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10 ways to sound like a native German speaker

If you want to sound like a mother-tongue speaker, work on perfecting these 10 key (and fun) phrases.

10 ways to sound like a native German speaker
Photo: Depositphotos/alexkish

1. “Jemanden auf den Keks zu gehen.”

This phrase literally means “to go someone on the cookie”. Or biscuit, depending on which side of the Atlantic your English lies. It is something you say whenever somebody is getting on your nerves, so it sadly has little to do with cookies. 

“Dieser Maximilian geht mir manchmal richtig auf den Keks.”

“That Maximilian really gets on my nerves sometimes.”

Photo: Depositphotos/MaxPayne

2. “Die Nase voll haben.”

This is a great phrase to use if you are sick and tired of something. It literally means “To have the nose full”, but is used to declare that you are very annoyed with something in particular or just annoyed in general, and you just absolutely sick and tired of it. 

Schnauze (meaning snout) is often used in the place of Nase (nose) in more impolite situations.

“Ich hab die Schnauze voll mit dir und deinen Mist.”

“I am sick and tired of your crap.”

3. “Ich glaube ich spinne.”

Literally meaning “I think I spin”, this has got to be the strangest translated German phrase. The English equivalent would be “I think I’m going mad,” making “zu spinnen” synonymous with being nuts or crazy.

“Du spinnst wohl.”

“You must be crazy.”

4. “Ich glaube mein Schwein pfeift.”

Forget what we said about “Ich glaub ich spinne”; this is the strangest translated German phrase. It literally means “I think my pig is whistling”, and it is used if someone simply can not believe that something is true. It comes from the idea that something sounds so preposterous that your pig whistling would rival it in sheer unbelievability.

“Hast du schon gehört? Emilia und Max sind jetzt zusammen.”

“Ich glaube mein Schwein pfeift.”

“Have you heard? Emilia and Max are together now.”

“I can’t believe that.”

Photo: Depositphotos/VolodymyrBur

5. “Ich drück' dir die Daumen.”

“I wish you luck” is all this phrase means. Literally however, it means that you will press your thumbs for someone, something people don't generally do after saying it, unlike in English where crossing your fingers after wishing good luck is common. 

“Ich laufe morgen einen Marathon!”

“Toll! Ich drück dir die Daumen!”

“I'm running a marathon tomorrow!”

“Great! I wish you good luck!”

6. “Ich versteh' nur Bahnhof.”

If you are very new to the German language, this phrase could help you out during your next German class. It literally translates to “I only understand train station”. In this case “Bahnhof verstehen” means to not understand anything. 

“Hast du Herr Müller in Physikunterricht zugehört?”

“Ja schon, ich hab' aber trotzdem nur Bahnhof verstanden.”

“Were you listening to Mr. Müller in physics class?”

“Yeah I did, but I didn’t understand anything.”

7. “Das ist mir Wurst.”

“That is sausage to me” is what this phrase literally means, but it actually is a very informal way of saying “I don’t care”. 

“Wir müssen aber heute eine Prüfung schreiben!”

“Das ist mir Wurst.”

“But we have to write an exam today!”

“I don’t care.”

Germans are fans of both food, and food metaphors. Photo: Depositphotos/Shaiith 

8. “Das Leben ist kein Zuckerschlecken.”

This is a good one. Directly translated it means “Life is not a sugar-licking”. It is supposed to mean that life is tough, and if somebody complains how bad or unjust their situation is to a German, “Das leben ist kein Zuckerlecken” could well be the reply. A similar phrase with the meaning is “Das Leben ist kein Ponyhof”.

“Das ist aber total unfair!”

“Tja, das leben ist kein Zuckerlecken.”

“But that’s completely unfair!”

“Well, life is tough.”

9. “Da haben wir den Salat.”

If suddenly a giant mess has occurred, this is the phrase you should use. It literally translates to “There we have the salad”, which is somewhat funny considering that it means “Well, now we have a mess”.

It most likely comes from the nature of salads themselves; they are in reality a jumble of different ingredients messily put together if you think about it.

“Ahhh Mist ich hab die Würstchen fallen lassen!”

“Na toll, da haben wir den Salat!”

“Ahhh crap I dropped the sausages!”

“Great, now there’s a big mess!”

This salad is a mess of tasty ingredients. Photo: DPA

10. “Was ist das für einen Saftladen?”

If you ever walk into a really crummy looking store, you might call it a Saftladen (literally meaning a juice shop). A Saftladen generally means not just a low-quality shop but can also be used to describe a poorly-run establishment. 

“Lass uns aus diesem Saftladen raus gehen!”

“Let’s get out of this mess of a place!

This article was updated on July 6th, 2019.

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For members


10 ways to express surprise in German

From woodland fairies to whistling pigs, the German language has a colourful variety of phrases to express surprise.

10 ways to express surprise in German

1. Alter Schwede!

You may recognise this phrase from the cheese aisle at the supermarket, but it’s also a popular expression in Germany for communicating surprise. 

The phrase, which means “old Swede” comes from the 17th century when King Frederick William enlisted the help of experienced Swedish soldiers to fight in the Thirty Years’ War.

Because of their outstanding performance in battle, the Swedish soldiers became popular and respected among the Prussians, and they were respectfully addressed as “Old Swede”. Over the last three hundred years, the phrase developed into one to convey awed astonishment. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day – Alter Schwede

2. Holla, die Waldfee!

This curious expression literally means “Holla, the wood fairy”. It can be used both as an exclamation of astonishment and to insinuate that something is ridiculous.

Engraving of a fairy in the picnic park in Enfield in the UK.

Engraving of a fairy in the picnic park in Enfield in the UK. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Mareike Graepel

There are various explanations as to how the forest fairy made it into the German lexicon. Some say that it comes from the Grimm’s fairy tale “Frau Holle,” while others say it comes from an old song called “Shoo, shoo, the forest fairy!”

READ ALSO: 10 words and phrases that will make you sound like a true German

3. Das ist ja ein dicker Hund!

Literally meaning “that is indeed a fat dog!” this expression of surprise presumably originates from a time in the past when German dogs were generally on the thinner side.

4. Ich glaube, ich spinne!

The origin of this expression is questionable, because the word “Spinne” means “spider” and also “I spin”. Either way, it’s used all over Germany to mean “I think I’m going crazy” as an expression of surprise.

5. Ich glaube, mein Schwein pfeift!

The idea of a pig whistling is pretty ridiculous, and that’s where the phrase  – meaning “I think my pig whistles” – comes from. Germans use this expression when they can’t believe or grasp something, or to express that they are extremely surprised.

The pig Rosalie stands on a farm in a pasture.

The pig Rosalie stands on a farm in a pasture. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

6. Meine Güte!

This straightforward phrase simply means “my goodness” and is a commonly used expression of astonishment.

7. Oha!

More of a sound than a word, this short exclamation will let the world know that you are shocked by something.

READ ALSO: Denglisch: The English words that will make you sound German

8. heilige Blechle!

Often when surprised or outraged, we might let slip an exclamation that refers to something sacred. This phrase fits into that bracket, as it means “holy tin box”. 

The peculiar expression comes from the Swabian dialect and refers to the cash box from which the poor were paid by the Church in the Middle Ages.

The green house number nine which won an award for energy-efficient renovation and construction in Saxony-Anhalt.

The green house number nine which won an award for energy-efficient renovation and construction in Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert

9. ach du grüne Neune!

This slightly antiquated expression literally means “oh you green nine!”, or “oh, my goodness!” and is one you’re more likely to hear among the older generation of Germans.

The origin of the phrase is disputed. One explanation claims that it comes from the famous 19th century Berlin dance hall “Conventgarten” which, although it was located in Blumenstraße No. 9, had its main entrance in “Grüner Weg”. Therefore, the locals renamed it as “Grüne Neune” (Green Nine).

Another explanation is that the phrase comes from fairs where playing cards were used to read the future. In German card games, the “nine of spades” is called “green nine” – and pulling this card in a fortune telling is a bad omen.

10. Krass!

The word Krass in German is an adjective that means blatant or extreme, but when said on its own, it’s an expression of surprise. Popular among young Germans, it’s usually used in a positive way, to mean something like “awesome” or “badass”.