CH

The CH combination gets heavy rotation in German. It might be why German has a reputation among foreign speakers for sounding “harsher” than other languages — though this foreign speaker does not share that impression.

Maybe a closer look will help smooth over the rough edges.

Like ‘k’ as in Cham or Chiemsee

  • Chlor
  • Cholera
  • Cholesterin
  • Chor
  • Christ
  • chronologisch
  • Orchester

If you live in the regions near Cham or Chiemsee, you are likely to hear local natives also say Chemie and China (and all the derivations) as if they were spelled with an initial ‘k.’

Like ‘sch’ as in those eingedeutschten French imports

  • Chance
  • Chef

Like ‘tsch’ as in “Cheeceburger”1

Not to be confused with ‘j’ as in ‘Joyce.’ (a boss of mine once thought the word for Wahl was “joice,” which underscored his (and the typical) failure to voice the ‘j’ consonant in English.

All these appear to be import words.

  • Checkliste
  • Chile
  • Chili
  • Chipsatz

Like ‘ch’ as in your old dial-up modem


Does this exist word-initially in German? We don’t think so (prove us wrong in the comments, please!). Yiddish, on the other hand — now that is a language with some chutzpah. Remember that sound2; we’ll sneak it in the backdoor of other syllables.

Like ‘ch’ as in ‘this food is too hot to eat’3

This sound might be the hardest one for non-natives to emulate. We can’t think of a “real” occurrence of this sound in English — can you? But rest assured: you can make this sound. For example, when that pizza comes out of the oven and it smells so wonderful that you pop in a bite in, and burn the hell out of the inside of your mouth. If you don’t have a cool beverage to slow the melting of your hard palate, you suck air in over it. Do that in reverse, and you have mastered this form of the German ‘ch.’

  • Chemie
  • Chile
  • China
  • Chirurg

I’ve never heard a native pronunication of the South American country as anything but “tschi-le,” but dwds.de claims it’s so.4

What about when not word- or consonant-initial?

  • following ‘softening’ vowels
    • ä: Gespräch, Schwäche, Fläche, mächtig5
    • e: Blech, sechzehn, sechzig6, sprechen, Verbrechen
    • i: Kichererbsen
    • ö: Löcher
    • ü: Bücher, Gerüche
    • y: Psychologie, Strychnin
  • following ‘hardening’ vowels
    • a: ach!, Macht
    • o: Loch
    • u: Buch, Tagesanbruch, Geruch, Bucht
  • as a syllable-separator, the CHS combination is treated like an ‘X’ after both ‘hardening’ and ‘softening’ vowels:
    • die Achse, die Achsel
    • der Ochse
    • das Wachs, das Wachstum
    • wechseln
    • wichsen7

Note how the ‘ch’ pronunciation changes on some nouns along with their vowel shifts from singular to plural!

What CH-permutations stump you in German, and how have you risen to the challenge?

  1. Can you really blame them for being confused about when to vocalize those sibilants? Sure you can. []
  2. or a less moisture-laden version of it []
  3. a.k.a., “pissy kittycat” []
  4. Übrigens: their pronunciation audio quality is the best we’ve heard so far among online multimedia German language sites. Most others make it difficult to distinguish consonants — great job DWDS! []
  5. Ooh, twice in one word, in some pronunciations of -ig anyways. []
  6. Ibid. []
  7. It means ‘to polish.’ Filthy. []

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *