Have you always wanted to sound like a real native German?
Have you ever struggled with thinking about how to pronounce a word? That's one of the reasons why people have a strong accent – or at least being outed as a foreigner, even if you speak German at a very high level already. If you have trouble making that "r" sound that Germans do all the time, then you're at the right place now, let's shed some light.
Terminal devoicing – what's that?
Terminal devoicing is a term used in linguistics ("Auslautverhärtung" in German). It's a feature that native speakers learn as a child and happens automatically. Also terminal devoicing isn't a characteristic every language has, but for example German and Turkish. That's why English speakers often struggle with the pronunciation of words where this characteristic is happening.
What it means is basically every time you have the consonants "b, d, g" at the end of a word, you speak them like "p, t, k". In case of the consonants "v, s" they are pronounced without the use of voice if they are at the end of a word. To know if your voice is being used when saying something simply touch your larynx while speaking.
der Hund (the dog) sounds like der hunt
der Bus (the bus)
der Wind (the wind) sounds like der wint
der Weg (the way) sounds like der wek
der Dieb (the thief) sounds like der diep
However when a vowel follows the consonants "b, d, g" it's pronounced "softly".
kindisch (childish) kind-isch
Hunde (dogs) Hund-e
Diebe (thiefs) Dieb-e
Tage (days) Tag-e
Talking about the "R"
Whenever you see the letter "r" in a word doesn't mean you actually speak it too. The way people say the "r" in German has changed starting in the beginning of the 20th century. Back then Germans spoke the "r" like the spanish "r". You can still hear it in Austria and small german villages especially in the south of Germany (talking about Bavaria). It's articulated by placing your tongue behind the top front teeth (apical consonant). Nowadays it's become a rare occasion since in standard German it's spoken in the soft palate area and the dorsum (back of your tongue).
It also depends on the position of the "r" in a word. Whenever it's in the beginning of a word/syllable, in front of a vowel or in a consonant connection you speak it like an actual "r".
die Rose (the rose)
brauchen (to need)
die Trauer (grief)
das Brot (the bread)
der Kreis (circle)
tragen (to carry)
It's also important to know when there is a short vowel like "a, ä, o, ö, u, ü, i" in front of an "r", it is recommended to speak it. Though that is not a rule and totally up to the speaker.
Das Dorf (the village) dorf / doaf
örtlich (local) örtlich / öatlich
dürr (drouthy) dürr / düa
der Bart (the beard) bart / baat
die Form (the form) form / foam
What if it's in the end of a word/syllable? If that's the case it's pronounced like a weak "a" like in "about". This also applies to the prefixes "er-, ver-, zer-, her-".
Das Meer (the sea) (sounds like) = mea BUT die Meere (the sea) = meere
die Tür (the door) = tüa BUT die Türen = türen
schwer (heavy) = schwea BUT schwerer = schwera
erledigen (to handle) = ealedigen
herein (in) = herein
verlangen (to demand) = vealangen
zerschneiden (to cut) = tseaschneiden
herbringen (to bring) = heabringen
I can't pronounce the German "R" – HELP!
There are many ways to help you speak the "r". One good way to train it is by gurgling. That's a common thing to do in speech and language therapy. You just just a sip of water, lean your head backwards and gurgle. I'd recommend to do it more frequently than doing a long session (5 times a day for 2 minutes is better than once a day for 10 minutes). If you have mastered gurgling with water the next step would be to gurgle without water. After that you can try to speak the "r" isolated or in syllables. If you're good at speaking syllables with "r" you can try to speak words, sentences and so on. Keep practicing that and your "r" will sound just fine.
ri, ra, rurari, raru, rarorot, Rad, rief
German: Robert lobt lange Ritas liebe Rede.
English: Robert praises Ritas lovely speeches for a long time.
German: Rudi Ratig rudert artig. Artig rudert Rudi Ratig.
English: Rudi Ratig rows dutifully. Rudi Ratig rows dutifully.
German: Rege Redner reden rege Reden bei Regen. Rege Redner bei Regen reden rege Reden. Bei Regen reden rege Redner rege Reden.
English: Active speakers talk a lot in the rain. Active speakers talk a lot in the rain. In the rain active speakers talk a lot.
Another way to try speaking it is by using the "ch" sound like in "Dach, Schach, Loch". If you speak it right it should be a "hard" sound and hurt or atleast get uncomfortable when saying it too often. Keep making the "ch" sound and slowly try to get to the "r" sound. This is a harder way to speak the "r", I'd recommend you to do the gurgling way.
cho, cha, chuchocho, chachachra, chro, chru
Zum Schluss wünsche ich allen Deutschlernern viel Spaß und Erfolg dabei!
Learn how to do the German "R" with Duc!
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