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GERMAN LANGUAGE

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

As a non-native speaker, it can sometimes be tricky to blend in with the locals. That’s why we’ve put together this list of 10 words and phrases that will help you sound like a proper German.

Oktoberfest celebrations in 2017.
Oktoberfest celebrations in 2017. Photo: picture alliance / Felix Hörhager/dpa | Felix Hörhager

1. Na?

This little word is extremely common in spoken German and is most often used as a greeting, meaning “hello“ and, if elongated, (“naaa?”) as an implied “how are you doing?“ as well. 

“Na” is also often used in combination with other short words, to make some of the most frequently used German phrases, such as:

Na dann – Well then

Na ja – oh well

Na, toll – oh, great (sarcastic)

Na, und? – and so what?

Na klar! – but of course! 

Na, los! – go on then!

READ ALSO: German phrase of the day: Na klar

2. Doch

Using this multi-versatile four letter word will not only make you sound like a real German, but will also help you express yourself in a way that no English equivalent can!

The word has several meanings, but perhaps the most unique is its function as a negation of a negative statement, for example:

Hast du die Liste nicht mitgebracht? – Didn’t you bring the list? 

Doch! – Yes I did!

or 

Sie ist mir hoffentlich nicht mehr böse? – I hope she isn’t angry with me any more?

Doch! – Yes she is!

3. Hu hu

This is a typically German, informal greeting which you can use to get someone’s attention and is roughly equivalent to “hey!”

If you have German friends or colleagues in your phone book, at some stage you’re bound to receive a text message starting with this greeting. Or you could do it first!

4. arschkalt

Pit the Panda enjoying the snow in the Berlin Zoo.
Pit the Panda enjoying the snow in the Berlin Zoo. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Kira Hofmann

This rather rude expression will come in handy when you want to make your feelings known about the weather this winter.  Literally meaning “arse cold“, the word describes that sensation we all know well – when it’s so bitterly cold outside that your backside freezes.

The word is so widely used in Germany, that there was even a romantic comedy called “Arschkalt” released in 2011. It’s about an emotionally cold frozen food supplier.

5. Ach so

If you find yourself taken by surprise, or suddenly reminded of something, then use this phrase to convince everyone of your true Germanness. 

For example, if, while shopping, you’re reminded by the cashier to enter your pin, you can loudly and proudly declare: 

Ach soooo! – Ah, now I see!

6. Feierabend

When you’re about to leave work this evening, and your colleagues ask “gehst du schon?“ (are you going already?) tell them “ja – ich habe schon Feierabend“ (“Yes, it’s the end of work for me already”).

This cheerful sounding compound noun literally means “celebration evening“ and is used to mean “the end of work”. The “Feier” (celebration) part, reflects the meaning of leisure, free or rest time.

READ ALSO: How to overcome five of the biggest stumbling blocks when learning German

Examples:

um 17 Uhr ist bei uns Feierabend – We stop working here at 5pm

Wir machen jetzt FeierabendWe’re calling it a day now

Two workers celebrate their Feierabend in Frankfurt am Main.
Two workers celebrate their Feierabend in Frankfurt am Main. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

7. Egal

Don’t care? Then tell someone: “es ist mir egal!“ 

This word is used surprisingly often to express indifference or to describe something of little consequence, and has the same linguistic roots as the English word “equal”.

Examples:

es ist mir egal was du sagst  – I don’t care what you say

es ist egal wo du herkommst – It doesn’t matter where you come from

8. Das ist mir Wurst

If you want to go one step further than “egal“, you can declare: “das ist mir Wurst!“ – literally meaning “that is sausage to me!“ – to show that you really couldn’t care less. 

Want to sound even more authentic? Just make the word “Wurst” into “Wurscht” – because that’s how they pronounce sausage in southern Germany.

Olaf Scholz enjoying a Sausage after his second TV debate in September.
Olaf Scholz enjoying Currywurst after his second TV debate in September. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

9. Es geht

Literally meaning “it goes”, this phrase is a very German way of saying that things are not great, but they’re ok. 

Examples:

Es wird eine Stunde dauern, geht das? – It will take an hour, is that ok?

Es geht – It’s alright

10. Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof

Finally, if you haven’t got a clue what someone is saying (or want to fit in), tell them: “Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof” – literally “I only understand train station” – a way of saying: “I’m confused.”

This idiom is similar in meaning to the English “it’s all Greek to me”, and shows that you don’t understand something, or don’t want to understand something.

Despite the actual meaning of the phrase, Germans will be immediately convinced that you are a true German yourself, and probably continue chatting.

READ ALSO: German phrase of the day – Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof

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GERMAN LANGUAGE

Denglisch: The English words that will make you sound German

Denglisch - a hybrid of Deutsch and English - can refer to the half-and-half way Germans and foreigners speak to each other. But Germans use plenty of English words amongst themselves - although they don’t always mean the same thing.

Denglisch: The English words that will make you sound German

English speakers are no stranger to using certain German words when speaking English—schadenfreude and kindergarten being perhaps the most obvious. The process is possibly even more advanced in reverse.

Many Germans are proud of being able to speak English well, and the Berlin Wall’s fall in 1989 only accelerated the process, as a redefined international community – with English as the main global language – beckoned.

Now English words are found in all parts of German life. Many Germans don’t even necessarily understand why. English-language cultural influence is certainly a part of German life, but the dubbing of television shows, to use just one example, remains far more widespread in Germany than in many smaller European countries, which use original audio with subtitles.

Here’s a selection of anglicisms that Germans use with each other. 

READ ALSO: Could Denglisch one day kill of English?

‘Coffee-To-Go’ or ‘Takeaway’

‘Ein Kaffee zum mitnehmen’ is correct and your coffee shop owner will definitely understand what you want if you ask for it. But plenty of Germans will ask for a ‘Coffee-To-Go,’ even when speaking German to a German barista. This seems to only apply to coffee ordered on the move, however. If you’re sitting down at a table, expect to order the German Kaffee.

Getting a coffee-to-go in Berlin.

Getting a Coffee-To-Go in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

Human Resources, ‘Soft Skills’ and ‘Manager’

‘Personalabteilung’ is still used to describe a human resources department. But plenty of German companies—whether international or mostly German will use Human Resources even in German-language communication. Although ‘Leiter’ and ‘Leiterin,’ meaning ‘leader’ are used, even German job titles will use “Manager.” The word ‘Manager’ has even been adapted to accommodate German noun genders. A female manager, may be referred to as a ‘Managerin’.

READ ALSO: How easy is it to get an English-speaking job in Germany?

The world of work in Germany is also notable for importing another contemporary English term. ‘Soft Skills’ is used in German when recruiters are looking to see if a candidate might fit culturally into a particular workplace. The words actually describing these skills, like ‘Führungskompetenz’ or ‘leadership ability,’ often sound unmistakably German though. But there are exceptions. ‘Multitasking’ is used in German as well.

‘Clicken,’ ‘Uploaden,’ ‘Downloaden’ and ‘Home Office’

As technology that came of age relatively recently, German has imported many English terms related to technology and the Internet. While web browsers might use ‘Herunterladen’ instead of ‘download’ or ‘hochladen’ instead of ‘upload,’ Germans are just as likely to use the slightly Germanized version of the English word, hence ‘downloaden’.

READ ALSO: Seven English words Germans get delightfully wrong

Even before ‘Home Office’ appeared on German tax returns, to calculate what credit workers could get from remote work during the Covid-19 pandemic, ‘Home Office’ was still widely used in German to describe, well, working from home. It can be confusing for English speakers, though, especially those from the UK, because the Home Office is a department in the British government. 

English words that have slightly different meanings in German – ‘Shitstorm’ and ‘Public Viewing’

There are English words Germans use that don’t always mean quite the same thing to a native English speaker. An English speaker from the UK or Ireland, for example, might associate a ‘public viewing’ with an open casket funeral. Germans, however, tends to use “public viewing” almost exclusively to mean a large screening, usually of an event, that many people can gather to watch for free. Placing a large television at the Brandenburg Gate for German Football Team matches is perhaps the most immediately recognisable example of a ‘public viewing’.

Then there’s what, at least to native English speakers, might sound outright bizarre. But former Chancellor Angela Merkel herself used “Shitstorm” more than once while in office. In German though, it can refer specifically to a social media backlash involving heated online comments.

Another typical English-sounding word used in German differently is ‘Handy’ – meaning cellphone (well, it does fit in your hand). It can sound a bit strange to English speakers, though. 

Other words, however, more or less mean what you think they do – such as when one German newspaper referred to Brexit as a ‘Clusterfuck’.

READ ALSO: Shitstorm ‘best English gift to German language’

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