Let’s be honest, foreign wine, beer and spirit names prove daunting at times to the average American consumer. Take for example one of my favorite Baltic Porters, Zywiec. For years I said “zwei-ek.” Not even close. Polish is somewhat phonetic. Well, at least, more so than say… Irish. However, it’s pronounced much closer to “zuev-yetz.” The letter “c” is more a combination of “t” + “z.” Use Google translate, type in Zywiec and listen to the word. Interesting, right? So, with that said:
French letter guide
1. L’accent aigu: The aigu accent points to the right and upward. Only appearing above the letter e, it changes the letter’s pronunciation to ay—for example,
médecin (may-deh-sehn, meaning doctor),
2. L’accent grave: The grave accent points to the left and upward. It can appear over any vowel, but it only alters pronunciation when over the letter e. While, depending on context, unaccented e‘s may be pronounced several different ways, e‘s with grave accents are always pronounced ehh, like the e in the English word set. Examples:
- très (treh, meaning very)
- deuxième (doo-zee-ehm, meaning second, as in second place).
3. Le circonflexe: The circonflexe looks like a little pointed hat over vowels. It doesn’t change pronunciation, but it must be included in written French.
- forêt (for-ay, meaning forest)
4. La cédille: In French, the cedilla is a little tail under the letter c: ç. It’s used to give the c an s sound instead of a hard k sound—for example:
- garçon (gahr-sohn, meaning boy)
5. Le tréma: The tréma looks like two dots above a letter. It’s usually placed above the second of two consecutive vowels when both vowels are to be pronounced separately.
- Jamaïque (jam-eh-eek, meaning Jamaica)
German letter guide
ä: somewhere between ay as in “say” and eh
ö: something like the French “eu” or the British “ur” in the word “burn”
ü: form your mouth like an o and make the sound for short u
ß: equivalent to ss; this letter is called “es-tset”
This by no means a comprehensive guide, simply something to get you started. Want to really have fun? Look up Portuguese pronunciation. Whew! Ultimately, we’re American, and so we’re likely to butcher foreign names unless we’ve had some language courses. Don’t let this prevent you from asking for that pink grapefruit wheat beer, Schöfferhofer or than French white, Mommessin Pouilly- Fuissé.