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5 of the most cringeworthy mistakes I've made in German

Sarah Magill
Sarah Magill - [email protected]
5 of the most cringeworthy mistakes I've made in German
A woman sits outside her front door having locked herself out of her home. Photo: pa/obs DVAG Deutsche Vermögensberatung AG | DVAG Deutsche Vermögensberatung

Learning German can sometimes be a process of trial and error. Sarah Magill talks about 5 of the most embarrassing language mistakes she's made along the way.


Having lived in Germany now for eight years, I like to think that my German - though far from perfect -  is now at a pretty good level. But when I look back at my language-learning journey over the past few years, I shake my head in shame when I think of some of the silly mistakes I've made. Here are some of the ones which still make me cringe.


1. Sie haben mich gespeichert

A few years ago, when I was renting a room in a flat in the Wedding district of Berlin, I managed to lock myself out of my flat on a weekend when my flatmate was away.

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With no spare key, I had to call the Schlüsseldienst (locksmith) to get me back inside. I was delighted when a serviceman arrived in less than an hour, easily unpicked the lock and charged me less than a hundred euros for the service.

Wanting to express my gratitude, I told him Sie haben mich gespeichert, thinking this meant “you have saved me”.

His confused expression said otherwise, however, and after he'd left, a check online made me realise what I'd in fact said was - "you have stored me". I knew the verb speichern from saving files on my computer at work, and mistakenly thought it meant "to save" as in "to rescue" too.  

What I should have said was Sie haben mich gerettet - retten being the verb for "to rescue". Needless to say I've not made that mistake since. 

2. Ich bin echt krank

Around the same time period, I found myself feeling under the weather one day when I was due on a shift at work.

Unable to face a phone call in German, I constructed what I thought was a foolproof Krankmeldung (notice of being sick) via SMS and texted the shift manager, starting with the phrase Ich bin echt krank.

A sick woman in bed sends a message on her phone. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

A confusing reply from my then-manager, along the lines of "I didn't doubt that you were sick" prompted me to run my message by a German friend. 

They laughed a lot and told me that, instead of saying "I am really sick", I had said that "I am actually sick", suggesting that I thought my manager didn't believe me. 

What I should have said, was Ich bin sehr krank - "I am very sick", although that also sounds a little clumsy. Nowadays, I would say something like Mir geht's gar nicht gut (I'm not feeling well at all).

3. Ich bin entspannt!

This is a mistake I've made more recently, but hopefully won't again. 

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At the end of a Zoom call with colleagues discussing an upcoming project, I signed off by telling them Ich bin entspannt! The polite chuckles that followed made me realise afterwards that I'd chosen the wrong word. 

Instead of saying "I'm excited" (ich bin gespannt) I'd said "I'm relaxed". Though not too bad in the scheme of things, it wasn't exactly the message I'd wanted to communicate.


4. Ich bin besorgt, danke

I have to admit that I've made this mistake more than once and felt no less stupid each time. 

On a couple of occasions, I've been in a restaurant or a cafe, and when the waiter has asked me if everything is ok, I've said Ich bin besorgt, danke, which means "I'm worried, thank you". 

A waiter serves water to a table of diners. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Informationszentrale Deutsches Mineralwasser | Informationszentrale Deutsches M
What I should have said, of course, was Ich bin versorgt which means literally "I am supplied" and is a way of saying "I have everything I need". 

5. Ich habe einen Freund auf der Straße gebumst

Last by no means least is this outrageous clanger I dropped once to my German tandem partner back at the beginning of my German-language learning journey. 

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Wanting to excuse myself for being late by explaining that I had bumped into a friend on the street, I apologised and told her Ich habe einen Freund auf der Straße gebumst. 


When her uproarious laughter subsided, she politely explained to me that I had just told her "I had sex with a friend in the street", using the very rude German verb bumsen. What I should have said, was Ich habe einen Freund auf der Straße zufällig getroffen ("I met a friend by chance on the street.")

I'm happy to say that that is one mistake I have never repeated. 


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marco.fnts 2022/10/15 12:49
Someone snatched my phone right off my hands at the Hauptbanhof in Berlin, and my brain was trying to remember the word for 'thief' in German, and in the heat of the moment I guess my thought process was: "bad person - usually German is similar to English - the word has a 't' and an 'f' in it" and out my mouth the word 'TEUFEL!!!!' came out. A few seconds later I realized I had just shouted "DEVIL!!!!" in the middle of a busy train station and I've never been so embarrassed in my life.

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