Pronouncing German Words in English

There's a right way and a wrong way to pronounce "Porsche," for instance

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.

Can you remember when the French automaker Renault still sold cars in North America? (If you're old enough, you may recall Renault's Le Car.) In the early days, Americans pronounced the French name ray-NALT. Just about the time that most of us had learned to say ray-NOH correctly, Renault pulled out of the U.S. market.

Given enough time, Americans usually can learn to pronounce most foreign words correctly—if you don't include maitre d' or hors d'oeuvres. 

Another “silent-e” example is also a brand name: Deutsche Bank.  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 Telekom, Deutsche Bank, Deutsche 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

Most informed 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. 

 

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
Phonetic guides shown are approximate.

English in German
with common German mispronunciation
Wort/NameAussprache
airbag (Luftkissen)air-beck
chatten (to chat)shetten
corned beefkornett beff
live (adj.)lyfe (live=life)
Nikenyke (silent e) or
nee-ka (German vowels)