Learning how to do a German accent means you’ll have to learn how to break the hard-wired habit of your throat muscles, tongue, and jaws to set out sounds that belong to your mother tongue. Some of the rules of pronouncing certain letters in German are quite different compared to the English language so it will take some time and practice to learn how to do a German accent the right way. These tips will help you to develop fluent German language accent skills.
Pronounce the “w” as “v”
In the German language, fricatives play an important role. If you’re not quite sure what the word fricative means, it refers to all sounds that are produced from the lip shape that produces the letters “v” and “f” in the English language.
When pronouncing these letters, you’re pushing air through a contracted space, which creates a friction sound. This sound is common in German, so if you want to make sure to pronounce German words the German way, you should start pronouncing the “w” like “v”.
When doing a German accent, forget your usual round-lip-pronounced “w” and use a soft v instead (let your front teeth touch your lower lip and start pronouncing the word from there”)
For example, when a German speaker says “BMW”, it sounds like “be-em-ve”, instead of “bee-em-double-u”.
Since in German, there isn’t a “w” sound that would sound like the English “w” (for example in the word “war”), you should simply make the “w” sound like a simple “v” that you would use, for example, when pronouncing the word “Vienna”.
Pronounce “wh” just as “v”
The same rule applies for words with “wh”. In German, “wh” is pronounced just as “v”.
For example, if you would pronounce the word what and make it sound German, the way it should sound is “vot”, instead of “whot”.
Flatten voiced “the” to “z”
Since the voiced “th” doesn’t exist in German, one of the biggest challenges for native Germans is to learn how to position their tongue back of the upper teeth in order to pronounce “th” in English.
This is why “the” pronounced with a German accent would sound like “z”.
Example: The word “this” would be pronounced “zis”, while the word “that” would be pronounced “zat”.
Flatten unvoiced “th” to “s”
This is another important rule you should keep in mind when doing a German accent. If you’d want to make the word “though” sound closer to the German language, you should say “sought”.
Another example would be for the word “thing”. The German way of pronouncing it would be “sing”.
Use “f” instead of “v”
When pronouncing words with a “v”, they should sound like an “f”.
Here’s an example that can help you understand the rule – “very” should sound like “fery”, and the word “oven” should sound like “ofen”.
Pay special attention to words that start with “sp” and “st”
Words that start with “sp” become “shp”, while the words starting with “st” become “sth”.
Here’s an example for both cases:
“Spot” should be pronounced “shpot”
“Stay” should sound like “shstay”.
Change gerunds to “ink”
In English, gerunds are forms of verbs that end with “ing”. If you’re trying to master your German accent, you should change the sound of each gerund and make it sound like “ink”.
In this case, “going” becomes “goink”, and searching becomes “searchink”.
Start hardening your consonants
Another interesting thing in German pronunciation is that whenever there is a “soft” consonant at the end of a word (such as b,d, g), they are pronounced as their “harder” sounding brothers “p, t, g”.
Let’s take a look at a few sentences where this rule would be applied:
“My head feels heavy, but I will still meet you at the pub.”
This is how it would sound with a German accent:
“My hett feels heavy, but I will still meet you at the pup:
This rule often causes funny misunderstandings, since when this rule is applied, some of the words completely change their meaning (rib – rip, or kid-kit).
Learn how to pronounce “r” the German way
The German “r” is pronounced in a way many language teachers like to call the French “r”. It’s another fricative sound that comes from the throat areas and sounds like a very gentle throat clearing.
This could be quite challenging since you should never pronounce “r” as you would in English. And this usually takes some time and practice.
Extra tip: If you want to learn how to produce the sound correctly, try gargling without water. This is how the r should sound like – just like you have gargled every “r” in your throat.
Learn how to pronounce “h” the German way
Just like when pronouncing the letter “r” with a German accent, the letter “h” should also be gargled in your throat. If you’re a visual type, the German “h” is similar to the sound you’d make when gathering spit in your mouth (it’s happening in the back of your throat).
Pronounce the short “i” like an “e”
When speaking in a German accent, you should enunciate the short “i” from higher up, also from the back of your mouth. The intonation should be a bit more nasal than it would be in English.
For example, the word “winter” has a short “i” and it would be pronounced as “veenter”.
Pronounce the double “oo” like “u”
Words that contain the double “oo”, like the word “book” should sound like a slightly nasal “u”. It is pronounced from deep in the throat and the easiest way to make the words with double “oo” sound German is to keep your mouth closed tight, so you would get the nasal sound.
In this way, the word “wood” would sound like “vud”, while the word “book” would be pronounced “buk”,
Make your “dg” sound like a “ch”
When pronounced in English, the letters “dg” sounds like a low “j” sound created from the back of the mouth.
When doing a German accent, the sound should be pushed forward and up in the mouth (your tongue should be placed against the roof of your mouth). This should create a sound similar to the English “ch” sound.
For example, the word “judge” should sound like “chudge” when pronounced with a German accent.
When it comes to learning how to do a German accent, listening to native speakers is very important. Compared to English, German sounds harsher, so you will need to unlearn some of your usual speaking and pronunciation habits to sound more German.
For the purpose of improving your accent, listen to native content as often as possible. Whether it is a podcast, movie, or short clips you can find on the internet, it will help you train your brain to recognize the typical pronunciation of German words. It will help you to distinct sound units of a language, giving you an overall familiarity with the German language. Another thing that you should pay close attention to is practising getting vowel sounds correct. This will help you improve your accent tremendously. It’s a great way of learning how to distinguish your native accent from a German accent.
Don’t get hung up on a dialect
When listening, be careful what type of German content you’re listening to. Since German has all kinds of dialects that sound quite different, you want to stick to the standard German dialect (so-called “Hoch Deutsch”).
It’s important to try to make your words sound like they would be pronounced when using standard German dialect because some of the dialects don’t use some of the most common characteristics of the language. For example, in some parts of Germany, the throaty “r” that is typical for the German language is pronounced similar to the Spanish “r” instead of the French “r”.
In case you want to sound truly authentic, don’t get hung up on different dialects and stick to the standard German dialect. This will make you sound like a native speaker and won’t cause any confusion when trying to learn how to do a German accent the right way.
Don’t forget prosody
Prosody is the rhythm and pitch of a language at the sentence or phrase level. The way tones vary over a sentence is very particular to every language, so the best way to master prosody is to listen to as much of different content spoken in German as possible. This will help you recognize if you’re sounding German when trying to do a German accent.
Last but not least, keep recording yourself so you could see what parts of your German accent need improvement. Recording yourself will help you get an objective picture of your word pronunciation and will make it much more convenient for you to work on your accent.
Another recommendation is to record video, instead of audio. It’s a great method to follow your mouth mimics while pronouncing certain letters and words. This will definitely help you when it comes to making your accent sound authentically German.