After teaching in Germany for the last three years, you start to notice the same mistakes being made over and over again. Here, I list six pronunciation mistakes. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below.
1. /e/ and /æ/
Some German speakers of English confuse the sounds /e/ and /æ/ which can cause words like ‘pet’ and ‘pat’ and ‘met’ and ‘mat’ to sound almost the same. Say the following sentence:
Pat the pet or he’ll wet the mat.
The /e/ sound is produced in a more neutral mouth position. Whereas the /æ/ sound is made by stretching your lips out and lowering your tongue.
2. ‘th’ sounds
The sounds /θ/ and /ð/ do not exist in German. The sound /θ/, which is unvoiced (no vibration in the throat), tends to be replaced with a sound closer to /s/. The sound /ð/, which is voiced (you feel a vibration in your throat), is replaced with a sound closer to /z/.
In order to produce these two sounds, the tip of the tongue should be placed behind the top front teeth. The friction occurs between the tip of the tongue and the top front teeth.
Record yourself saying the following words:
- /ð/ This, that, these and those.
- /θ/ Three, thrice, thirty, third.
If /θ/ or /ð/ sound like an /s/ or /z/, then you need to practice some more.
3. /v/ and /w/
The sound /w/ is often pronounced as /v/ by German speakers of English. This is most likely due to the fact that the letter w in German sounds like the English letter v. If your lower lip touches your upper teeth and your lips are closed instead of rounded, then you’re doing the German w. In order to pronounce /w/ correctly, shape your lips as if you were trying to give a kiss, raise the back of your tongue a bit near the roof of your mouth and voice out.
Try this tongue twister that includes the two sounds: Wild vines make fine vintage wines.
Many English words end in both voiced and voiceless consonants (sounds made by vibrating the vocal cords or sounds with no vibration). German speakers of English tend to devoice end consonants which can cause confusion between the following words:
- Voiced end consonants: Serve /sɜ:v/, bag /bæg/, cod /cɒd/, road /rəʊd/
- Unvoiced end consonants: surf /sɜ:f/, back /bæk/, cot /cɒt/, wrote /rəʊt/
This is one of the most difficult mistakes to correct. It requires a lot of practice. To correct your pronunciation, I recommend that you over-exaggerate the final sound at the end of a voiced consonant word. For example, accentuate the /v/ sound at the end of the word ‘serve’. Once you feel confident with that sound, try the next word ‘bag’. Say that final /g/ sound nice and loud.
Note: You can learn all about voiced and unvoiced consonants in my pronunciation course.
The ‘r’ sound in German is a trill made at the back of the throat. It was definitely the most difficult sound for me to learn when I started learning German. Whereas the ‘r’ in English is a smooth sound, where the tongue does not touch the inside of the mouth. Say the following sentence:
Recommended retail prices started falling in March.
Remember, the tip of the tongue never touches the tooth ridge during this sound.
6. Mispronouncing /oʊ/
Many German speakers of English have problems with the dipthong /oʊ/. A dipthong is a sound formed by the combination of two vowels in a single syllable, in which the sound begins as one vowel and moves toward another. This sound doesn’t exist in the German language. So German speakers tend to use the closest familiar sound from their language – in this case the /oh/ sound. For example: instead of own /oʊn/ they would say oo-n.
Test yourself! Say own, over and older. Is the first sound a single sound /oh/ sound or /oh/ becoming /uh/?
If you want to produce a clear /oʊ/ sound – start with the /oh/ sound but don’t stop there. Instead gradually and continuously switch to the sound /ʊ/. And there you have it!
Are there other English sounds that you struggle to pronounce? Leave a comment below with your answer.