8 German Words You’ll Struggle To Pronounce (If You’re Not German)

We chose the most difficult German words we could find and asked people learning German to pronounce them. Here’s what happened, with pronunciation tips below.
October 14, 2015

The German language has a reputation for being hard to pronounce, but, to be fair, it’s somewhat undeserved. It might sound strange at first, but German has very consistent rules of spelling and pronunciation. The video above shows people struggling with some complex words; the tips below will help you avoid making the same mistakes as you learn German.

Brötchen: bread roll

r – Move your tongue further to the back of your throat, and make a sound as if you are gargling water (or you’re Homer Simpson thinking about donuts).

ö – Pronounce a “u” as in “turn”, but tightly round your lips while doing so, or try to pronounce an “e” like in “feel”, but shape your mouth like you’re saying “o”.

ch – Make a soft “hissing cat” sound by raising your tongue to the back of your mouth and smiling while you exhale.

Rührei: scrambled eggs

The second r should almost not be pronounced, like in British English.

ü – To produce the ü, say “ee” as in “see” and then tightly round your lips while doing so.

Schleswig Holstein: a federal state in the very north of Germany

sch – “sh”

st – “sht” like in the Yiddish word “shtick”

Longcompoundwordsarenotthatscary

The main tip for the following words is to break up each one into its component parts. German words look very scary because we write them all together, but they’re pronounced just like compound words in other languages.

E.g. Waschmaschine breaks down into Wasch and maschine which you can probably guess means “washing machine”. Even though the words are smooshed together, you’re still pronouncing separate syllables.

Eichhörnchen – squirrel

breakdown: Eich + hörn-chen

Quietscheentchen – rubber ducky

breakdown: Quietsche + ent-chen

qu = “kv”

Schlittschuhlaufen: ice skating

breakdown: Schlitt + schuh + laufen

Fünfhundertfünfundfünfzig: five hundred fifty-five

breakdown: Fünf + hundert + fünf + und + fünfzig

z – makes a ts sound, like the sound of the drop of water on a hot stove, or when you open a bottle of carbonated water

Streichholzschächtelchen: little match box

breakdown: Streich + holz + schächtel-chen

ä – “ai” in air or “a” in “late”

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Katrin Sperling
Katrin (Kat) Sperling was born and raised in Potsdam, Germany and moved to Toronto, Canada after high school. Since her Hogwarts letter still hadn't arrived by her 20th birthday in 2011, she finally had to face reality and went to study English and German linguistics in Berlin. Luckily, linguistics turned out to be just as magical, and Kat is now very happy to write about learning languages for the Babbel Magazine.
Katrin (Kat) Sperling was born and raised in Potsdam, Germany and moved to Toronto, Canada after high school. Since her Hogwarts letter still hadn't arrived by her 20th birthday in 2011, she finally had to face reality and went to study English and German linguistics in Berlin. Luckily, linguistics turned out to be just as magical, and Kat is now very happy to write about learning languages for the Babbel Magazine.

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