When studying German, students quickly realize that the German alphabet offers some unique letters. Though many try their success with the “avoidance strategy,” understanding and dealing with the German umlauts “ä”, “ö” and “ü” will make your life easier in the long run. Get to know everything you need to know in this article.

German umlauts

Though you might not be aware, many languages that use the Latin alphabet have unique letters, and German is no exception. During the development of the German language, particular ways of pronouncing the vowels “a,” “o” and “u” evolved. Today, we call them “die Umlaute,” and they characterize by the famous colons above the letters.


What is unique with “ä,” “ö,” and “ü”?

To make it short, there would not be extra letters if there was no need, so it is essential to deal with these umlauts if you want to speak German successfully. How hard it is to get used to these letters and their sound is very individual and mostly depends on which languages you already speak. While English does not know letters with this sound like “ä”,”ö” or “ü”, other languages do, and therefore it will be easier to use and pronounce Umlauts correctly for their speakers. Also, it is essential to differentiate between the vowels “a,” “o,” “u” and the umlauts “ä,” “ö” and “ü” since there are words that only differ in this one letter but mean something different entirely.


For instance:

fallen – fällen = to fall – to fell  

While each of the letters has its name, it is also possible to call them “A-Umlaut”, “O-Umlaut” and “U-Umlaut”. Also, there is a small and capital letter version of the umlauts.  


Recommended study materials on the topic:

    1. Phonetics – exercises, and tips for good pronunciation A1
    2. Phonetics – exercises, and tips for good pronunciation A2
    3. Phonetics – exercises, and tips for good pronunciation B1



Ä = A-Umlaut

If you want to pronounce the “ä” properly, you can think of saying the English “air”. The sound that appears before the “r” is what you want. In addition, you can write “ä” as “ae” respectively “Ä” as “Ae” in case you do not have it on your keyboard. For instance:

  1. Käse
  2. Äpfel
  3. ändern


Ö = O-Umlaut

To pronounce “ö” as you should, you need to form your lips as in “o” first, and again imagine somebody pulling on your lips. We can compare it with when you say “her” in English. The sound between the letters “h” and “r” is the sound you need. A classical example of confusion with “ö” are the words “schon” (already) and “schön” (beautiful). As you can easily see, it might make a difference in your choice. Further examples:

  1. Österreich
  2. östlich
  3. fröhlich

If you do not have the umlaut on your keyboard, you can simply write “oe” or “Oe” instead.  

Ü = U-Umlaut

Last but not least, you should learn how to pronounce the umlaut “ü”. For English speakers, it is the easiest to do it as follows: Try to say “ooh” with your lips pursed. The tip of your tongue needs to touch the lower front teeth from behind (which applies to all umlauts) Further examples:

  1. die Tür
  2. die Führung
  3. für


Mastering German umlauts

I hope that after reading this article, you finally understood how to pronounce the German special letters “ä”, “ö” and “ü”. If you want to know more about pronunciation, check out how to pronounce “ch” in German.   Bis bald!


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