Counting about 780 languages in total, India is the country with the second highest number of languages according to the People’s Linguistic Survey of India. The country’s 23 official languages also reflect this linguistic diversity. For some time now, Germany has been a popular country for students and young professionals from India. Thus the number of German learners also increased. If you struggle with some sounds of the German pronunciation, here are 5 tips for native Hindi speakers to help you with it.
by Kristin Stöcker
With around 615 million speakers worldwide and its status as one of the official languages of the Indian government, Hindi is one of the most widely spoken languages on the planet. German and Hindi both belong to the Indo-European language family. Thus, some words in German and Hindi have common ancestors and the similarity is seen to some extent even today. In this way, for example, the Hindi word पिता ‘pita’ is related to the German word Vater [fatɐ] ‘पिता/father’, and they both refer to the same person.
Admittedly, the connection may not be immediately apparent without linguistic background knowledge. But it shows us very clearly how much the pronunciation of words from the two languages have changed since they separated several thousand years ago. And indeed, there are major differences in pronunciation that can present great challenges to learners of German.
Tip #1: Umlauts
A difficult topic for many German learners are the umlauts, for example. While the sound [æ], written with the letter ä or e, also exists in Hindi, the sounds [ø] and [œ], both written as the letter ö, as well as the sounds [y] and [ʏ], written as the letter ü, do not occur in the language. For the short ö-sound [œ], there is a detour via English. It is similar to the pronunciation of the letter i in the word girl. The exercises for the umlauts, which you can find in our app, can give you valuable tips for practicing. For example, if the ü sound is particularly difficult for you, take a look at our sylby lesson “Züge nach Rügen”.
Tip #2: Attention with consonants
There are also major phonetic differences between German and Hindi when it comes to consonants. Hindi knows significantly more consonants than German. For example, it distinguishes between aspirated and unaspirated consonants, as in भ (bha) and ब (ba). In German, however, it does not change the meaning of a word if a consonant is pronounced aspirated or unaspirated. However, there is a risk that an aspirated b-sound will be perceived by Germans as a p-sound. This in turn can lead to misunderstandings and confusion in word pairs such as Paar [pa:] ‘जोडा/pair’ and bar [ba:] ‘नकद/paying by cash’, which differ only by this sound.
The German d-sound is also difficult for many Hindi speakers because the tongue is located further back than in German. When pronouncing the German d-sound, try to touch your teeth from behind with the tip of your tongue. Try to consciously feel where exactly you place your tongue.
Tip #3: Final devoicing
A phonetic peculiarity of German is ‘final devoicing’ which does not exist in Hindi as well as in numerous other languages. Final devoicing means that a consonant at the end of a word or syllable is always pronounced voiceless. So the words Rad ‘पहिया/wheel’ and Rat ‘सलाह/advice’ differ only in their spelling; pronounced, they both sound like Rat [ʁɑ:t]. It certainly takes a bit of practice to get used to this peculiarity of German, but with a little help from sylby you’ll learn it in no time. The lesson “Im Park” will help you with this.
Tip #4: Different kinds of R
Another sound that challenges many Hindi speakers is the German r-sound [ʁ] – and they are by no means alone among learners of German. r-sounds in Hindi are often pronounced with the tongue rolled backwards. The German [ʁ] is usually a fricative sound formed with the tongue lying flat and pointing forward.
The good news is that whether you roll your r-sound or not, and no matter in which direction your tongue points, it makes no difference to the meaning of a word. On the contrary, hardly any sound is articulated as differently in German-speaking countries as the r-sound. While it is almost standard in the south, a rolled [r] is rarely heard in the northern parts of Germany. You’ll find more details on the r sound in the lesson “Seriales Lernen” in the sylby app.
Tip #5: Ich and Ach
Exactly such a fricative sound is also the well-known ch-sound [ç] as in the word ich [ɪç] ‘मैं/I‘. If you’re having trouble with this sound, you’re certainly not alone. Fortunately, we have something for you: In the sylby app, you’ll find several lessons on this sound, some of which are even available in the free version. So why don’t you give the lessons “Ich bin neu” or “Mamas Wunsch” a try!
We hope you enjoyed these 5 tips for native Hindi speakers and can use them to improve your German pronunciation.
* In this article we use IPA-symbols. These are the symbols you also find in a dictionary that indicate how a word is pronounced. If you want to know more about it please read our article here or visit the International Phonetic Association.