Tuesday, July 7, 2015

12 Common German Phrases That’ll Make You Sound Like a Pro

When you teach yourself German, your experience is unique from everyone else’s.  

Sometimes you stray from the basics and learn strange (and fascinating) things.  I learned how to say “the ghost” and “the ice cave” in German before I learned how to say, "nice to meet you" or “can I please pass by?"

But don’t despair. Read on to discover some of the most important phrases that you need to function in everyday life in Germany, phrases that will make you sound like a true native.

Besides knowing common phrases that you’ll need to navigate day-to-day life in Germany, it’s also helpful to know idioms and concepts, those phrases unique to a language that make no sense when translated into your mother tongue. Knowing idioms and important phrases will set you apart from the crowd of other language learners, and you’ll stand out as someone who has clearly worked to delve deeper into the language and discover its idiosyncrasies.

Why Are Common German Phrases Important to Learn?

Sounds simple enough, right? Common German phrases are common. You’ll hear them everywhere in German conversation—you’re expected to understand them, respond to them appropriately and know how to say them yourself. Here are a few examples of when you’ll find yourself in make-or-break situations thanks to these common German phrases:

1. They’re often essential for daily life.
Shouting the wrong phrase for “excuse me” on a crowded subway car will immediately mark you as a tourist or a foreigner. Since everyday phrases are so commonly used, learning them will immediately increase your German know-how and make daily life that much easier.

2. Idioms can be difficult to understand if you don’t already know them.
As stated above, idioms often make no sense when translated directly into another language. Some German idioms are the same as English idioms, but others make no sense when translated into English. You simply have to know them—and, if you learn them, you can save yourself a lot of confusion the next time your German friend starts talking about his or her “inner pig-dog” or wisely tells you that morning hours have gold in their mouths.

3. Using phrases will make you sound more like a native speaker.
Using idioms and phrases yourself will simply make you seem like more of a native speaker, someone who has lived in Germany, experienced the culture and befriended Germans, as opposed to someone who has only studied from textbooks or other official sources.

How to Learn Common German Phrases

There are plenty of ways to learn German phrases, but the best ones typically involve consulting unofficial sources. That is, getting out of the classroom, enjoying German music, TV programs, and publications, and talking to some Germans in German. 
Here we’ve provided some specific ways you can go about learning common German phrases. Try these out, and you’ll be sure to pick up some new phrases and idioms in no time.

Check out some German TV shows
Look at this list of classic German songs to find some new media to consume and learn German from
Ask your German friends for a list of phrases.
If you have German friends, pay attention when they say something you don’t quite understand and ask them to explain it. Or ask them to provide you with a few phrases and idioms that they use on a daily basis, and work on learning those.
Practice, practice, practice!  Make sure to integrate the following phrases into your daily conversations.

12 Common German Phrases That’ll Make You Sound Like a Pro

First, we’ll start with some of the most important, common German phrases for daily life:

1. Darf ich mal vorbei?
Many beginning German speakers think it’s proper to say Entschuldigung (sorry) when pushing through a crowd on the U-bahn or in a train station. However, you should actually say this phrase, which means “may I pass by?”

2. Einen Augenblick, bitte!
Augen are eyes. Blick is a glimpse or a sight of something. Einen Augenblick is a moment. If you say Einen Augenblick, bitte! you’re asking someone to please wait a moment—a useful phrase in many aspects of daily life.

3. Kannst /du (informal) /   • Können Sie (formal)  mir bitte helfen?
This phrase is extremely important for tourists in Germany as well as residents. It means “Can you please help me?” Essential for asking for directions or other more serious matters.

4. Schön,  /dich (informal)/  • / Sie (formal) / kennenzulernen.
“Nice to get to know you,” or “pleased to meet you”—this phrase is essential for meeting and greeting new colleagues or friends in Germany, which you will hopefully do once you arrive in the country.

5. Alles Gute zum Geburtstag. 
This phrase literally translates as “all that’s good to the birthday,” but of course it really means “happy birthday.”

6. Guten Appetit.
Before digging into their Essen (food), Germans say Guten Appetit, an amalgamation of German (Guten means “good”) and French (bon appétit).

7. Ich stimme   dir (informal)/   • / Ihnen (formal) /   zu.
Ich stimme…zu means “I agree with [something],” and Ich stimme dir zu means “I agree with you.”

8. Stimmt so. 
Germans don’t expect 20% tips, but it’s still a good idea to leave the server or bartender a little something if you’re satisfied with their service. Say your bill comes to 18 euros—you can hand your server a 20, then say Stimmt so, which means “keep the change.”

Now we’re going to shift from daily phrases to concepts and idioms which are used commonly in German conversation.  Concepts and idioms (Sprichwörter) can be a bit more difficult to understand than simple phrases, but remember that by learning them you can increase your Deutsch expertise and impress German natives with your knowledge of their culture and language.

9. Innerer Schweinehund
You know the English language concept of an angel sitting on one shoulder telling you the right thing to do, while a little devil sits on your other shoulder, trying to persuade you to wander down his irresponsible road?
The innerer Schweinehund is the German equivalent of this concept. The phrase translates directly to “inner pig-dog.” The innerer Schweinehund is the voice inside your head that says “You don’t have to go to the gym,” or “You can take that extra piece of cake” or “You’ve studied German enough today.” Silence your innerer Schweinehund and you’ll get a lot more done.

10. Der Zug ist schon abgefahren.
This phrase is roughly equivalent to the American expression, “that ship has sailed.” If a situation is irredeemable, or there’s nothing else you can do to change something, you would use this phrase. It translates directly to “the/that train has already left.”

11. Morgenstund hat Gold im Mund.
This phrase literally means “morning hours have gold in mouth.” Nonsensical? Not if you know the idiom. This is basically the German equivalent of “the early bird gets the worm”—if you wake up, get out of bed and start work early, you’ll be a lot more productive.

12. Hunde, die bellen, beißen nicht.
This Sprichwort has an equivalent in English as well: “his bark is worse than his bite.” This means that people who make a big fuss about things or seem fearsome are often not so scary at all.

The phrase in German translates directly to “dogs that bark don’t bite.” Conveniently enough, you can use this phrase to describe the German language itself—remember, it seems complex with all those pretty picky grammatical rules, but after you dedicate some time to nailing those down, you will realize that it’s really manageable (and so rewarding) after all.


40+ Genuinely Useful German Words That Tie Conversations Together

Little Helpers

The words in this section are multi-purpose words that you’ll hear often, with definitions broad enough to apply in a variety of contexts—it’s handy to have these guys around.

I must confess to having a soft spot for this one.  It means “agreed,” “right” or “true,” and is often used to affirm a comment someone else has made. It seems to work in a surprisingly wide range of contexts and can be modified very slightly to expand its meaning, e.g.:
Stimmt das?     Das stimmt nicht     Stimmt so!
Is that right?     That’s not right        Keep the change
                                                        (handy in restaurants/cafes if you’re feeling generous). 

Meaning “exactly,” this word works in a similar way to stimmt. It also serves as something of a filler or sentence connector when you’ve paused between statements, similar to the way you use “so” in English. Unlike stimmt, you’ll often find it used as an adjective too, e.g.:
Genau hier
Right here
Genau wie
Exactly like

No, it doesn’t mean what you think, but bear with me! Translated as “well” or “so” and used in pretty much the same way as its English equivalents, this is a great one to have on hand. It stands alone or functions as a sentence opener.
Also! Fangen wir an? 
Well, shall we get started? (Expression of enthusiasm)
Also…ich weiß es nicht.
Well…I don’t know. (Expression of uncertainty)
Combine it with Äh (pronounced “eh,” the German version of “um”). If you have to sound uncertain—and let’s face it, you’ll be doing a lot of this to start with—you might as well do so like a native!

Means “or,” but it’s also very often thrown onto the end of a statement, where it means “right?” or “isn’t it?”.

Learning German verbs opens up a whole new world of possibility—and confusion. Many are incredibly similar to one another, yet an innocent little prefix can change the meaning dramatically.
Amidst such a minefield, machen, meaning both “to make” and “to do” is a good go-to for many situations.
One can not only ein Kuchen machen (make a cake) but also Party machen, Fotos machen and eine Diät machen (go on a diet). If you break something, you “make it broken,” es kaputt machen, and to finish up is Schluss machen, which literally translates to “to make an end.”
Watch out though: You don’t “make” friends in German. Instead, you’d use something akin to Freunde kennenlernen (to literally “get to know” friends). You also don’t “make” decisions, you’d phrase this as Entscheidungen treffen (to reach a decision). But on the upside, you can now chuckle knowingly when your German friends enthusiastically tell you in English that they’re “making the party.”

Q & A

When you’re out and about in the German-speaking world, there are certain phrases that you’ll hear time and again. In my case, early contributions to basic interactions with German speakers ranged from embarrassed silence to a mumbled danke or OK. Getting familiar with a few simple phrases, questions and responses will go a long way to boosting your comfort level in these situations.

Einen schönen Abend/Tag noch
This phrase is used for polite leave-taking, usually between strangers or acquaintances. It literally means “a lovely evening/day still” and is basically the equivalent of “have a nice day.” You’re likely to hear it at the supermarket checkout, along with schönes Wochenende, “have a nice weekend.”

You can say this in reply to a polite leave-taking phrase such as the above. This means “likewise” or “same to you,” and it’s the appropriate catch-all response to all manner of well wishing.

Wie, bitte?
The German equivalent of “pardon?” which is the polite way of asking someone to repeat themselves, if you haven’t heard or understood.

Was geht (ab)?
This is how you’d informally say “what’s up?” or “what’s going on?” to a friend.

Was ist los?
What’s wrong?

Hast du was (etwas)?
Is something wrong?




Ach, so!

It’s also a good idea to brush up on your Umgangsprache (slang) here.

English Imports

It’s reassuring to know that you’re going to regularly come across many German words that you recognize. One reason is that German and English share the same roots, stemming from the Germanic language family (you’ll find an interesting and rather beautiful illustration of this here).

In addition, just as English has absorbed many German loanwords, such as Zeitgeist and Schadenfreude, a growing number of German words are direct imports from English.
Like all languages, German continues to evolve with time. Some purists are less than pleased with the growing anglicization of Hochdeutsch, especially in cases where an English word has entered common usage to replace an existing German word. The product of this exchange is often derisively referred to as Denglisch (that is, German-English). Nevertheless, for the English-speaking German student, these words are small blessings.

They are also known, for obvious reasons, as “true friends” (as opposed to “false friends,” like Also above).

Take these verbs:
These have all been effectively adapted from English to the German grammatical structure. As you can see, many come from relatively recent developments in digital technology. But you’ll also find:
surfen (on the net as well as at the beach)
And, increasingly:
Sorry (is it really surprising when Entschuldigung is such a mouthful?)

Take Your Conversation Skills to the Next Level

Though it will take a while to learn how to use them properly, it’s useful to know from the outset about flavoring particles. You’ll find they pop up at seemingly random intervals everywhere—and they are, in fact, the key to speaking German like a native.

There are several, but we’re just going to dip our toes in the water with a few common examples: doch, mal, eigentlich and aber.

German speakers pepper their speech with these little guys all the time. Each has a definition in its own right, but, much like the Senf on your Wurst, will also be used regularly in the middle of a sentence to alter its emphasis or “flavor.” Usually this means adding emphasis or toning something down. There’s no real equivalent in English, which may be one reason why native German speakers can come across as a little blunt when speaking English!

        Doch    Means “yes” when at the start or end of a sentence, but only to refute a negative assumption, i.e. affirming an instance where doubt has been expressed.

Trinkst du kein Kaffee?            Doch!
Don’t you drink coffee?            Yes, I do!

See if you can pick up how it’s used in this short film.   ''Nein! - Doch! - Oh!"

Doch can also be used to soften an otherwise rather blunt question or statement.
Komm doch mit!
Why don’t you come with us?

This little word pops up all over the place and is possibly the most over-used particle. Literally a shortening of einmal (once), it is, like doch, commonly used as a softener.
Guck mal!
Gehen wir mal ins Kino?
Why don’t we go to the movies?

Das ist aber gut!
That is (surprisingly, or contrary to what you just told me) good!

Actually means “actually,” but can also mean “by the way” or “by chance.”
Hast du eigentlich die Zeit?
Do you have the time by any chance?

Relax: getting the hang of flavoring particles will take time. But even with only a vague grasp of how they work, at least now you’ll be prepared to listen out for them—and you’ll be a step closer to speaking like a native!

Just for Fun…

You’ll need to have a giggle from time to time. Lucky for you, German has plenty of amusing, yet functional words to offer. Here’s a few that might make you smile.

     Quatsch    Rubbish (e.g. Das ist Quatsch “that’s rubbish.” )
       Also quatschen “to talk rubbish” or to talk about nothing much.

       Blöd     Stupid. It just feels good to say it!

      Lust   Teehee. If someone asks you if you have Lust auf Schockolade, they’re not prompting you to expose your burning desire for the stuff, but rather whether you feel like eating it.

      Similarly, ich habe keine Lust darauf simply means “I don’t feel like it.”

     Jein   Used to express a divided opinion. Yes and no in one—who but the Germans could be so efficient!

You’ll find more hilarious words here. Enjoy!

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