German Lessons


A look at pronunciation, Part 2

Every once in a while, it's good to check in regarding pronunciation, or die Aussprache. In a previous newsletter, we looked at how vowel sounds may change when they are followed by a double consonant, and also at "ich" and "ach" sounds. Today, let's look at one particularly tough topic: the pronunciation of "s" and "z" in German. Luckily, you can refer to two recently released Yabla videos (linked above and below in the examples) to hear a direct comparison.


Essentially, the German "s" is pronounced either like an English "z" (described in German as a buzzing sound), or an English "s" (described as a hissing sound much like how it is also related to the "ssss" sound a snake makes). Here is the rule:


Am Wortanfang wird das „S“ immer summend ausgesprochen.

At the beginning of a word, the "S" is always pronounced with a buzzing sound.

Caption 2, Aussprache mit Eylin: S und Z - Part 2

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This also applies to any "s" in the middle of a word that is the beginning of a syllable, but not to any "s" at the end of a word: 


Das „S“ am Wortende jedoch wird zischend ausgesprochen.

The "S" at the end of the word, however, is pronounced with a hissing sound.

Captions 17-18, Aussprache mit Eylin: S und Z - Part 2

 Play Caption


The German "z," however, has NEITHER of these sounds, which is often difficult to remember. When a German word begins with "z," your first impulse should be to actually make a "t" sound, not a buzzing sound:


Das deutsche „Z“ wird immer so ausgesprochen: „zzzzzz“.

The German "Z" is always pronounced like this: "tsssss."

Captions 21-22, Aussprache mit Eylin: S und Z - Part 1

 Play Caption


Pronouncing the "z" correctly can be extremely important in order to be understood. Consider how it might affect your communication with a German dentist if you talk about die Sehne ("the tendon") instead of die Zähne ("the teeth")! 

Further Learning
Watch these two videos in their entirety on Yabla German, and practice your "z" and "s" with Eylin. After you do that, here is a short list to test yourself with: die Sahne, die Sehneder Zahn, die Zähne, die Säule, der Zeuge, die Sonne, der Zoo, sinken, das Zink, suchen, and der Zucker. How quickly can you say this list out loud? You can also view Eylin's video on the difference between "s," "ß," and "ss", which discusses the particularities of these three variations of the hissing "s" sound.

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