How is “ch” pronounced correctly?

  • I've become interested in learning German again. When I looked up some basic lessons to get myself started, I found this on about.com. If you click on any of those words, you can hear the word said by a German-speaker, to improve your pronunciation. The issue I’m having is that I took German in high school, and I’m noticing a significant difference between how the words are pronounced on this site, and how my German teacher would pronounce similar words. For example, try Grüß dich. The site says dish, just like it would be pronounced in English!

    My teacher had me learn a different way to say the ch. I can’t explain it, but it’s certainly not like sh. It feels like it comes more from the throat.

    Also, you can see on that page that some of the phrases have sch in them. These, my teacher would pronounce just like the English sh, but the site does not differentiate between them.

    Actually, she seemed mildly offended when I incorrectly repeated a word after her that had the ch sound in it. Is this a regional variation? She’s from Austria, if that helps. As a German beginner, which way should I pronounce the words?

    Welcome to GL&U! Good question, I can understand your problem with the audio files. See Milch? Milsh? Why the pronunciation difference? for a related question. (And please don't be so quick in accepting answers - it is recommended to wait at least a day to wait for more answers.)

    As there are already some good answers, I just add a hint I gave to an American friend: "It sounds like an angry cat".

    There are a lot of German dictionaries online with audio facility where you can hear the sound.

    The pronunciation of *Grüß dich* on that site is decent but doesn't sound like a native speaker's. The *r* is rolled in a way that doesn't sound German. The *ü* is ever so slightly off (possibly something about length or intonation). The *i* sounds a bit too schwa- or *e*-like. And the *ch*, while definitely recognisable, has a tendency towards *sch*. (While there are regions in which people pronounce /ç/ like *sch*, once speakers from those regions consciously make the distinction, they do so with a proper /ç/, not with some compromise pronunciation.)

    I agree on everything @HansAdler said. I live in Saxony where "sch" for "ch" is quite common and lived in other parts of Germany before but I never heard a native speaker with even two of these issues at the same time. When I heard that sound file, I immediately imagined an Arabic or maybe Indian woman who lives in Berlin for years/ since childhood.

    As user2183 noticed, it doesn't sound like a native speaker's pronunciaton. I guess the speaker is the author Ingrid Bauer. Quote from the website: "Ingrid Bauer, who is fluent in German, has been teaching and tutoring the German language since 1996. She has a teaching degree and an M.A. in German studies." Also the umlaut "ü" sounds a little like a German "i".

  • Em1

    Em1 Correct answer

    9 years ago

    There are two different pronunciations for "ch" in standard German.

    • /χ/ (as in Bach, wach, lachen)
    • /ç/ (as in ich, Mädchen)

    Your question is about the pronunciation variations of /ç/. While there is just one standard pronunciation, in some dialects, though, the sound is differently spoken. In some regions the "ch" in words like ich, Mädchen, ... is spoken as /ʃ/ (which actually is the sound of "sch" as in waschen, Taschen, ...).

    That is not wrong or unnatural or even funny. As the answer to the related question points out those people aren't able to speak a normal /ç/, even if they try to - at least, it's very hard and needs much concentration.

    I recommend to foreign speakers to pronounce "ch" as /ç/, but remember the alternative /ʃ/.


    I reread your question and now I think that "It feels like it comes more from the throat." means the /χ/-sound. As already mentioned, there are two different pronunciation and you just have to learn when to pronounce the "ch" as either /ç/ or /χ/. (The rule is very simple: Use /χ/ after a, o, u except when "ch" is followed by diminutive -chen WIKIPEDIA)


    Side note (based on the comments): There is a small distinction between /χ/ and /x/. The actual German sound is the former one, but some sources shows the latter to simplify matters.

    Please note that there is a difference between the uvular and the velar unvoiced fricative - you used the symbol for the uvular one /χ/ - but you're actually talking about the velar one in your answer which is represented by /x/. I took the liberty to fix this :)

    @Mac No, I don't.

    @Em1: Do you know _where_ /x/ is used instead? I didn't know of such a thing.

    @HendrikVogt Ne, kann ich nicht. Weil ich gerade feststelle, dass ich meine Quelle falsch gelesen habe. Wenn ich jetzt aber mal der Wikipedia vertrauen darf, ist /χ/ der "ch"-Laut für Wörter wie Bach, etc., aber Wörterbücher verwenden gerne die Darstellung /x/ (weil das Zeichen einfacher zu drucken ist?!).

    @Em1 Auf welchen Wikipedia-Eintrag beziehst Du Dich?

    @Mac Ich hab's auf zwei verschiedenen Wiki-Seiten gesehen. Hier zum Beispiel

    I followed the link to Wikipedia that you provided and I was talking about the /ç/. My teacher would say it in a more "pronounced" way, though, and taught me to say it the way she does. With the information I got from this question, I now know that it's not much different than the 'German' /ç/.

    @Em1 There is less agreement on the realization of the ach-laut than this answer implies - German phonetician Klaus Kohler has argued that both x for Kohler's explanation of the claimed distribution.

    am I the only one around here, who does understand nothing from these symbols?

    @AdInfinitum There are basically two 'symbols' in my answer and they are explained in the first paragraph, provided you know how to pronounce "Bach" and "ich".

    In fact, there's a third way: Think of the words "Charakter" and "Charisma", where "ch" is pronounced as a "k". Not sure how you can fit this in any kind of rule, though...

    @Em1 do not get me wrong. Your answer is answering the question perfectly and I understood what you meant. However, these symbols say me nothing.

    I would add words like "Dachs", "Fuchs" etc. pronunicated like "Dax" or "Fux", plus words like "China" which some pronounce as "Shina" and some as "Kina".

    @gnasher729: The *Dachs* and *Fuchs* pronunciation has already been pointed out two comments above yours.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM

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