Training - Vowel Mutation ö

Welcome to our ö audio training. This is a special training for those people who do not have this phone in their own mother tongue (e.g. English).

We shall explain the similarities and differences to other vowels which you already know.

As already explained on the site Vowel Mutations under the topic Pronunciation/Phonetic Script, there are two ö phones:

  Script Letter   Examples
         
long ö phone: [ø, ø:] ö or öh   schön (beautiful, nice)
mögen (to like)
         
short ö phone: [œ] ö   zwölf (twelve)
können (to be able to do something)
         

We shall concentrate on the long ö sound. If you look at the following table, you will see that the ö phone is a mixture between the German e and o.

Script   long e [e:]   long ö [ø:]   long o [o:]
             
Roundedness   unrounded
(the lips are spread)
  rounded
(its roundedness is compressed, which means that the margins of the lips approach one another, so that the inner surfaces are not exposed)
  rounded
(its roundedness is protruded, which means that the corners of the lips are drawn together, and the inner surfaces exposed)
             
Backness   front
(the tongue is positioned as far forward as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant)
  front
(the tongue is positioned as far forward as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant)
  back
(the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant)
             
Height   close-mid
(the tongue is positioned halfway between a close vowel and a mid vowel)
  close-mid
(the tongue is positioned halfway between a close vowel and a mid vowel)
  close-mid
(the tongue is positioned halfway between a close vowel and a mid vowel)
             

Roundedness

Concerning the roundedness, the e is not rounded. However, if you compare ö and o, both phones are rounded. The only difference is that when you say ö, the margins of the lips only approach one another so that the inner surfaces are not exposed. When you say o, the corners of your lips are drawn together and the inner surfaces are exposed, which means that your inner lips are protruded.

Backness (of the tongue)

The German e and ö are both front vowels, which means that the tongue is positioned as far forward as possible in the mouth. The o phone is a back vowel, which means that the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth.

Height (of the tongue)

All three phones (e, ö and o) are close-mid (half closed) vowels, which means that the tongue is positioned halfway between a close vowel ( i, u and ü where the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of the mouth) and a mid vowel (unstressed e [ə] where the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel).

All in all, we can summarize as follows:

Characteristics of the ö phone

  1. The margins of the lips approach one another without protruded lips.
  2. The tongue has the same position as during the articulation of the German e.

If we take these characteristics into consideration, then the easiest way for you to pronounce ö, will be to say e with round mouth.

At first, we shall start with saying a long German e. Click on e, listen and then repeat. Click on e again and say it yourself. Feel where your tongue is when you pronounce the German e. You might have noticed that the tip of your tongue is directly at the lower row of your teeth.

Now we say o. Repeat saying o. Click on o again, listen and repeat. You may have noticed that your tongue is at the very bottom and back part of your mouth.

In order to find the middle of both phones e and o, we shall now do something else. We will say e, go to o and then go back to e, but without stopping the vibrations of the vocal chords. This sounds as follows: e-o-e. Click e-o-e again, and repeat. Try to remember where your tongue is going and what your lips are doing. Again, click e-o-e. After this exercise, you may have noticed how your tongue moved backwards and down and while going back to e, you moved it back to the front at the lower row of your teeth. You also felt how your lips became round and then, while going back to e, spread again.

You will now hear the same exercise very slowly: e-o-e. Listen and repeat. This almost sounds like overtone singing. Click e-o-e again and repeat yourself, but still very slowly. If you listened very carefully, you may already have heard the ö. It is right in the middle of e and o. So, you may have heard the following: e-ö-o-ö-e. Click, listen and try yourself again.

After these two exercises, you can try the following: Say e. While still saying e, make your lips round as if you wanted to say o. However, you have to take care that your tongue stays where it is, namely in the front of your mouth at the lower row of your teeth. This makes the original ö sound. It should sound as follows: e-ö. Listen and repeat. Try again to make it sound like the speaker: e-ö. During the exercise, the only thing you have to do is to make your lips round. Do not move your tongue. It stays where it is: at the lower row of your teeth. Did you get where the ö sound is? If not, try again to say e first. Then start saying e and while pronouncing it, make your lips round like they would be during the articulation of the German o. No matter if your lips are protruded or not, this will not make such a big difference. Make sure that while rounding your lips your tongue stays in the front at the lower row of your teeth. Then you will pronounce the phone ö.

If you still have problems you might try the following variation: Say o and then move the front part of your tongue to the lower row of your teeth as if your tongue wanted to say e. You know that you say o with rounded lips, having your tongue at the very bottom and back part of your mouth. Say o first. Feel where your tongue is. Now keep on saying o while moving the front of your tongue to the front at the lower row of your teeth. This sounds as follows: o-ö-o. Try to do what the speaker does. To make an ö phone out of the o sound, it is only necessary to move your tongue. Try again to say o, go to ö by moving your tongue to the front, and then go back to o again: o-ö-o. You only have to move your tongue, your lips can stay protruded. Also try the next exercise where you have to move your tongue much faster: o-oe-o-oe-o.

The short ö like in zwölf (twelve) or können (to be able to do something), in the phonetic script written [œ], is a little more open than the long ö [ø:]. It is similar to the vowel in the English word "turn". You can say it is a mixture between the short e sound [ɛ] like in kennen (to know) or elf (eleven) and the open o sound [ɔ] like in Mittwoch m (Wednesday) or in kommen (to come). The only difference between the long and short ö is that the height of the tongue is not close-mid (=half closed, the tongue is positioned halfway between a close vowel and a mid vowel) but open-mid (=half open, the tongue is positioned halfway between an open vowel and a mid vowel) like the sounds [ɛ] and open o [ɔ]. But if you have figured out where the long ö sound is, then it may not be very difficult for you to pronounce the short ö.

We hope you have been successful. If it does not work right at the beginning, don't worry about that. It is a sound which you have to get used to if you have never used it before.

You may also be interested in our ü training which comes next. Enjoy!