Three Words You Can’t Pronounce in German
So here’s the thing: I’m an American who has lived in Berlin for over twenty years and I also speak fluent German (no, this is not a given). However, after all this time, I still have a fat American accent.
Although admittedly this does at least partly have to do with laziness (pronunciation drills are not really fun, believe it or not…), it’s also by choice. I’ve lived her forever and am now even a dual US-German citizen, but I still will never stop being an American. Where I grew up is a huge part of who I am–why hide it by actively trying to erase my accent?
Still, having an accent is sometimes annoying. Since a lot of English speakers in Berlin speak little to no German (you really can get away with never learning the language here, although personally I think it’s really a shame if you don’t), when Germans hear my accent they often start talking to me in English. This irks me deeply as it is obvious that I speak the language fluently. Usually I just answer them back in German and sometimes they get the drift, but often they don’t.
An American friend of mine (who has much less of an accent than I do, btw.) has confronted Germans about this. “Do you know how disrespectful you’re being?” she’s said in shops. “I clearly speak German, so please don’t talk to me in English.” The shopkeepers, etc. are always shocked when she says this. “We have so many English speakers who don’t speak German, we just assumed.”
Yeah, well, that’s also partly because you talk to them in English even when they’re talking to you in German. I’m glad I came to Berlin in a time when you had to learn the language to get by. Now I think it would be super hard to learn even if you really wanted to for this very reason.
But I digress. You’re probably here to find out about words that are hard to pronounce, not read my little backstory/tirade, so let’s move on to the topic of the day: Germans words that are hard to say.
These three little words are especially tough for native English speakers, but my guess is they are challenging for many other L1s as well.
Yep, this first word is an animal word. Häschen is the diminutive form of rabbit, so it would translate as ‘little bunny’, or ‘cute little bunny’ if you made it a double pronunciation whammy and turned it into süßes Häschen.
Häschen is hard to pronounce because it has the umlaut (two little dots) and a -chen right after. I know it’s hard to pronounce because my family likes to laugh at me when I say it. “Say Häschen, mama, say Häschen, please!” my two (native speaking German) daughters say, and giggle when I do.
My (German) husband then tells the same dad joke every time, which is, “Not all rabbits come from Haiti!”, because my (incorrect) pronunciation always sounds like ‘Haitian’.
“Ha ha, very funny I say,” and then start to get annoyed. This of course was their goal in the first place, so mission accomplished.
Oh, the German R, it really is a challenge, and you’ve got an umlaut here to boot. Röhre means pipe (like the kind above, not the smoking kind) or tube, and it’s a killer for English speakers.
Granted, we have out revenge because Germans really struggle with the English (particularly American English) R. The German R is said in the back of the mouth and the English (again, especially American English) R is said in the front. All well and good, as far as intellectual understanding goes, but trying to convince your mouth and tongue to do the switch–that’s no easy task, I’m telling you most definitely from experience!
It gets really humid in Berlin and even more humid in other parts of Germany, so you’re going to be complaining about this aspect of the weather and if you don’t work on pronouncing the umlaut right, you’re going to go around saying things like, “God, the weather’s so gay today!” or “What a hot and gay day!”
Of course, you might very well mean to say this as Pride takes place in the summer, but it’s still a good idea to be sure if that’s not what you mean. ;)
To end this post, I give you the following spontaneous tongue twister: Siegfried spricht schwedisch in einer süßen, schwülen Schwulenbar in Schwerin (Siegfried is speaking Swedish in a cute, humid gay bar in Schwerin).