Mastering CH Pronunciation in German

September 5, 2022

Feli from Germany hissing like a cat and German male teacher clearing his throat, demonstrating the two pronunciations of the German CH.

There are two ways to pronounce the CH in German - a soft sound and a guttural sound. The sounds are like this:

CH Sound German English Tip


I Hiss like a cat


also Cough something up
Click Purple Words to Play

The guttural sound is made when CH comes after specific vowels – A, O, U, and the vowel combination AU. After any other vowel or vowel combination, CH makes the soft sound.

Neither pronunciation has an equivalent sound in English. However, with practice, you can learn how to pronounce CH in German.

1. Why is the CH sound in German important?

City houses at night in Nuremberg, Germany.
The CH is one of the most prevalent sounds in German

In fact, the CH combination shows up in more than 10% of the most frequently used words in German. Want to talk about yourself using the words “I” or “me?” You'll need the German CH. Want to wish someone “Good night?” You’ll need the German CH.

The CH is distinctly German

In addition to being frequently used, the CH contributes to the unique sound and feel of the German language. This is because neither CH pronunciation has an equivalent sound in English. So, when you correctly pronounce CH, you are one step closer to sounding like a native German speaker.

2. How do I make the soft CH sound in German?

The soft CH sound is more like a soft k. Open up your airway to let more sound out.

The soft sound is the more common of the two CH pronunciations.

The soft CH is often called the ich sound, as the important word ich contains the soft CH sound. In addition to the word ich, you can hear the soft CH in many important words:

Example In Context
German English German English



Ich bin hier

I am here



Siehst du mich?

Do you see me?



Ich liebe dich

I love you



Es ist nicht hier

It is not here

das Licht

the light

Das Licht ist an

The light is on
There are several ways to practice making the soft CH sound
Woman pretending to hiss like a cat and whisper a giggle, demonstrating practice tips for the soft pronunciation of the German CH.

The soft ich sound does not exist in English, so here are some tips to help you produce this sound. Experiment with each of these tips, and see which one works best for you:

  • Make the sound of a hissing cat
  • Make a giggling sound, and then try whispering it
  • Think of the beginning sound in the English word “human” but exaggerate it

3. How do I make the guttural CH sound in German?

The second CH pronunciation, called the ach sound, is more of a guttural sound. Some people say this sound contributes to the perception of German as a harsh-sounding language, but we think it’s fun to make this sound.

The guttural ach sound is also very important, occurring in many high-frequency words:

Example In Context
German English German English

die Nacht

the night

Gute Nacht

Good night

die Tochter

the daughter

Ich habe eine Tochter

I have a daughter

der Kuchen

the cake

Der Kuchen ist lecker

The cake is delicious



Du auch?

You too?
You can learn to make the guttural CH sound too
Women coughing something up, which is a practice tip for the guttural pronunciation of the German CH.

The guttural ach sound does not exist in English, so here’s a fun tip to help you produce this unique sound

  • Pretend that something is stuck in your throat, and try to cough it up

4. How do I know which CH pronunciation to use?

With a sense of how to make both CH sounds, you are well on your way to mastering this important letter combination.

Now, you may be wondering – When should I try hissing like a cat versus clearing my throat? Well, if that question makes sense to you, then welcome to the club! You must be a true German learner.

To determine which CH pronunciation to go with, follow this general rule of thumb. The guttural ach sound is made following certain vowels in a word. Specifically, when CH comes after the vowels A, O, or U (without umlauts), and also after the vowel combination AU – make the guttural ach sound. When CH comes after any other vowel or vowel combination (and after any consonant except S), go with the soft ich sound.

CH After CH Sound German English
A Guttural


to laugh
O Guttural

die Tochter

the daughter
U Guttural

der Kuchen

the cake
AU Guttural


Other Soft



With practice, you will begin to develop a feel for what sounds right.

5. Can you hear the difference between the two CH sounds?

Guttural Ach Sound Soft Ich Sound
German English German English


to laugh


to smile

die Tochter

the daughter

die Töchter

the daughters

der Kuchen

the cake

die Küche

the kitchen





6. Do any other letters make the same sound as CH?

Yes! Your ability to produce the soft ich sound will help you conquer another letter combination in German.

In standard Northern German pronunciation, when the letters IG occur at the END of a word, they will make the soft ich sound. See if you can hear the soft CH sound at the end of these words:

German English





der Honig

the honey

7. Does CH make any sounds other than the soft and guttural sounds?

Yes! Although the soft ich and guttural ach pronunciations are the most common sounds for CH, you will hear a couple different CH pronunciations in specific cases.

SCH Letter Combination

Remember how we said to make the soft sound for CH after every consonant except S? Here’s why. In the majority of cases, the letters SCH combine to make the “sh” sound as in the English word “sheep.”

See if you can hear the “sh” sound in these SCH words:

German English

die Schule

the school

die Schwester

the sister
Sheep in a meadow, representing the “sh” sound made by the CH in German in certain cases.

CH Loan Words

This “sh” sound for CH will be heard in another situation. Specifically, in loan words (meaning words originally from another language), the CH will generally make the “sh” sound as in the English word “sheep.”

Listen for the “sh” sound in this loan word:

German English

die Chance

the chance

CHS Letter Combination

When CH is used in the letter combination CHS, the three letters combine to make the “x” sound as in the English word “fox.”

See if you can hear the “x” sound in these CHS words:

German English



die Achse

the axis

8. How can I improve my pronunciation of the German CH?

With practice, you can learn to make these distinctive CH sounds which are so important in German.

  1. Listen for the CH used in conversation around you. When you hear the sound, see if you can identify which CH pronunciation was used. Think about why that pronunciation was used in this case. Try to repeat the word out loud (if the setting permits) or silently to yourself.
  2. Keep a list of the CH words you encounter throughout your day. Reserve a set time to work with these words, listening to them and trying to refine the pronunciation.
  3. Get feedback on your pronunciation to improve: Try the interactive Pronunciation Series in Kleo, featuring Feli from Germany and top German experts. In these interactive video lessons, you can receive real-time feedback on your pronunciation and keep working at it until you get it just right.
  4. Practice the CH sound in context: The best way to build muscle memory is by using new sounds in real-life situations. It can be difficult to get this opportunity on a regular basis. Fortunately, some of Kleo’s most popular interactive video lessons prominently feature the CH sound. This is a great way to practice speaking German in context.

9. What are other German sounds that do not exist in English?

Since the two CH pronunciations do not exist in English, working to master these sounds is challenging and rewarding. There are more German sounds that do not have an equivalent in English.

For example, the U umlaut (Ü) makes the sound like you've smelled something unpleasant. Also, the O umlaut (Ö) makes the sound like you're disgusted. Fun, right? You can practice all of these in Kleo's interactive Pronunciation Series.