Learn the German alphabet (das deutsche alphabet) + 4 extra letters (ä, ö, ü and ß)

If you’re setting your sights on the German language, one of the first and most fundamental steps is to become familiar with the German alphabet.

But don’t worry, if you know English, you’re already on the right track.

This blog post will guide you through the basics of the German alphabet, introduce you to some special letters that make German unique, and share fun facts that will make your learning experience more engaging. Let’s already have a look at how teacher Denisa from Spring German (that’s a project I co-founded) explains ‘das deutsche alphabet’:

Let’s travel into the fascinating world of the German alphabet and set you on a path to fluency!

1. How Many Letters Does the German Alphabet Have?

The German alphabet – at first glance – might look quite similar to the English alphabet.

But there’s a twist – it includes four additional letters!

Effortless Answers

While the basic German alphabet has 26 letters, much like English, the German language enriches this collection with ä, ö, ü, and ß. These extra letters are not only important to proper pronunciation and spelling in German but also to understanding the little nuances that come with fluency.

So, when we consider these special letters, the German alphabet boasts a total of 30 letters.

2. Learn German Alphabet with Pronunciation Chart

To properly pronounce German words and to truly know the German language, it’s absolutely necessary to get to grips with the sounds each letter makes.

The chart below lays out the German alphabet with corresponding phonetic symbols and example words, providing a clear guide to articulating each letter like native German speakers.

German Letters in the German Alphabet

LetterPhonetic SymbolExample Word
A[aː]Apfel (apple)
B[beː]Buch (book)
D[deː]Deutsch (German)
F[ɛf]Fisch (fish)
G[geː]Garten (garden)
H[haː]Haus (house)
I[iː]Insel (island)
J[jɔt]Jahr (year)
K[kaː]Katze (cat)
L[ɛl]Lampe (lamp)
M[ɛm]Maus (mouse)
N[ɛn]Nase (nose)
O[oː]Ozean (ocean)
P[peː]Pferd (horse)
Q[kuː]Qualle (jellyfish)
R[ɛɐ̯]Rose (rose)
S[ʔɛs]Sonne (sun)
U[uː]Uhr (clock)
W[veː]Wasser (water)
Z[t͡sɛt]Zeit (time)
Ä[ɛː]Ähre (ear of grain)
Ö[øː]Öl (oil)
Ü[yː]Über (over)
ß[ʔɛs t͡sɛt]Straße (street)

The phonetic symbols are based on the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) for standard High German pronunciation. The pronunciation can vary in different dialects and regions of the German-speaking world.

3. The Four Extra Letters of the German alphabet (ä, ö, ü and ß)

As we have previously mentioned (and showed in the chart above), the German alphabet includes a few letters that you won’t find in the English alphabet.

These are:

  • ä,
  • ö,
  • ü,

also known as umlauts, and

  • the eszett (ß).

The umlauts ä, ö, and ü evolve from the merging of a vowel and ‘e’ in historical Germanic languages. They affect the pronunciation of the vowel they accompany; for example, ‘ä’ sounds notably different from the plain ‘a’.

The eszett or ß is a ligature that originates from old German handwriting and is equivalent to ‘ss‘ in modern German spelling. It’s also called ‘scharfes S’.

Here’s how you might encounter them in everyday German words compared to their English counterparts.

How Ä in used in German Alphabet

German WordEnglish

How Ö is used in German Alphabet

German WordEnglish
ÖffnenTo open

How Ü is used in German Alphabet

German WordEnglish
ÜberOver / About

How ß (eszett) is used in German Alphabet

German WordEnglish
GroßLarge / Big
SchließenTo close / To shut
MaßMeasure / Measurement

4. Fun Facts About the German Alphabet

Whether it’s the way it’s written, the length of its words, or the consistency in pronunciation, German holds many surprises for the aspiring linguist or curious learner.

german alphabet letters with examples of animals

Each letter in the German language carries its own weight in history and functionality.

The journey through the sounds of the German dialects can be a delightful exploration of linguistic diversity, and the influence of German extends far beyond its own borders.

  • Fraktur Script: The Fraktur script is a type of blackletter or Gothic script that was widely used for printing and writing in Germany and other German-speaking regions from the early 16th century until the mid-20th century. Its name, “Fraktur,” derives from the Latin word “fractura,” indicating a “broken” or “fractured” appearance of its characters. Fraktur has been used primarily for decorative or artistic purposes and to evoke a sense of traditionalism, such as in signage for restaurants, breweries, or in the titles of books that deal with historical topics or German culture.
  • The Longest Word: German is famous for its compound words, and the German alphabet allows for the creation of some of the longest words in the world—some stretching over 40 letters! You can also check out the common German phrases to see if you find a long German word that you like!
  • Pronunciation Matters: Unlike English, the pronunciation of letters in the German alphabet is very consistent. This makes it easier to pronounce words correctly once you’ve mastered the sounds.
  • Dialectical Differences: The pronunciation of the German alphabet can change significantly across different regions and dialects of Germany, making it an exciting challenge for linguists and learners alike.
  • German Influence: The German alphabet and language have heavily influenced other languages, contributing words to English and sharing the use of umlauts with other languages such as Turkish and Hungarian.

5. German Alphabet in Conversation Based Chunking Method

Implementing the Conversation Based Chunking method to learn and practice the German alphabet offers an great way to build your skills. This approach focuses on learning language in chunks or phrases as they are used in actual conversation, rather than isolated words. By hearing and practicing the pronunciation of German within the context of real-life conversations, you’ll not only memorize the letters but also understand how they flow together in everyday speech.

In this method, you will learn chunks, paying attention to the unique sounds of the German alphabet, particularly those of ä, ö, ü, and ß. As you become more accustomed to how German is naturally spoken, you’ll find it easier to recognize and pronounce each letter confidently.

Effortless Summary

• The German alphabet has 26 letters similar to the English alphabet, along with four special ones: ä, ö, ü, and ß, bringing the total to 30.
• Pronunciation in German is more consistent compared to English, aiding in a smoother learning process.
• Familiarize yourself with the sounds of the German alphabet using our pronunciation chart above as a handy reference.
• Engage with the language through the Conversation Based Chunking method to enhance your understanding and use of the German alphabet in everyday communication.

Whether you’re just beginning or seeking to refine your pronunciation, keeping these insights in mind will surely help you on your language learning journey.

So, take the plunge into ‘das Deutsche Alphabet’ and discover the joys of speaking German with precision and confidence!

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