10 Tips for mastering certain German sounds and the alphabet for Chinese students learning German!
- The voiced uvular fricative. “R” [ʁ]
As an experienced teacher, you know native speakers of which language struggle with which sounds most. For the Chinese this is the voiced uvular fricative. “R” [ʁ]! Situation in class: “Ich esse (R)eis.” Was that “Eis” (“ice cream”) or “Reis” (“rice”) ? I mostly hear ‘Eis’, which turns out to be a mistake then, because they wanted to say “Reis”. They tend to completely skip the voiced uvular fricative R sound, but you should encourage Chinese learners and tell them two things:
When the “R” appears at the beginning of a word, they can pronounce it like the Chinese „r“ in 人 „ren“ („people“). Although this sound is made with the tongue, not with the uvula, but crucial misunderstandings can be avoided when they communicate and the pronunciation is still acceptable.
When the “R” appears at the end like in “Mieter” (“tenant”), “Computer”, “lieber” (“prefer”), “Wasser” (“water”), they can still pronounce it like [ɐ]. The sound [ɐ] is called a near-open central vowel and occurs especially when you pronounce words written with an “-er” at the end.
Actually, Chinese speakers have to focus on two sounds at the end of a word, [ɐ] and [ə]. [ə] is a mid-central vowel and occurs in words like: “Miete“ (“rent”), “bitte” (“please”), “Küche” (“kitchen”). I know that it is very hard for them to find the difference, but how should you know as a listener, if they mean the “Mieter” [ɐ] (“tenant”) or the “Miete” [ə] (“rent”). Consequently, you have to practise that with them 🙂
- Iott, Fau, Ve, Üpsilon
When going through the pronunciation of the letters in the alphabet, the Chinese will find many sounds very similar to the English pronunciation. They have to focus only on a few letters actually and these are: “J” = Iott, “V”= Fau, “W” = Ve and “Y” = Üpsilon! Now they know how to pronounce VW and BMW, the big German car manufacturers correctly!
- CH and SCH
Good news: both sounds for the letter combination “CH” [x] (voiceless velar fricative) and [ç] (voiceless palatal fricative) are generally pronounced very well by Chinese learners. The “CH” [ç] in “ich” (“I”) for example is pronounced like the “CH” in 学习 “xuexi” (“to learn”), the „CH“[x] in „acht“ („eight“) is pronounced like „CH“ in 很好 „hen hao“ (“good”). You can really save time here, because you don’t need to use much time for explanation. One more thing to mention here: The separate sounds, of course, are easy then, but I found most Chinese have difficulties when the “CH” and “SH” sounds come in rapid succession:
“Ich spreche Chinesisch” (“I speak Chinese”)
That’s another point that you consequently should exercise with your Chinese students!
More good news: Also the German “Umlauts” (Ä, Ü, Ö) with which other students tend to struggle, are generally pronounced well by Chinese learners. So, “Ä” simply is a sound you make, when you are disgusted, I will show that in class. The “Ü” you find in the Chinese 学习 “xuexi” (“to learn”). The sound is very close to that in German. The only thing left now is “Ö”. I normally show students a chart in class to demonstrate the correct position of the tongue in the oral cavity. The “Ö” is similar to the “Ü” but you have to shift your tongue a bit further backwards and down (only a little bit, though!), then you will get the correct sound!
- Long and Short Vowels
Another thing I want to mention about pronunciation: It can be crucial to distinguish words with a long vowel from a similar word with a short vowel, for example die Mitte (“middle”) – die Miete (“rent”), die Ratte (“rat”) – die Rate (“rate”), der Schall (“sound”) – der Schal (“scarf”)! A trick here is the comparison of German long vowels with the “first tone” in the Chinese language and the short vowels with the “fourth tone”. We know that Chinese is a tonal language and you can use part of the features of the tones, which are, generally speaking, a modification of the central vowel in a syllable in pitch but also in length, to draw a parallel to the German vowels. I had this idea during my study at university preparing a seminar paper on Chinese phonetics: The “first tone” in Chinese is long, the “fourth tone” is generally short.
- The Difference between “N” and “L”
We come to another sound now. During my time in Nanjing I found out that many Chinese in this region do not make a difference between “N” and “L”, so that is something else which you might also have to focus on. Generally, when you pronounce an “L”, there must be space for the air to flow from the left and right side of the tongue, when you pronounce an “N”, however, no air can flow from the left and right side of the tongue . I usually demonstrate that in the classroom for my students to see in their sessions!
- The German „Z“
I want to mention here that the Chinese are very good with the pronunciation of the strong “Z” in German, as long as you give them the right equivalent in the Chinese language. So I often tell them that German “zu” is pronounced like “Chinese vinegar”: 醋 “cu”! The pinyin equivalent „zu“ is misleading, because it is pronounced much too weakly!
- PF Consonant Cluster
Chinese speakers are not good with consonant clusters which appear so often in the German language. A consonant cluster means a group of consonants only without an interceding vowel in the word. Chinese speakers tend to fill the spaces between the consonants with additional vowels, but that is wrong. Consequently, that’s also something you have to practise . the German “PF” as in “Pflaume” (“plum”) or “Kopf” (head) is notoriously difficult for Chinese speakers. So it is not “Pefelaume” and not “Kopefe”! It is “Pflaume” and “Kopf” (no vowels between “P” and “F”)! Phonetically, “PF” is an affricate consonant: a sound that begins with a plosive immediately followed by a fricative!
- The “W” as an “F” without aspiration
The last tip for today is about the “W” at the beginning of a word, like in “Wurst” (“sausage”), which Chinese tend to pronounce like English “OO”. I always tell them the German “W” here is more like forming an “F” with your lips, but without releasing the air through the mouth. A demonstration in class normally does the trick!
Thanks for reading! 蛋壳 Danke! („eggshell“, German for THANKS!) and get in touch with me on Linkedin
1) Es lagen zwei zischende Schlangen zwischen zwei spitzen Steinen und zischten dazwischen.
2) Zwischen zwei Zwetschgenbaumzweigen zwitscherten zwei geschwätzige Schwalben.
3) Ein braver Hai isst Haferbrei.
4) Es klapperten die Klapperschlangen, bis ihre Klappern schlapper klangen.
5) Esel essen Nesseln nicht, Nesseln essen Esel nicht.
6) Hinter Hermanns Haus hängen hundert Hemden raus.
7) In Ulm, um Ulm und um Ulm herum wachsen viele Ulmen.
8) Brautkleid bleibt Brautkleid und Blaukraut bleibt Blaukraut.
9) Tschechisches Streichholzschächtelchen.
10) Fischers Fritz fischt frische Fische, frische Fische fischt Fischers Fritz.
11) Bürsten mit schwarzen Borsten bürsten besser als Bürsten mit weißen Borsten.
12) Der Mondschein schien schon schön.
In German it is necessary to distinguish the sounds r, ɐ, l , especially when they are occure at the end of the word. Otherwise it would be hard for example to distinguish between “vier” (four) and “viel” (much), words, which are used in basic conversation in German.
The sound [ɐ] is called a near-open central vowel and occurs expecially when you pronounce words written with an “-er” at the end like:
The pronunciation of [ə] sounds similar, but it is important to distinguish it from the [ɐ]. [ə] is a mid-central vowel and occures in words like:
Also words ending with a written “-el” or “-en” are not pronunced exactly like the writing suggests: Mostly the “e” is not pronunced, for example in words like:
Read the words aloud again and again with your tutor to become familiar with the differences!
Sentences for German pronunciation
Der Koch backt in der Küche einen Kuchen und außerdem echte Milchbrötchen. Die Köchin hilft ihm, ohne Kochbuch. Das ist nicht leicht, aber die Köchin ist sich sicher. Sie können nicht pünktlich aufhören und arbeiten bis spät in die Nacht. Nach Mitternacht macht der Koch Licht im Wohnzimmer. Sie machen es sich gemütlich. Morgen ist Mittwoch.
Der Schussel hat doch glatt den Schlüssel von der Tür vergessen. Drinnen sind die Stühle sehr gemütlich. In einer Schüssel serviert er Gemüse und Würstchen.
Goethe is the German poet who once said: What your eyes don’t know, they cannot see. (Was das Auge nicht kennt, sieht es nicht.) It’s undoubtly true: You know when you travel around in strange cultures, you tend to ignore something (by accident), because you haven’t seen it. However, the Gürtel is simply a waistbelt.
So what’s the poet to do with the waistbelt? Basicly nothing~~~ It’s all about pronunciation. Since the vowels are formed basicly by the tongue in the oral cavity, the solution is here to focus on the position of the tongue: if it sounds like ü, you just have to go down a bit; if it sounds like o then, please go forward a bit. Then you will have the ö.
You can have a look here at my diagram.
Be patient! I know it’s not easy. Good luck!