German mixed vowels: How to master “Ö”

4. February 2021
German mixed vowels: How to master Ö

Easy instructions, excercises and audio examples for singers to master the German mixed vowel or Umlaut Ö with ease!

The German mixed vowels or “Umlaute” Ö and Ü sometimes cause confusion with non-native singers and they are often mispronounced or ignored and treated as O and U. Some even say that German Umlaute are impossible to articulate correctly for non-German singers. Which is not true!

I have been asked to write a summary on this topic and after the first part on the German Ü, here comes the second part.

We will clarify what mixed vowels are and then have a closer look at the closed and the open Ö.

You will get instructions on how to produce a beautiful, correct Ö and I will explain when to use which version.

Last but not least, I recommend listening to the audio recordings to get a good impression of the right sound.

What are German mixed vowels

There are so-called tongue vowels where – as the name states – mainly the tongue is involved in their production. In German these are the vowels e, I, ä and a

Then we have the lip vowels that are mainly produced by the lips like o and u

And then, you might have guessed it, there are mixed vowels where both lips and tongue are involved. Mixed vowels do not exist in English.

Mixed vowels in German are ö and ü. As you can see, they are written with two dots (or the diacritical mark) above o or ü, indicating that the sound is altered. O becomes Ö and U becomes Ü. The expression for these vowels in German is “Umlaut” which means altered sound.

You will have realized that I omitted the Ä which is also an Umlaut. However, it is a part of the lip vowels and thus does not count as mixed vowel.

When you write or copy German texts it is important to write the diacritical mark; otherwise, this could change the meaning of a word, e.g. “lösen” (release; solve) – “losen” (to draw lots)
or lügen (lie) – lugen (peek).

If you do not have the appropriate key on your keyboard, you can also write oe for ö and ue für ü instead. (ae being the correct alternate spelling of ä).

Mixed vowels in German, as well as lip and tongue vowels are always monophthongs, meaning that only one sound is to be heard. Depending on your mother tongue this might be quite a challenge for you. Never give in to the urge of pronouncing iu or ui instead of ü or oe/eo instead of ö.

Master the different variants of German Ö

How to form the long and closed [Ø:]

In order to form the [Ø:] place the tongue in the position for a long and closed [e:]. Say the [e]: and while continuing to do so round your lips for a long and closed [o:].

As with [Y:], there is no equivalent sound in English but it is very similar (if not the same) to the French “eu”-sound for example in “le feu”.

Be careful that no hint of an R-sound comes into this vowel. The German [Ø:] does not resemble the UR in “burn” (as pronounced in an American way) but must be pure with no suggestion of R.

Forming the [Ø:] requires a bit of practice at first. I recommend to always start with the e: position of your tongue than add the lip rounding. It is easier to start with the tongue first as the positioning of the lips can be monitored easier, e.g. by using a mirror.

However, you might want to try it the other way round, i.e. starting with the lip rounding for o: and arching the tongue towards the [e]:  

When this is very new to you, singing [e:] – [Ø:] – [e:] – [Ø:] on a comfortable pitch is a good exercise. Practice with a mirror to constantly check your lip and (at least to some extend) tongue position.

You can also sing [e:] – [Ø:]  – rest – [Ø:]  with the objective to restart a clear [Ø:]  after a rest.  Having mastered these exercises, you can add [e:] – [Ø:] – [o:] and [o:] – [Ø:] – [e:].

When to use the long and closed [Ø:]

⭐ Pronounce [Ø:] long and closed in spellings of the letter ö

⫸ Before a single consonant letter:
schön (beautiful), flöge (flew), Ströme (streams)

⫸ In derivatives of “hoch” (high):
höher (higher), höchste (highest; at the most)

⫸ Before a single consonant letter and the diminutive suffixes -chen and -lein:
Röslein (little rose), Tönchen (small tone)

⫸ Before an ß followed by a vowel:
größer (larger), einflößen (inspire; frighten)

⫸ In spellings of the letter combination öh:
Söhne (sons), fröhlich (joyful), Höhle (cave)

⭐ In spellings of the letter combination eu in French loan words:
Friseur (hairdresser), Deserteur (deserter)

❗️ Attention: Unlike in French, the combination eu in German words is pronounced as the diphthong [ɔø]:
Freude (joy), deutsch (German), heulen (cry; howl)

How to master the short and open [œ]

In order to form this sound, put the tongue into the position for a short and open [Ɛ] and then round the lips towards a short and open [ɔ].

The œ is identical to the French “eu” in “jeune”. Although œ does not exist in English, it has a strong resemblance with the [ɜ]-sound in “turn”. However, pay attention that no hint of the English R sneeks in; the German vowel must be pure.

As an exercise, I recommend singing [Ɛ] – [œ] – [Ɛ]- [œ] on a comfortable pitch, checking your lip and tongue position with a mirror. You can also sing [Ɛ] – [œ]  – rest – [œ]  with the objective to restart a clear [œ] after a rest. 

When to use the short and open [œ]

⭐ Pronounce [œ] short and open in spellings of the letter ö

⫸Before double or multiple consonants, including CH (except derivations of “hoch”) and SCH:
Töchter (daughters), löschen (extinguish), Götter (gods), gönnen (grant)

❗️ Attention: As in the case of Ü, no rules can be given for the length of Ö before ß or ST. Always check these spellings with a dictionary.