How to Pronounce German Words in English

Is it "Porsh" or 'Por-shuh?'

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By some standards, many English-speakers, even highly educated ones, mispronounce certain borrowed German words in English. Examples include scientific terms (NeanderthalLoess), brand names (AdidasDeutsche BankPorscheBraun) and names in the news (Angela MerkelJörg Haider). 

But Americans often do quite well with the many other German words commonly used in English. Even if they don't know exactly what it means, Americans pronounce Gesundheit (health) with a high degree of accuracy.

Other German words in wide use and pronounced fairly well by English-speakers include:

  • Kindergarten
  • Poltergeist
  • Strudel
  • Dachshund
  • kaputt
  • Schadenfreude
  • verboten
  • Ersatz
  • Rottweiler
  • Gestalt
  • Lufthansa
  • Weltanschauung
  • Angst
  • Fahrenheit
  • Volkswagen
  • Frankfurter
  • Zeppelin
  • Leitmotiv
  • Rucksack
  • Fahrvergnügen

German names of personalities such as Steffi Graf and Henry Kissinger roll right off American tongues. They can say Marlene Dietrich (usually) or Sigmund Freud just fine, but for some reason, U.S. TV newscasters never could get former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder's last name right. (Maybe it's the influence of the "Peanuts" character of the same name?) Most announcers have now learned to pronounce Angela Merkel's name with the correct hard-g pronunciation: [AHNG-uh-luh MERK-el] 

What Is the Correct Pronunciation of Porsche?

While the “proper” way to pronounce some German terms in English may be debatable, this isn't one of them.

Porsche is a family name, and the family members pronounce their surname PORSH-uh, not PORSH! Same for the car.

Another common example of a word with a “silent-e” also happens to be a brand name: Deutsche Bank. Listening to the financial news from CNN, MSNBC or other TV news channels often brings out the fact that news announcers really should study foreign languages.

Some of those talking heads get it right, but it almost hurts when they say “DOYTSH Bank” with a silent e. It could be a carryover from the now entrenched mispronunciation of Germany's former currency, the Deutsche Mark (DM). Even educated English-speakers may say “DOYTSH mark,” dropping the e. With the arrival of the euro and the demise of the DM, German company or media names with “Deutsche” in them have become the new mispronunciation target: Deutsche TelekomDeutsche BankDeutsche Bahn, or Deutsche Welle. At least most people get the German “eu” (OY) sound right, but sometimes that gets mangled as well.

Neanderthal or Neandertal

Now, what about the term Neanderthal? Most people prefer the more German-like pronunciation nay-ander-TALL. That's because Neanderthal is a German word and German does not have the th sound of English “the.” The Neandertal (the alternate English or German spelling) is a valley (Tal) named for a German by the name of Neumann (new man). The Greek form of his name is Neander. The fossilized bones of Neandertal man (homo neanderthalensis is the official Latin name) were found in the Neander Valley. Whether you spell it with a t or th, the better pronunciation is nay-ander-TALL without the th sound.

 

German Brand Names

On the other hand, for many German brand names (Adidas, Braun, Bayer, etc.), the English or American pronunciation has become the accepted way to refer to the company or its products. In German, Braun is pronounced like the English word brown (same for Eva Braun, by the way), not BRAWN, but you'll probably just cause confusion if you insist on the German way of saying Braun, Adidas (AH-dee-dass, emphasis on the first syllable) or Bayer (BYE-er). 

The same goes for Dr. Seuss, whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991). Geisel was born in Massachusetts to German immigrants, and he pronounced his German name SOYCE. But now everyone in the English-speaking world pronounces the author's name to rhyme with goose. Sometimes you just have to be practical when you're outnumbered.

Frequently Mispronounced Terms
GERMAN in ENGLISH
with correct phonetic pronunciation
Word/NamePronunciation
AdidasAH-dee-dass
Bayerbye-er
Braun
Eva Braun
brown
(not 'brawn')
Dr. Seuss
(Theodor Seuss Geisel)
soyce
Goethe
German author, poet
GER-ta ('er' as in fern)
and all oe-words
Hofbräuhaus
in Munich
HOFE-broy-house
Loess/Löss (geology)
fine-grained loam soil
lerss ('er' as in fern)
Neanderthal
Neandertal
nay-ander-tall
PorschePORSH-uh