are spelled phonetically, which means they’re spelled how they’re pronounced. The following chart will provide you with information on how to spell each letter in the German alphabet, which is the same in both capitalized and lower-case forms.

German AlphabetPronunciation of the Letter
Rrair (er)
Xxiks (ix)
Yyoopsilohn (uep-si-lohn)

German alphabet

German Alphabet Pronunciation

German alphabet pronunciation is achieved by saying the letters exactly as they’re spelled (and, as you learned above, vice versa). The phonetically correct pronunciation and spelling are some of the best things about the German alphabet because it makes everything consistent. To help you practice pronunciation of different German letters in the alphabet, download Tandem and match with a native speaker today. For additional help, consider the following table:

German AlphabetPronunciation of the LetterSound of the German Letter in an English word
Aaahthe a in astronaut
Ääehthe e in pet
Bbbaythe b in baby
Cctsaythe c in camp
Dddehthe d in dollar
Eeaythe e in pet
Ffeffthe f in fog
Gggaythe g in garden
Hhhahthe h in hammer
Iieehthe ea in leave
Jjyotthe y in year
Kkkahthe c in camel
Llellthe l in love
Mmemthe m in mother
Nnenthe n in new
Ooohthe o in oven
Ööoehthe u in turn
Pppaythe p in paint
Qqkoothe c in cool
Rrair (er)guttural, like the r in rich
Ssesthe z in zoo
ßssthe s in salad
Tttaythe t in tomato
Uuoohthe u in rule
Üüuehthe u in Uber
Vvfowthe f in father
Wwvaythe v in van
Xxiks (ix)the x in x-ray
Yyoopsilohn (uep-si-lohn)the y in yellow
Zztsetthe ts in shirts

Unlike many other languages, the phonetic alphabet in German helps simplify pronunciation, especially once you memorize the basics. All of the letters in the German alphabet are pronounced just as they are spelled in the table above. As you can see, many of them are even similar to the English pronunciation of the letter.

However, there are a few exceptions. When you see the combination of the letters “ch” in a word, pronunciation will vary depending on what letter of the German alphabet it follows. If the “ch” comes after an “e” or an “i,” you will pronounce the “ch” similar the sound of a hissing cat “tss.” If the “ch” comes after an “a,” “o,” or a “u,” then it’s pronounced more like the English “h.” This may seem a little confusing, but these exceptions are consistent so the variations in pronunciation will become familiar in no time!

It should also be noted that German vowels are considered “pure,” meaning that you only make one sound during pronunciation. To produce new sounds, the combinations below, called diphthongs, can be used. Consider the following table.

Vowel Combination of the German AlphabetEnglish Equivalent Pronunciation
authe ow sound in cow
äuthe oi in ointment
euthe oy sound in joy
eia sound similar to the word “eye”
iethe ee sound in “flee”

Finally, another helpful note on pronunciation is that many consonants are formed in the back of the mouth or throat. These rely on more stress from the tongue when compared with the English equivalent. A good example of this is when trying to pronounce “r” in the German alphabet. It requires a more guttural pronunciation, kind of like when you’re gargling water. While it might seem unnatural at first, the more you practice, the easier it becomes.

German Alphabet Song

A great way to practice pronunciation and recall is by using a German alphabet song to memorize the letters and special characters. While this might seem childish, finding a good alphabet song helps solidify pronunciation. In fact, it’s been proven that music helps boost recall and can even help you retain information faster than if you were to try and memorize it on your own. There are several different options for German alphabet songs that you can choose from. You can find one catchy option on YouTube:

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  • Or one that includes the special characters:

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Using flashcards is another great way to supplement your learning!

Old German Alphabet

There is a lot of pride that surrounds the German language, and the old German alphabet is a perfect example of that. The typeface used to write has transformed since 1050 AD, when Blackletter font was primarily used. This was the fancy looking “Gothic” script and cursive that you may see on old documents. The style continued to adapt with time until Fraktur replaced all variations in the 17th century. This depiction of the German alphabet included the ß and umlauts, which were excluded in many of the earlier fonts and typefaces. At this time, all of the government publications in Germany needed to use Fraktur, although the rest of Europe was using Antiqua. However, Fraktur is a complex way to write the German alphabet, so it eventually evolved into Kurrent—which is the original cursive used in the old German alphabet. With all of these changes, it meant students were learning how to write the old German alphabet in four different styles. Eventually, Sütterlin was introduced in the 20th century and a more modern German alphabet was adapted. Today, the German alphabet taught in schools is called the new Vereinfachte Lateinschrift, or the simplified Latin letters. Now, at least when you’re studying German you don’t have to try and decipher swirls and loops that could be misinterpreted as multiple different letters!

For help with your German alphabet pronunciation, join Tandem’s community of language learners across the world. You’ll gain access to native German speakers looking to connect and exchange conversation with native English speakers, native Spanish speakers, and more. This unique language learning experience is one of the best ways to perfect your use of the German alphabet pronunciation while fostering a deeper understanding of the language as a whole. All you need to do is sign up, match with a native speaker of German or your target language and start communicating. Not only will this help you work towards fluency, but you may even meet some new life-long friends! To join our community and work on your German, sign up for Tandem today.