In German, the characters ä, ö, and ü (commonly representing the sounds /ɛ/, /ø/, and /ʏ/ ), which are foreign to English, are found, and are called umlaut vowels. It is possible to think of these umlaut vowels as “changed” versions of the un-umlauted original vowels, a, o, and u (commonly representing the sounds /a/, /ɔ/, and /ʊ/). The umlauted vowels are distinguished from the regular vowels mainly by their relative degree of “frontness” in the mouth during pronunciation. Watch the following videos and take careful note of the location of the tongue for each sound, and read the given tips for effective pronunciation. You may find it helpful to practice with these recordings to improve your pronunciation.
1. A and Ä
The German a (/a/) is approximately rendered in English as the “a” in “papa”. The German ä (/ɛ/) is similar to “e” as in “pet”. Compare the pronunciation of a and ä in the German words “lachen” (/laxn/, “to laugh”) and “mädchen” (/mɛtçən/, “girl”).
2. O and Ö
The German o (/ɔ/) is pronounced toward the back of the mouth and approximately rendered in English as the “aw” in “raw”. The German ö (/ø/) is pronounced at the front of the mouth, keeping the same lip-roundedness of o, which is approximated in English as the “ea” in “earn”. Compare the pronunciation of o and ö in the German words “kochen” (/kɔxn/, “to cook”) and “schön” (/ʃøn/, “beautiful, nice”).
3. U and Ü
The German u (/ʊ/) is approximately rendered in English as the “oo” in “book”. The German ü (/ʏ/ ) is pronounced at the front of the mouth, keeping the same lip-roundedness of u, which can be approximated in English as the “i” in “fish”, with rounded lips. Compare the pronunciation of u and ü in the German words “muss” (/mʊs/, “have to, 1st and 3rd person pres. conj.”) and “müssen” (/mʏsn/, “have to, inf.”).
Congratulations! This concludes the module on pronunciation of German umlaut vowels. Feel free to continue your practice with the supplied recordings, or continue to the following module on the German fricative consonants.