5 Tips for Native Ukrainian Speakers

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You are a speaker of Ukrainian and run into certain challenges with the German pronunciation? You are probably not alone. German and Ukrainian are very different when it comes to how sounds are pronounced. But there is a way to systematically learn the foreign sounds with a little bit of practice. Here are 5 tips for native Ukrainian speakers.

by Pauline Reiß

The Ukrainian language is characterized above all by its many voiced consonants. This means that the vocal chords vibrate when the consonants are spoken. Today, it is spoken by an estimated 40 million people, some of whom would also like to learn German. Because of the voiced consonants, it is not uncommon for pronunciation errors to occur, which can make comprehension difficult.

Tip #1: Voiceless consonants!

Ukrainian learners of German have to pay special attention to the pronunciation of devoiced consonants at the end of a syllable, so that Hund ‘dog’ sounds like [hʊnt]* and not like [hʊnd]*. As an exercise, you can simply follow Ukrainian, where the letter t is also pronounced as [t] at the end of the syllable or word, as in ТексT. You only have to remember the rule that in German, the letter d is always pronounced as [t] at the end, the letter b as [p] and the letter g usually as [k]. However, if you forget to do this, it does not matter too much as it does not lead to comprehension problems as often as the pronunciation of vowels.

Tip #2: Vowel length

Vowel length is also a concern for learners with other native language backgrounds. Since the lengthening of a vowel can create a different meaning in German, Ukrainian-speaking learners of German need to pay attention to it. For example, if you want to say that your dog is in the cave, Höhle [hø:lə]* ‘Печера’, it is important not to confuse it with the related German word for hell, Hölle [hœlə]* ‘Пекло’.

Tip #3: The glottal stop before vowels

Additionally, the glottal plosive before vowels causes difficulties. It is a very inconspicuous consonant that is pronounced before vowels in German when no other consonant is present. The vocal folds open quickly once, producing a slight crackling sound. For many, it is barely perceptible, but in words like Spiegelei (fried egg) or Ehrenamt (honorary office), a small pause is made in the form of the glottal stop to distinguish the two words of the compound word: Spiegel-ei and Ehren-amt. If you don’t pronounce it, comprehension problems can arise as well.

Tip #4: Special letter combinations

The different pronunciation of Ring [ʁɪŋ]* ‘ring’ and Bank [baŋk]* ‘bench’ also cause difficulties. As can be seen from the IPA signs, the last letter k is pronounced in Bank. In Ring, however, the last letter g is not pronounced. And the sound before it is not pronounced like an [n] as in наш, but as [ŋ]. If you want to get to know and practice this sound, check out the exercises of sylby!

Tip #5: Sentence melody

A final problem is choosing appropriate sentence intonation, especially in imperative sentences. By choosing the wrong tone, Ukrainian learners of German can be perceived as rude without meaning to be. Fortunately, most German sentence types follow a relatively fixed pattern that can be learned. For example, in decision questions to which one can answer yes or no, the voice goes up at the end of the sentence like in English: You are learning German?

Because German and Ukrainian are very different in some respects, it takes a bit of practice to be understood easily. And sylby helps you with this practice so that you can master everyday German more easily from day to day!

* 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.

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