Think the German language is hard to learn? Long German words can be a nightmare to pronounce but the English language is a challenge too, as this poem shows. We have put together a list of some of the words and sounds which Germans struggle with the most when learning English, just to make ourselves feel a bit better about our German pronunciation mishaps.
Just as English speakers struggle to learn how to pronounce the throaty German ‘r’ sound, German native speakers find the English ‘r’ challenging.
It is a soft ‘r’ sound which doesn’t exist in German, so words such as ‘Rural’ with two ‘r’ sounds close together are particularly difficult to pronounce.
Squirrel has become notorious as a word which non-native English speakers can’t pronounce. There’s even a whole reddit thread discussing why Germans squirm in their quest to pronounce the seemingly simply word, and a viral video documenting it.
It seems that the main issue comes again from the English soft ‘r’, but it is perpetuated by the other sounds in the sentence. In German the ‘squ’ combination simply doesn’t exist, so that’s another hurdle to jump over. Often, the result sounds more like ‘squiggle’ than squirrel.
In all fairness, though, the German word for squirrel, ‘Eichhörnchen’, is also pretty difficult for English natives.
Blend v Bland , Met v Mat
German has a short and a long ‘a’ sound. The long is present in words such as klar and Bahn, and the short in words such as Bank and Mann. However, neither of these are perfect for the English short ‘a’ in words such as ‘bland’ and ‘mat’.
The German short ‘a’ is a sound in between the English short ‘e’ and short ‘a’, so often is used to pronounce both English vowel sounds leading to many words, such as ‘met’ and ‘mat’ being indistinguishable.
The ‘zh’ sound in words such as ‘pleasure’ and ‘measure’ is often difficult for native Germans to pronounce.
The result is often a break in the middle of the word which makes it sound more like ‘mease-her’ than the English ‘z’ sound.
In German there is very rarely a consonant that isn’t emphasized, but in English there are lots of instances where we don’t voice consonants.
Often these are at the end of words such as ‘pub’, where in English we slightly swallow the ‘b’ at the end of the word, a native German speaker would often place more of an emphasis on this consonant, and make it sound almost like more of a ‘p’ sound than a ‘b’.
Other examples of this are ‘flowers’, a native English speaker would not voice the s at the end of the word, and ‘run’ where the ‘n’ at the end of the word is swallowed slightly. The opposite of this would be words such as ‘book’, where the ‘k’ is voiced fully.
Tomb, Lamb, Debt
Germans also often struggle with the English silent ‘b’, such as ‘lamb’, ‘debt’ and ‘thumb’. As with the unvoiced consonants, the idea that we have silent letters in English is quite a foreign concept for German native speakers.
One German we spoke to noted how the ‘Tomb Raider’ video game series is particularly popular in Germany, but the word ‘tomb’ is rarely pronounced correctly.
The, That, Then
Trouble with the ‘th’ sound is prominent amongst many non-native English speakers. For Germans, it often becomes a sound more like ‘se’ or ‘z’, or sometimes even a ‘d’; ‘th’ is not a sound that exists in German.
So, when a German native tries to say the phrase ‘something to think about’, it is likely to sound more like ‘somesing to sink about’.