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Monday, January 21, 2013

How to Pronounce German "ch"

There is quite a bit of misinformation out there on the web when it comes to the way German speakers pronounce "ch," a digraph (pair of letters representing a single sound) that appears very frequently in German words. So, let me set the record straight.

"ch" poses problems for people trying to learn German. For starters, its pronunciation changes depending on the preceding letter or, if it appears at the beginning of a word, on the following letter or other circumstances (see main page below). To make things worse for English speakers, the resulting sound has, in the most common cases, no English equivalent.

Main page

Readers who have visited this post before will notice that the main part of my explanation has been moved to a separate page. I did this because I wanted the audio clips to work in more browsers. Blogger apparently supports audio only in a very limited form, and it does not support the HTML5 audio element at all. This is too bad because it's exactly this element that makes audio available in modern browsers across platforms without plug-ins ("natively," as the techies say). I therefore created a page outside of Blogger with the same content as the old version of this post, but with the audio elements updated to work with the latest versions of the most common browsers on both the Mac and Windows. If you encounter problems with this that you did not encounter before, please let me know by e-mail!

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is totally fabulous. My son is learning German and is terrified of speaking in class. But he is not afraid to mimic what he hears on this web site. Just great.

Ändi said...

"Ch" isn't pronounced like a very soft "sh" in proper german, ever.

Ulrich said...

@Ändi: If you know of a better way to explain to English speakers informally how to pronounce the "ch" in ich, let me know. Not that it matters that much: You may not have noticed that there are audio clips, which indicate how this German pronounces "ch" in various circumstances, and if you have a problem with my Rhenish accent, so be it.

YB said...

@Ändi: Please leave a constructive feedback than just unhelpful complaint.
@Ulrich: Thanks a lot for explaining, I'm relearning German (10 years ago started for a semester) and somehow have forgotten on this ch-pronunciation rule. Nevertheless, would you please explain if this rule applies to all regions of Germany as well as Austria and Switzerland? Or do some German regions / Austria / Swiss pronounce more towards the hard-throat-sound ch? (when it supposed to be the soft sh)
I have the tendency to pronounce all -ch with this hard-throat-sound. But it could be because I was acquainted to Dutch-speaking people.

Ulrich said...

@YB: Yes, there are regional differences in the way Germans pronounce "ch". I mentioned already that Rhinelanders pronounce the soft "ch" like English "sh" or that Bavarians may pronounce "ch" at the start of a word like "k". The differences become more pronounced when people speak a local dialect (as opposed to just with a local accent). For example, the Bavarians may drop the soft "ch" at the end of a word altogether: "Ich hab mich gefreut" (I was glad) becomes "I hob mi g'freit" (The "i" is pronounced "ee", not like English "I").

However, I know of no region where "ch" is pronounced consistently like the throaty "ch" in Bach. An exception may be Schwitzerdütsch, the very distinctive dialect spoken by German-speaking Swiss. But I do not know enough about that.

Ulrich said...

@YP: One more thing: Since the soft "ch" appears in the personal pronouns ich, mich, dich, sich, euch, which are among the most often used words in German, you will encounter that sound more often in daily speech than the hard "ch." One more reason to become familiar with it (and to tell all those websites that claim Germans always pronounce "ch" the hard way that they are full of it)!

Anonymous said...

Years ago I heard someone say that to pronounce the German "ch" as in ich, you use a sound similar to that of the English "huge" or "hugo" and I have never had a problem with it.
regards
Janelle

Anonymous said...

Janelle: Thanks for that tip. That seems to work for me. I am working with a native speaker who thought I was hopeless, but your tip made all the difference.