I’m not going to teach you German for the same reason I’m not going to teach you to knit, or to juggle. I’m not even going to bore you with a week by week pronunciation guide. I would just like to teach you one thing, so if you ever travel to one of the six countries where German is an official language, you can pronounce some placenames without sounding like a dick.
EI and IE
Most English speakers get these mixed up. So let’s sort that out right now:
- IE = “ee”
- EI = “eye”
Is there a trick I can learn to remember that?
There are two tricks: my trick and Jack’s trick.
My trick: DIESEL and HEIGHT
- Every time I see a word with “ie” in it, I think of “diesel”.
- Every time I see a word with “ei” in it, I think of “height”.
Diesel, height, diesel, height, diesel, height, etc.
Jack’s trick: what’s the sound of the SECOND letter?
- Eg, the word has “ie” in it – the second letter is “e” – make that sound.
- The word has “ei” in it – the second letter is “i” – make that sound.
Now let’s put it into practice
To be fair, most English speakers do get the “ei” words right, it’s the “ie” ones they struggle with. We’ll start easy:
I write Bier, you say …? That’s right, “beer”, and that’s what it means in English!
Next… I write Bienen. Take your time. Did you say “beenen”? Well done! And that’s German for “bees”, so it even sounds similar. You are nailing this.
Alright this one’s tricky: Friedhof. Yep, it looks like the English word for what you did to your bacon and eggs, doesn’t it? So be careful: remember, “diesel/height”, or “the sound of the second letter” and … Did you get “Freedhof”? Fantastic! Um, that means “cemetary” by the way, but Germans are totally into burial, and I swear, you drive 5 metres into any German town and THERE IT IS, the sign for the Friedhof.
Would you like some “ei” words? OK, these should be straightforward:
Meister – yep, that’s pronounced “MY-ster”. It means master or champion.
Freitag – “FRY-tag” which means Friday, so again, it even sounds like the English word.
Ok, are you ready for the placenames quiz? Try and pronounce these town names, then scroll down to see the answers below:
- “Leentz” The “z” is spoken as if there is a “t” before it.
- “Linegarten” Too easy.
- “Vy-ler” Yep, the “w” is pronounced like a “v”.
- “Voon-zeedel” That “oon” is not pronounced like “soon”, it’s more like the double-o of “book” or “look”. Think of “wunderbar”! Also, the “s” gets a slight “z” slide on it.
- “Freelingsdorf” Again, easy, huh?
- “Hair-shide” The “er” is said more like “air” than just “er”.
How did you get on? Let me know in the comments.