Loan Words in German

There are a growing number of foreign words in German, and they sometimes break the pronunciation rules in the previous two sections. Most of them are from English or French – but even if you know the correct French or English pronunciation, that doesn’t tell you whether German will adapt it entirely or convert it to a more German pronunciation.

However, once you have a sense of how native German words sound, you’ll start to get a good feel for it. Generally if there’s a way to pronounce the foreign word according to the German rules above, that’s what happens. The words that keep the foreign pronunciation are usually ones like “das Baby” or “das Croissant,” with letters (like the terminal “y” or the “oi”) that wouldn’t have any clear pronunciation in German. To be sure, there are exceptions, but it’s a good general rule. There are also some words that fall in between – for example, die Creme (cream) is pronounced with a long German e in the middle rather than the short è in French, but many speakers leave the second e silent as in French, rather than pronouncing it as you would in German.

Also, remember that loan words often narrow their meanings. For example, we use angst with a more specific meaning than it has in German and entourage or milieu with a narrower connotation than they have in French. A sombrero is a more specific style of hat in the US than in Mexico, and a taco is a more specific dish. Similarly, in German, das Notebook refers only to a laptop computer, not to a paper notebook, and der Star is a celebrity, not a star in the sky. There are also a few English words in German that are purely German coinages, like das Handy for a cell phone, der Beamer for a video projector, and der Oldtimer for a vintage car.