When you are starting to learn the German language you can easily get confused by the pronunciation of the letters ch in German, so I wrote this article to clear up all the confusion.
After the letters “i”, “e”, “ä”, “ü”, “ö”, “ei”, “ai”, “eu”, and “äu”, ch will be pronounced like in “ich”. After “a”, “u”, “o”, “au” the pronunciations is close to the word loch from Loch Ness.”sch” will be pronounced like the English “sh”, while “chs” will be pronounced like the letter “x”.
The pronunciation of ch changes depending on the preceding or following letters. Some of the ways to pronounce ch have an equivalent sound in English, but most of them will be pronounced in an unfamiliar way, so that you will have to learn it from scratch.
However, this isn’t a problem, and English speakers usually have no problem reproducing this sound and it will not be as hard as learning how to pronounce the letter R.
The soft pronunciation of ch happens after the letters “i”, “e”, “ä”, “ü”, “ö”, “ei”, “ai”, “eu”, and “äu”. It will also be pronounced like this, after every consonant except for the letter “s”. This is the pronunciation that you will encounter the most, because a lot of the most frequently used German words use it.
At the same time, this is also the most easiest to pronounce. Examples for this are:
For English speakers this sound can be easily reproduced by saying sh and then moving the corners of your mouth back as if you are smiling. It might seem weird to always smile while pronouncing these words but after a little bit of practice, you will be able to make the ch sound without using your mouth that much.
If you cannot reproduce the sound initially, don’t panic, you will be able to get it right after some practice.
After Dark Vowels
The second way that we can pronounce ch is after dark vowels. In German, dark vowels are: “a”, “u”, “o”, “au”. This is the second most frequent pronunciation of ch and it happens after words like:
Kuchen – cake
Buch – book
Bach – Johann Sebastian
Wach – awake
This sound is very close to the sound that you make when you say Loch Ness. There is no equivalent for this sound in the English language but with some practice you will eventually get it right.
SCH And S CH
If there is an “s” preceding the ch, it will be pronounced like the English sh. This is very easy, since you do not need to learn a new sound. Some example words are:
Schuh – shoe
Schenken – to gift
Flasche – bottle
Tasche – pocket
Mensch – human
Of course, as with every rule, there are exceptions, and there is one exception for this one. If the s is at the end of the preceding syllable and the ch starts the new syllable, it will be pronounced like the soft ch.
This usually happens when Germans add the suffix chen, which makes things small and sometimes cute. Some examples for this are:
Höschen – panties
Näschen – small nose
This might seem intimidating since it is quite hard to identify the syllables of a German word, but you do not have to be anxious because this case is the most infrequently used one. You can live in Germany for one year and you will probably not encounter this case at all.
Another special case is, when the ch is followed by an “s”. Germans will pronounce this like they pronounce the letter “x”. This is again very easy because English speakers also know this sound and can therefore easily reproduce it.
Wechseln – to change
Fuchs – Fox
Wachs – Wax
At The Beginning of The Word
As in every language, there are some words in the German language that have been germanized and didn’t belong to the German language in the first place. It is a little bit more difficult to pronounce these, as often there is no clear rule for them. Pronunciation of these words can be germanized, or they are mostly left in their original form.
If the ch is the first letter of the word and followed by “r”, “l”, “a”, or “o” , it will be pronounced
like the English (or German) letter “k”. Some examples for this are:
If however, the ch is followed by the letters “e” or “i” then it will be pronounced like the soft pronounciation.
Even though there are many ways to pronounce the ch in German, all of them are quite easy to learn for English speakers, while some of them sound the same as English letters. Initially, it will take some time, but the more you practice, the better you will get.
I hope that this guide will clear up some of the frustrations that you experienced while trying to pronounce words that contain the letter ch.