10 English Pronunciation Errors by German Speakers

If your mother tongue is German, you may find certain sounds in English more difficult than others. Here we present to you some of the common errors made by German-speaking students at Pronunciation Studio:

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. The confusion is caused by not opening one’s jaw wide enough and failing to move the tongue to a lower front position:

Pat the pet or he’ll wet the mat.

2. /ɔ:/ and /ɒ/

Because the open-back vowel /ɒ/ does not exist in German, many German speakers of English instead reach for the mid-open vowel /ɔ/. This can lead to confusion between words such as ‘short’ /ʃɔ:t/ and ‘shot’ /ʃɒt/ and ‘nought’ /nɔ:t/ and ‘not’ /nɒt/:

What do you want four coffees for?
/wɒʔ də ju wɒnʔ fɔː kɒfiz fɔː/

3. /əʊ/

German does not use the diphthong /əʊ/ as in ‘so’ or ‘coat’. German speakers of English often replace this sound with a monophthong sound which is closer to the English /ɔ:/. This can cause confusion between words such as ‘coat’ and ‘caught’ and ‘bone’ and ‘born’:

The dog caught the bone on his own.
/ðə dɒg kɔːʔ ðə bəʊn ɒn hɪz əʊn/

4. /ɜ:/

German speakers of English have a tendency to round their lips when making the sound /ɜ:/ as in ‘first’ and ‘word’. To make this sounds, the lips should be relaxed, with the tongue in the centre of the mouth:

Shirley learnt the German word for bird.

5. ‘th’ sounds

Like many languages, the sounds /θ/ and /ð/ do not exist in German. The sound /θ/ as in ‘three’ tends to be replaced with a sound closer to /s/ and the sound /ð/ as in ‘there’ is replaced with a sound closer to /z/:

/θ/ Three, thrice, thirty, third.

6. /v/ and /w/

The sound /w/ is often pronounced as /v/ by German speakers of English. Since the phoneme /w/ does not exist in German, this is a common problem for most German speakers:

Why was Walter Wilson’s wish not welcomed?

7. Voicing

Many English words end in both voiced and voiceless consonants (sounds made by vibrating the vocal cords or sounds with no vibration) such as ‘serve’ /sɜ:v/ and ‘surf’ /sɜ:f/. German speakers of English tend to devoice end consonants which can cause confusion between the following words:

Voiced End consonants: Serve /sɜ:v/, pens /penz/, bag /bæg/, cod /cɒd/, road /rəʊd/
Voiceless End consonants: surf /sɜ:f/, pence /pens/, back /bæk/, cot /cɒt/, wrote /rəʊt/

8. ‘r’

The ‘r’ sound in German is a trill made at the back of the throat, whereas the ‘r’ in English is a very smooth sound, where the tongue does not touch the inside of the mouth. In addition, German speakers should remember that the ‘r’ in English is only pronounced when followed by a vowel:

Recommended retail prices started falling in March.

9 . Weak Forms

German speakers of English tend to put too much stress on words that should be pronounced as weak. In the following sentence only the words ‘planning’, ‘buy’ and ‘flowers’ should be stressed:

Are you planning to buy me some flowers?

10. Pitch

German speakers tend to use a lot of rising patterns, which in English can imply a question, or uncertainty if used in the wrong context. English, by contrast, most commonly uses high falling intonation:

 He said they had a wonderful time.

The content of this article relates to the top ten errors we have come across at Pronunciation Studio. If there is anything you think we should have included, please feel free to comment below.
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By | 2016-04-04T10:59:35+00:00 April 4th, 2016|Accents, International Accents, Pronunciation, Teaching|4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Carmen May 8, 2016 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    I don’t speak German but I found this chapter quite interesting.
    Thank you

  2. Tim November 14, 2016 at 3:08 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this post. It’s helpful, and beautifully formatted.

    I’m an English teacher in Germany, by the way.

    You may want to make clear for readers who may not know that the Pronunciation Studio is in England, and that it is English English pronuncitation you are working with, as oppossed to, say North American English. That might alleviate whatever confusion might arise should a native North American speaker pronounce the r in March, or start, and so on.

    As an aside, I find that many of my German students have trouble with v’s. They often pronounce it as a w. Go figure.

  3. Arthur Kupferschmidt January 8, 2017 at 5:38 pm - Reply

    I have serious problems with the (British) English R. I cannot really pronounce it and whenever I say it, it sounds like a “w”: Thus, ready sounds like weady a. s. o. It wasn’t always like this, I remember that in Fifth and Sixth Standard I could pronounce it properly, but today, I can’t. Since many English speakers have problems understanding me, I entirely switched to pronounce the r in an Italian or Eastern European way, making me sound like Slavoj Zizek very much. Do you have any idea, what to do against it?

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