Erste Lektion / First Lesson

I Love Germany — Let Me Count the Ways

Numbers are pretty basic tools for communication, especially for—need I say it—shopping!  But learning them is pretty dry stuff. I've tried to make it more interesting, and a bit easier, by tieing each number in with a concrete idea to make it easier to remember—and to make the pronunciation easier to learn.

The first German numbers are a good double lesson, too because they also contain good illustrations of common pronunciation rules. If you learn to say these numbers, you will know how to pronounce certain letter combinations whenever you encounter them.

Suggestion: get the pronunciation in your ear first, then drill with the numbers, throughout the day. The spelling and the rules will come by absorption as you say the sounds. Use the phrases when you need to break the routine up.


pronunciation help

rules you can count on (always true)

practice phrases
see how many you can guess the meaning of (answers below)

think pines ei = our long I, as in eye ein Glas Wein
tsveye z = ts; w = v Eine Argument hat zwei Seiten.
same as "dry", but the r is gutteral, said in the back of the throat. If you can't master the gutteral r, just roll it softly using the tip of the tongue. drei kleine Schweine
fear ei and ie are easy to misread; each pair is pronounced like the second letter in the pair. vier Glas Bier
To get this sound, first say "ee". Then, without moving your tongue, move your lips forward as if to say "oo". Perfect! the first tough one. This is one of the few vowels that has no corresponding sound in English. It's very common, so be sure to master it early. Eine Hand hat fünf Finger.
zechs ch is like a hard "H". It's exactly the sound between the K and the A in Karl. Say it very slowly and you'll see what I mean.  
zeeben initial s before a vowel is pronounced like a Z sieben Tage der Woche
acht a is like our broad A; but ä is different; we'll get to it later. Gib Acht der Nummer acht.
noin eu = our "oy" Beatles: "Nummer neun, Nummer neun, Nummer neun ..."
tsayn   zehn Minuten
elf   elf Elfe
tsverlf the second tough one: say burn, but hold the sound just before you move the tip of your tongue up to make the r. Ein Jahr hat zwölf Monate.
dry-tsayn   Dreizehn ist unglücklich.
fear-tsayn   Ich habe vierzehn Jahre.

Take heart: knowing just these numbers and the pronunciation rules they illustrate gives you a LOT to build on.

The phrases revealed

1. a glass of wine. As you see in the note to Nummer zwei, the W in Wein is pronounced as a V, so, yes, Wein sounds exactly like the plant the grape grows on.

2. An argument has two sides. This phrase has several other pronunciation lessons, but they'll wait

3. three little pigs. Toners in Lexington know Suzanne calls on the first notes of Eine kleine Nachtmusik, a little night music (or serenade), for the interval between A and D. So you've heard the important word klein. As for Schweine, I promised you cognates, and here's a good one.

4. four glasses of beer. Just playing on the rhyme here.

5. A hand has five fingers. This phrase has a lesson that's too important and too easy to let slip by. ng is never spoken with a hard g. Finger should sound like singer, not like linger.

7. seven days of the week. There's another good example here: Tage sounds like the Indian musical form raga (even if you're not familiar with it, you can guess the pronunciation). There is no soft G in German.

8. Give attention to the number eight. Yes, the same word means two very different things. But don't feel sorry for yourself yet; think of how wicked English is in this respect.

9. If you didn't get this one, please apply for the remedial class.

10. ten minutes. The u is pronounced like English oo in food. The long-u diphthong in English ("you") doesn't exist in German.

11. eleven elves. This example is just to forestall the question, "If the Germans use "elf" for eleven, what do they use for "elf"? It's ein Elf, by the way, zwei Elfe.

12. One year has twelve months. By now, you've seen a few instances of ein or eine being used instead of the word eins. Where we use the articles a or an, or the word one to specify a single something, German uses ein (eine is feminine, but we'll get to that). Eins is just used as the name of the numeral 1.

13. Thirteen is unlucky. Glück is luck.

14. I am fourteen years old. (I have fourteen years.) This construction sounds strange to us, but it's also used in French and other languages.

Please add your comments about this lesson, this page, the Web site, or anything at all you'd like to say (preferably in German!) to me or the rest of the Phamily who stop by here.