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How to pronounce "ch" words in German

Feb 16, 2021, 14:07 PM by Robin
Learn the different ways Germans pronounce "ch" words with audio examples.

The sound "ch" makes in German is one of those that is difficult to produce for an English speaker, because it doesn't naturally occur in English. Here are a few pointers to help you figure out how to pronounce "ch" words. 

1. Soft-"ch" after: i, e, ä, ü, ö, ei, ai, eu, äu

When "ch" appears after these letters, it will be pronounced "softly" (with your tongue pressed against your pallet a bit, and the sound coming from the front of your mouth)

ich (I), rechts (right), lächeln (smile), Tücher (cloths), Löcher (holes), reich (rich), Laich (spawn), euch (you-plural) geräuchert (smoked)

After consonants other than "s" and "ch", as well as in the diminutive suffix "-chen", the  "ch" is also "soft:

Milch (milk), Kirche (church) durch (through), Kindchen (the little child), Mädchen (girl)



2. Hard-"ch: after: a, o, u, au

When "ch" appears after these letters, the sound comes from the very back of your mouth with an "open" tongue (don't press it against your pallet). 

Bach (stream/creek), Docht (wick), Tuch (cloth -> notice that the plural is with "ü", so the "ch" is soft), tauchen (dive). 


3. "sh"-sound when "s" comes before "ch" (sch). 

"sch" is pronounced like the English "sh" sound, but careful, there are exceptions: When the letter combination "sch" appears because the "s" is the end of a syllable, and "ch" as the beginning of the next syllable, which is often the case when we use the diminutive suffix "chen" then the "ch" is soft: e.g. "Tässchen" (the little cup): "Täss" is the first syllable derived from "Tasse", and "chen" is the diminutive suffix. 

Mensch (human), Tasche (bag), Schach (chess -> notice the hard-ch sound at the end, because it is preceded by "a")


4. "X"-sound when "s" comes after "ch" (chs):

When "s" follows "ch", unless "chs" is part of two syllables (e.g. "das weichste" - 'weich' + 'ste"), then it takes the "ch" makes a "k" sound. (or an "x" sound together with the "s")

Fuchs (fox), Dachs (badger), Wachstum (growth)

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