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Make Yourself Understood with these Useful phrases in German

By Jon, published on 29/10/2018 We Love Prof > Languages > German > Useful German Phrases for Surviving in Germany!

Do you need to go to Germany to learn German, or are German lessons just as effective? In addition to Germany, this foreign language is also spoken in Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium, and even Liechtenstein.

There are plenty of different dialects in German so listening to a range of fluent speakers speaking German during your language learning journey is essential. German pronunciation in Hanover is not the same as spoken German in the Swiss Alps. This is just like the dialect differences between British English and American English. You need to adapt to the different accents before you can even dream of being anything close to a native speaker!

Fortunately, there’s plenty of useful German learning tips that you can use everywhere and every day, and which can be acquired via online language courses or one-to-one German lessons.

When it comes to speaking the language, you should try and make sure your accent and pronunciation are as clear as possible so that every German speaker can understand you fluently!

You needn’t be an expert in German conjugation, spelling, or grammar, you just need to know enough to integrate into the local German culture and get to grips with a few of the basics of your second language.

The German for learning German is “deutsch lernen”! So, now we know a couple of new words, let’s get to work!

Want to know more about how to learn German online with a qualified tutor? Follow the link.

German Basics: Useful Words & Expressions To Know

Before you make a list of useful German phrases and tell yourself that German’s too difficult, there are two or three things you need to know to make your German speaking and writing better:

How can I learn the German language? Eat, drink, and breathe German. (Source: pixabay.com)

  • German differentiates familiar and formal language.
  • There are masculine, feminine, and neutral nouns. This is a bit like Latin languages even though German isn’t one.
  • There are 4 cases in German: the nominative, genitive, dative, and the accusative. The nominative is for the subject, the genitive is for a modifying noun, the dative for the indirect object, and the accusative is for the direct object.
  • Finally, in German, every noun starts with a capital letter, regardless of where they appear in a sentence.

These things are useful to know if you want to modify any of the expressions in this article; for example, using the informal “du” rather than the formal “Sie” with people you know well, changing a gender or replacing one word with another.

Useful Expressions

Are you heading off to Germany or Austria for a few days or weeks? Would you like to go skiing for a few days in the Swiss Alps and speak with the locals in their own language? Here are a few tips and expressions that you can use to make yourself understood in everyday German situations.

If you need help with pronunciation, you can find German expressions and how to say them on Loecsen!  In fact, there are plenty of websites teaching you how to learn German. And if you aren’t sure that you can successfully acquire a second mother tongue, then just look at this great example of how somebody learned to speak German in just over a month.

The Basics

  • Yes: Ja
  • No: Nein
  • How are you? (informal): Wie geht es dir? / Wie geht’s?
  • How are you? (formal): Wie geht es Ihnen?
  • Well, thank you! And you?: Danke, gut! Und Ihnen?
  • I don’t speak German: Ich spreche kein Deutsch / Ich spreche nicht Deutsch
  • Do you speak English?: Sprechen Sie Englisch?
  • What time is it?: Wie spät ist es?

Greeting People

There are plenty of ways to say “hi” in German and, just like in English, it depends on the time of day.

Remember to pay attention to whether you’re in a formal or familiar situation.

Learn these expressions off by heart. These are the German expressions you’ll need to practice to participate in any conversation:

  • Hello!: Guten Tag!
  • Good morning!: Guten Morgen!
  • Good evening!: Guten Abend!
  • Hi!: Hallo!
  • Goodbye!: Auf Wiedersehen! / Tschüss (in familiar situations like “see ya!”)
  • See you in a bit!: Bis gleich!
  • See you!: Bis bald!
  • See you tomorrow!: Bis morgen!

Introducing Yourself

Once you’ve started the conversation, you’ll need to introduce yourself to the people you’re talking to.

  • My name is…: Ich heiße… (ß is pronounced like a “ss” in English)
  • What’s your name?: Wie heißen Sie?
  • I’m British: Ich bin Brite
  • Where are you from?: Woher kommen Sie?
  • I’m from…: Ich komme aus…
  • Here’s Mr. / Mrs. …: Das ist Herr / Frau…
  • This is my wife / my husband: Das ist meine Frau / mein Mann
  • Welcome: Willkommen

Find out more about the best German universities

German Conversation Basics

Now that you know how to start a conversation and introduce yourself in German, you’ll need a few expressions to interact with people. Let’s go up a level!

How do you speak German? Making yourself understood in German is an art. (Source: Una Laurencic)

Ask, Answer, and Give Opinions

Showing that you have an opinion, can answer questions, and being curious and reacting to conversations is a good way to converse with German speakers.

  • What’s that?: Was ist das?
  • That was really good!: Das war sehr gut!
  • That suits me perfectly!: Das passt mir sehr gut!
  • I don’t agree: Das finde ich nicht
  • In my opinion, …: Meiner Meinung nach…
  • Can I ask you a question?: Kann ich Sie etwas fragen?

Just a bit of vocabulary will help you.

Getting a German-English dictionary is a great idea when you’re first starting out by giving you the vocabulary to give more nuanced opinions. It also makes a great impression to speak a bit of your hosts’ language.

Understand Better and Be Understood Better

When you first land in a German-speaking country, you’re probably going to need to ask people to repeat themselves from time to time.

This will show that you’re interested in what they have to say and that you want to learn the basics to better communicate with them:

  • What? / How?: Was? / Wie bitte?
  • I don’t understand: Ich verstehe das nicht
  • Could you spell that, please?: Können Sie das bitte buchstabieren?
  • Could you repeat that, please?: Können Sie das wiederholen bitte?
  • Can you repeat that more slowly, please?: Können Sie etwas langsamer wiederholen, bitte?
  • Could you speak more loudly, please?: Können sie bitte lauter sprechen?

Germans will be impressed by your enthusiasm for their language and this will help you to socialise more easily!

German Connecting Words

To make your conversations more fluid and show you know what you’re saying, you can use a few of these connectors!

Here are the basics:

  • First: Zuerst
  • Then: Dann
  • Finally: Endlich
  • Also: Ebenfalls / auch
  • But: Aber
  • With: Mit
  • Nevertheless: Trotzdem
  • Really: Wirklich
  • Partly: Zum Teil
  • To: Nach

By incorporating a few of these words into your active vocabulary, you’ll be able to have more fluid conversations.

Further Basic German Phrases For Visitors

When you arrive in Germany or another German-speaking country, there are a few expressions that you’ll learn immediately.

Where are the best cities to learn German? Head abroad and learn German! (Source: pixabay.com)

You should always be polite and courteous in Germany.

You have to master these and be able to function in mundane situations like looking for accommodation or ordering food! These expressions can make all the difference for an amateur German speaker and show the locals that you want to integrate into the culture.

German Manners

In order to be welcome wherever you go and show that you want to be a part of the local culture, you need to work on your German manners.

  • Please / You’re welcome: Bitte / Bitteschön
  • Thank you: Danke / Dankeschön
  • Thank you very much: Vielen Dank
  • You’re welcome: Bitte
  • Excuse me: Entschuldigung!
  • Thank you for your help: Danke für Ihre Hilfe.
  • Good luck: Viel Glück

The locals will appreciate your manners and thank you for making the effort.

It’s also always nice to get a few compliments as it shows that your hard work is paying off. It’s even better when you can pay the compliment back. Germans appreciate these details.

  • Congratulations!: Herzlichen Glückwunsch!
  • Well done!: Gut gemacht!
  • Very good!: Sehr gut!
  • That’s good!: Das ist gut!
  • It was delicious!: Es war köstlich! / Es war lecker!

Asking Directions

When you’re in a German-speaking country, you won’t always have the chance to get out your dictionary or smartphone and look up words in German.

Even if you have a satnav or a map, it’s always useful to be able to ask for more information on where you are or where you’re going. This information could prove vital on your first few days in Germany or if you’re just spending a weekend in Berlin, Frankfurt, or Bonn!

You might even help another tourist who’s lost!

  • Where is Mozart Street? Where is Berlin?: Wo ist die Mozartstraße? Wo ist Berlin?
  • How do I get to Berlin, please?: Wie komme ich nach Berlin, bitte?
  • Right: Rechts
  • The first street on the right: Erste Straße rechts
  • Left: Links
  • The second street on the left: Zweite Straße links
  • Straight on: Geradeaus
  • Can you show me on the map where we are?: Können Sie mir auf dem Stadtplan zeigen, wo wir sind?

Who’s never ended up lost in a new town? Once you’ve learned a few of these expressions, you’ll be ready for anything. You should always have a map to hand as it’s much easier for people to explain where to go on one!

On the Phone

If you’re going to use a phone at any point, whether to ask for information or to speak to someone, make sure you ask the person on the other end to not speak so quickly in order to avoid misunderstandings which can happen much more often on the phone than in real life.

Here are a few phrases to use:

  • Hello: Hallo
  • I would like to speak to…: Ich möchte mit … sprechen, bitte.
  • Can you pass a message on to …: Könnten Sie ihr (for a woman) / ihm (for a man) etwas ausrichten
  • I’m sorry, I can’t hear you: Entschuldigen Sie, ich verstehe Sie schlecht
  • I would like information about your hotel: Ich hätte gern Informationen zu Ihrem Hotel

Staying in Hotels

Are you looking for the perfect German student town? Have you just landed? Haven’t dropped your bags off yet?

This is the perfect time to find somewhere to stay and a hotel is often the first place you’ll go to when you get to a new town!

If you haven’t reserved a room or you’d like to reserve a room before your arrival, here are a few phrases you can use:

  • Have you any rooms available?: Sind noch Zimmer frei?
  • How much is the room?: Was kostet das Zimmer ?
  • I would like to stay an extra night: Ich möchte eine Nacht mehr bleiben.
  • Is breakfast included?: Ist das Frühstuck im Preis inbegriffen?
  • Where is the room, please?: Wo ist das Zimmer, bitte?
  • Is there Internet access?: Kann ich das Internet benutzen?
  • Is there a pool?: Gibt es ein Schwimmbad?

Ordering Food in German

You obviously can’t go to Germany or Austria without eating! Make sure to try the local specialities! The Germans eat a lot of pork (Schwein), Maultaschen (a ravioli-esque dish), sausages (Wurst), and Sauerkraut!

What is the best German food? Germany has a rich and varied cuisine. (Source: Paloma Aviles)

These expressions should stop you getting muddled up.

  • Can I have …?: Kann ich … haben?
  • Can I have a beer, please?: Kann Ich ein Bier haben, bitte ?
  • I have a reservation for … : Ich habe eine Buchung auf den Namen…
  • Can I get the bill please?: Die Rechnung, bitte!
  • No-smoking, please: Nichtraucher, bitte
  • Can I have a bit more … ? Kann ich bitte mehr von … haben?
  • Can I have a menu?: Kann ich das Menü sehen?
  • A table for 2: Ein Tisch für zwei Personen

It should be noted that Germans almost never drink tap water and when you order water, it may not be what you wanted. They prefer sparkling water. If you ask for water without specifying, you’ll probably get sparkling water.

If you want to ask still water, you should say: “Kann ich bitte Wasser ohne Kohlensäure haben?” If you prefer tap water, ask: “Kann ich bitte Leitungswasser haben?”

Idiomatic Expressions

Knowing a few German expressions can help you break the ice. Whatever you do, don’t worry about the literal translations of them! Idiomatic expressions in English don’t often make much sense if you’re not familiar with them!

Here’s a list of a few German expressions:

  • Faint: Aus den Latschen kippen (fall out of your slippers)
  • Make mountains out of molehills: Eine Sache mächtig aufbauschen or Aus einer Mücke einen Elefanten machen (to make an elephant out of a mosquito)
  • A freezing cold: Eine Hundekälte / Eine Saukälte (cold of a dog / sow)
  • Nothing to write home about: Er hat die Weisheit nicht mit Löffeln gegessen (he didn’t eat knowledge from a spoon)
  • Take French leave: Sich auf Französisch verabschieden
  • You can’t judge a book by its cover: Es ist nicht alles Gold, was glänzt (literally another well-known expression: All that glitters is not gold)
  • At the last moment: Im letzten Augenblick / in letzter Minute
  • Not know your arse from your elbow: Einem schweren Irrtum aufsitzen (to make a grave mistake)
  • Count your chickens before they’re hatched: Den Tag vor dem Abend loben (praise the day before it’s over) / Vögel, die morgens singen, holt abends die Katze

The last example is perhaps a little a bit more poetic than the English version as it literally means “The birds that sing in the morning are eaten by cats in the evening”.

Why not learn a few German expressions in Germany? Even if you can’t have a fluent conversation, German speakers will be happy to hear foreigners making an effort to learn their language.

This shows respect and that you genuinely want to communicate with the locals. If you can get the basics right, you’re less likely to be ripped off by taxi drivers, souvenir shops, and waiters.

It’s also not true that every German speaks English. Even in big cities, you can find people who know very little English. You don’t want to have to find other English speakers when you have a question.

Exploring German Culture

Germans place great importance on structure, privacy, and punctuality. You hear a lot about the German work ethic. Germans value hard work and efficiency. It’s important that “the trains run on time”.

According to the online Passport to Trade 2.0 guide published by University of Salford, Manchester: “Germans are most comfortable when they can organise and compartmentalise their world into controllable units. Time, therefore, is managed carefully, and calendars, schedules, and agendas must be respected.”

While it may seem a bit hostile at first, you have to know that the Germans have a strong sense of community and social belonging. They also know how to party!

Traditional Holidays In Germany

Germany celebrates a large number of Christian holidays including Christmas and Easter. However, the only federal holiday is German Unity Day on the 3 October which marks the day the day of German reunification.

Christmas

Christmas is an important date in most Christians’ (and atheists’, come to think of it) calendar but do you know how other countries celebrate the birth of Jesus?

  • Advent calendars: these traditional calendars are equally as popular across German territories as they are in the UK, and the first paper countdown products actually originated there in the early 1900s. Their calendars, much like our British versions, include treats like candy and chocolate (no beer advent calendars appear to have been invented just yet!).
  • Christmas carols: carols dating back to centuries ago are still sung in many parts of the country, including “O Tannenbaum” (known to us as “O Christmas Tree“, which was written un 1799.
  • Gingerbread houses: edible gingerbread houses became a part of the German Christmas tradition after Hansel and Gretel was released by the Grimm Brothers. Families traditionally create houses altogether in the run-up to the holiday and decorate them with frosting and sweets.
  • Christmas trees: traditional fir trees are decorated by German families, but not as early as the first weekend in December like our tradition has turned out to be. Instead, they decorate the tree on Christmas Eve, as part of the Yule celebrations, and use tinsel, angels, and candles as well as edible decorations like candy canes, apples, cookies, and nuts.
  • They also open presents on Christmas Eve. The children are kept out of the living room while the tree is decorated and the presents distributed, then called back in to see the finished tree and presents – das Christkind (baby Jesus) came by and left them!

Easter Celebrations

Easter is by nature a pagan holiday and, in Germany, was originally celebrated around the 21st March in honour of Ostara, the pagan goddess of spring.

According to local tradition, Ostara saved a bird by turning it into a rabbit, a magical creature that could lay eggs because of its past form. This popular, international tradition was mentioned in German writings as early as the 16th century and bunnies and eggs have been around since the 1800s.

Weddings

So, there you have it. If you ever engage in a conversation with a German acquaintance or friend, you can understand a little bit more about their country’s big traditions. But what if you get invited to a wedding taking place in a German province? Do you know what the traditions are for German nuptials?

German couples actually benefit from many unique traditions and customs when they get married, that you might not have come across or been aware of.

Before the wedding – traditionally the night before – is the Polterabend.  It takes place in front of the bride-to-be’s house, and guests bring as much porcelain as they can. Bride- and groom-to-be together will then smash the porcelain is a symbolic act meant to bring them luck in their future life together. Various regions have different additional traditions, such as burning the groom-to-be’s trousers at midnight or nailing the bride-to-be’s shoes to a tree.

Weddings in Germany and normally begin with a small civil ceremony attended by a small group of close friends or family. This is the only legally binding celebration. Since German town halls don’t have large rooms for civil ceremonies, many couples might have a bigger celebration that evening or the next day for a larger circle of friends.

Though if they are having a church wedding, they might wait to invite friends till then. Upon leaving the church the couple throw coins to the children in attendance. This is then followed by an official wedding reception, where different customs in different regions are meant to bring luck to the couple or test their new relationship – from having to saw a log together to cutting a heart out of a sheet, a German wedding is a wonderful way to discover old German customs!

Don’t forget, when toasting the happy couple, to raise your glass and say “Prost”!

Food And Other German Customs

When a girl is born, the family were said to plant a number of trees in her honour so that, when she is grown up and she is engaged to be married, the trees are sold to pay towards her dowry – a dying custom for lack of dowries in modern times.

When it comes to traditional German foods, we all know about the bratwurst and the pretzel (or “Brezel” in German). Other foods that are unique to the country are sauerkraut, a pickled cabbage, and schnitzel, a thin fillet of veal. A specialist dessert includes Stollen.

Yet, even though the country boasts over 1500 different types of sausage, there is much more to German food than this meaty delicacy.

Traditionally, Germans used to eat five meals a day, but it is far more common nowadays for the locals to just eat three. The main meal of the day is lunch, hence why this dish is usually meat-based, and it is traditional for shops and businesses in smaller towns to close down around midday, much like other European countries.

German people go home for lunch for one to two hours and families usually eat lunch together if they can. Lunch is much heavier than their evening meal, and generally incorporates more than one course including an appetizer or soup, a main course, and a dessert.

Many Germans enjoy a late afternoon snack too, such as bread or, in many regions, tea or coffee with cakes; meanwhile, dinner is a light meal made up of picnic-style produce and sometimes followed by a dessert.

Breakfast, on the other hand, is Mediterranean in style consisting of bread, jam, honey, cold meats, cheeses, cereal, fruit, eggs and sometimes pancakes. A later, second breakfast is rare except for in southern parts of Germany where they might eat a small snack like a pastry with their coffee.

Beer plays an important role in German dining and it is consumed throughout the day, particularly with meals. This is much like the French tradition of drinking wine, with teens often partaking in a glass with their meal too. Both ales and lagers are highly popular in German homes and beer gardens, with the dark Bock beers considered a particular favourite.

If you want an excuse to drink a nice beer and have a good, justifiable reason for it, in Germany, you can do just that. Germans often drink expensive, quality beers on any given day in memory of your ancestry or loved ones.

All together now, “Prost”!

The Annual ‘Oktoberfest’ in Munich

“Oktoberfest”, which starts on a Saturday in September before finishing 16 to 18 days later on the first Sunday in October, is the biggest non-religious tradition of Germany. The tradition started in 1810 with the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to the Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in Munich.

The 2018 Oktoberfest is due to begin at 11 am on Saturday 22nd September, kicking off with the grand entry of the Oktoberfest landlords and breweries – without them, of course, there would be no beer to celebrate!

This official prelude to the starting of the event is a nod to the creators of the alcoholic beverage, along with those waiters, waitresses and bar staff who are involved in selling and serving the drink. They are treated like royalty with decorated, horse-drawn floats!

As the festivities begin to get into swing, there’s yet another parade on the Sunday which includes a procession of regional costume groups, riflemen, marching bands and historical uniforms all of whom are there to display some of the major local traditions.

With some of the outfits and craftsmen’s tools long gone, this is the perfect opportunity for the locals to show visitors just what life in Munich, or “München”, was really like all those years ago. (You see, it’s not all about the beer!)

Now in full swing, attendees can enjoy a long list of fantastic entertainment and attractions, like open-air, live music performances, shows to spectate, movies to watch, art to see and, of course, beer tents to visit.

While each year brings something new and exciting to look forward to, the memories from the previous festivals never quite leave the town. You can enjoy watching (or re-visiting if you were there yourself!) some of the best bits from the long list of Oktoberfests, with video footage, images, and recollections found on various websites dedicated to Munich and its famous festival, as well as in the Oktoberfest Museum in Munich.

This just goes to show that, if you manage to get to Germany for this once in a lifetime opportunity, you will never ever forget how brilliant the experience was.

As with many large-scale events, Oktoberfest organisers have had to tighten up security as the years have gone by so be sure to check out the rules and regulations before you head to your destination.

Some key things to note are:

  • Backpacks aren’t allowed (or at least are discouraged as this will cause significant delays to entering the site), therefore you should leave anything but your essentials behind.
  • Pushchairs are disallowed on Saturdays and the public holiday as well as after 6pm. Large pushchairs will also be subject to security checks for safety reasons.
  • No hazardous or sharp objects are to be brought to the venue (i.e. no aerosol deodorants, no knives, nor any glassware).
  • All party-goers are to have left the site before 1.30am and aren’t allowed to return until 8am the next morning.
  • No pets are permitted on the grounds for the duration of the festival.

In preparation for your unique experience at one of Germany’s biggest and most famous traditional events, you can plan your journey and trip by using the helpful links provided on the official Oktoberfest website. Moreover, the organisers have created a downloadable app containing all of the information you could need relating to the event.

It may not be your usual late summer getaway but it is sure worth the visit! How nice would it be, if you could greet your hosts by talking to them in their very own language? Why not start now and find German classes London or elsewhere in the UK.

Discover More Useful German Phrases with a Private Tutor

You should make sure you know all the basic vocabulary before you head off to a German-speaking country.

Where can I get a private German tutorial? To learn a language, you should take at least one private tutorial. (Source: startupstockphotos.com)

The expressions in this article are sort of a Swiss Army knife for most situations. If you want to carry on learning about the German language and the German culture, you can take a few private German tutorials with a tutor.

Your tutor will be able to also evaluate your level in German. They can take your likes, needs, and expectations into account in order to tailor their tutorials and their language course to you before you travel to a German-speaking country. German tutorials should make the student a confident user of German.

Whether you need to move for professional reasons or you want to learn specialised vocabulary, your tutor will know which exercises you should be doing, which apps you should get for your iPad, and which vocabulary you should be learning off by heart!

Your German classes don’t stop once your tutor goes home! You can travel once you’ve mastered the basics! There’s nothing stopping you from learning from immersion!

Having a good level when it comes to speaking and writing German and knowing when to say what will go a long way in German-speaking country, not to mention, impress your friends.

In short:

  • Learning a language is extremely complicated. German is no exception and, despite its similarity to English, can still be a very challenging language to learn.
  • This article only includes a few expressions and words for beginners wanting to go to a German-speaking country for work or for study. It won’t make you bilingual but it should give you just enough to head off to Bavaria, Berlin, or Vienna, for example. Thanks to these expressions, you should be able to get by in basic German conversations.
  • Before you set off, we recommend also learning a few basic verbs and how they’re used. You can also learn a few words specific to your field or things you’re interested in.
  • Taking intensive private tutorials or normal private tutorials in German will help you to work on your spoken German including pronunciation and conversation skills.  While not entirely necessary, it is highly recommended.
  • Finally, you should, at least for the first few days, take a pocket German-English dictionary everywhere with you!

There’s nothing else we can tell you except Viel Glück! Check out 10 must-know German expressions!

A quick Recap On the German Phrases you’ll need the most

Check out our top phrases below and their UK translations.

German PhraseEnglish Translation
jayes
neinno
bitteplease
dankethank you / thanks
Kein problemno problem
Entschuldigung!Sorry / Excuse me
Es tut mir leid.I'm sorry
hallohello
wie geht's?how are you?
Guten MorgenGood morning
Guten TagGood afternoon
Guten AbendGood evening
Auf WiedersenGoodbye
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