I Say It How? Speaking German
In This Chapter
* Recognizing the German you already know
* Pronouncing the basics
* Using popular expressions
The best way to learn a new language is total immersion - so in this chapter, you jump right into the German language. This chapter shows you the German you may already know, explains how to pronounce German, and introduces you to some popular German expressions.
The German You Know
Because both German and English belong to the group of Germanic languages, they have quite a few identical or similar words. These words are called cognates.
Friendly allies (perfect cognates)
The following words are spelled the same way and have the same meaning in German and English. The only differences are the pronunciation and the fact that in German, nouns are always capitalized:
Kissing cousins (near cognates)
Many words, like the ones in Table 1-1, are spelled almost the same in German as in English and have the same meaning.
Notice that the English "c" is a "k" in most German words.
As in every language, German contains some false friends - those words that look very similar to English words but often have a completely different meaning:
Lenders and borrowers
The English language has adopted a few German words and retained their meaning with a different pronunciation, such as Kindergarten (kin-der-gar-ten) (Garten is the German word for garden), Zeitgeist (tsyt-gyst), Leitmotiv (lyt-mo-teef), and Angst (angst) - a term that lately has become quite fashionable.
However, many more English words have made their way into the German language. Sometimes, the combination of English and German leads to quite remarkable linguistic oddities. For example, you may hear das ist gerade in/out (das ist ge-rah-de in/out) (that's in/out right now) or check das mal ab (check das mahl ap) (check that out).
The following English words are commonly used in German:
Here are a few phrases using these English words in German:
And finally, German uses a few "fake" English terms. These terms wouldn't be used in the same context in the English language. For example, the German word for a mobile phone is "Handy," and a "Party Service" is a company that caters parties and public events.
Mouthing Off: Basic Pronunciation
The key to pronouncing a foreign language is forgetting your fear of sounding awkward and never getting it right. To master the language, you need to know the basic rules of pronunciation and concentrate on small units, which can gradually be expanded - from sounds to words and sentences. The rest is practice, practice, practice.
The German alphabet has the same number of letters as the English one, 26. However, many of the letters are pronounced differently than their English counterparts. The good news is that German words are pronounced exactly as they are. Here's the German alphabet:
a (ah) b (beh) c (tseh) d (deh) e (eh) f (eff) g (geh) h (hah) i (ih) j (yot) k (kah) l (ell) m (em) n (en) o (oh) p (peh) q (koo) r (err) s (ess) t (teh) u (ooh) v (fow) w (veh) x (eks) y (uppsilon) z (tset)
In German, vowels (a, e, i, o, and u) can have long, drawn-out vowel sounds or shorter vowel sounds. Luckily, a few general rules do apply:
Table 1-2 gives you an idea of how to pronounce German vowels by providing you with examples and a phonetic script - the letter combinations that serve as the English equivalent of the German letter's pronunciation.
In this book's phonetic script, diacritics (the little "hats" on letters) (for example, e) indicate that a vowel sound is short.
Pronounce the German vowel "i" (long and short) like the English sound "ee"!
You may have seen those pesky little dots that sometimes appear over vowels in German words. They're called Umlaute (um-low-te) (umlauts). They slightly alter the sound of a vowel, as outlined in Table 1-3.
Nouns sometimes acquire an umlaut in their plural form.
Diphthongs are combinations of two vowels in one syllable (as in the English "lie"), and the German language has quite a few of them, as shown in Table 1-4.
You may be relieved to discover that the sounds of German consonants aren't as unfamiliar as those of the vowels. In fact, German consonants are either pronounced like their English equivalents or like other English consonants. Well, there are a couple of oddities and exceptions, which we show you later.
Pronounce the letters f, h, k, l, m, n, p, t, and x the same as in English.
Although the German "r" is represented as "r" in the phonetic script of this book, it's pronounced differently. In German, you don't roll the "r." To make the sound, position your tongue as if you want to make the "r" sound, but instead of rolling the tip of your tongue off your palate, leave the tongue straight and try to produce the sound in the back of your throat!
Table 1-5 tells you how to pronounce the rest of the German consonants.
Identifying a new letter: B
In written German, you come across a letter, ? (estset), which is a combination of the letters s (es) and z
(tset) and is pronounced as a sharp "s." It's considered a single consonant but isn't an additional letter of the alphabet.
The German language used to have quite a few words that were spelled either with "ss" or "?" (the sound is identical) and it was tricky to get the spelling right. German has recently undergone a spelling reform that solved this problem. Here's the scoop:
Switzerland doesn't use the ? at all. Instead, the Swiss always spell words with the double "ss."
Pronouncing combinations of consonants
The German language has a few combinations of consonants that don't occur in the English language. Most of them are easy to pronounce, with the exception of "ch," which is unfamiliar to the English tongue.
The letter combination ch has absolutely no equivalent in English. It's kind of a gargling hiss and is represented by a capital "H" in the phonetic script in this book.
Try to approximate this sound by starting with the way you pronounce the letter "h" in the beginning of the word human and then drawing out and emphasizing the "h." The "ch" sound is produced at the same place in the back of your throat as the "k" sound. But instead of rolling your tongue in the back of your mouth - as you do when you pronounce a "k" - you have to lower it and bring it forward to your front teeth. If you practice it a little, you shouldn't have problems pronouncing the words ich (iH) (I) and vielleicht (fee-lyHt) (perhaps). (Yes, it does sound a bit like your cat when she has a hairball.)
The good news is that there are a couple of words where "ch" is simply pronounced as a "k," for example in Wachs (vaks) (wax) or Lachs (laks) (salmon).