Six Typical English Mistakes Germans Make

I’ve been teaching German and English in companies for the last five years. During this time, I noticed that some mistakes repeat over and over. Usually they are a result of people trying to translate their native language one-by-one into the foreign language. It goes without saying that this doesn’t always work. Here are some common mistakes Germans do when speaking English.

  • I become the steak.

This one’s very common and always hilarious. Germans become emails every day. At a restaurant they become the menu card and then become the steak. If a German woman is pregnant she becomes a child. And if a German writer is really good, he might just become a price. What an honor!

I think you noticed what’s going on. When Germans say become, often what they really mean is get. This is because in German we use the word bekommen for get! Talk about confusing. This is what’s called a false friend: words that sound the same in German and English but have a different meaning.

  • My car sucks. I will a new car!

Here’s another false friend. The German word will means want to (have). So despite being written just like the English word will and sounding exactly the same, it means something completely different. Accordingly, if you’re German and your car sucks (for example because you bought an American car – snap!), you will a new car. And everybody will more money.

  • I sit me on the chair, he sits him on the sofa.

Reflexive verbs are verbs, that need refering back to the person. For example you cannot simply say: I wash. You have to refer back to yourself: I wash myself. Such reflexive verbs are very uncommon in English, in German not so much. We use reflexive verbs all the time. For example the word sitze = sit is reflexive in German:

I sit on the chair.

Ich setze mich auf den Stuhl.

Note that I refer back using mich = me, myself. Translate that one-by-one and you got: I sit me on the chair. As a German, I also dress me in the morning and I hurry me to get to work on time. In my free time, I interest me in music.

  • Live you in America? Work you at BMW?

This one I basically hear every day. When you construct a question in the Present Simple, you need to use the auxiliary verbs do or does. In German there are no such auxiliary verbs. When we make a question, we simply switch verb and subject. For example, in English we go from statement to question like this:

You live in America. Do you live in America?

So we need to add the auxiliary verb do. In German it works like this (you = du, live = lebst):

Du lebst in Amerika. → Lebst du in America?

Note that we simply switched you and live. If you translate this sentence structure one-to-one to English (which many do), you’ll end up with such sentences: Live you in America? Work you at BMW? Understand you this?

  • I live not in America. I work not at BMW.

This is another common mistake. You need to use auxiliary verbs when negating a sentence in the Simple Present. These are: don’t and doesn’t. In German however we simply add nicht = not.

I live in America. → I don’t live in America.

Ich lebe in Amerika. → Ich lebe nicht in America.

Again, translate this one-to-one and you’ll end up with: I live not in America. I work not at BMW. I understand this not.

  • It gives a nice Italian restaurant here.

In German cities it gives a lot of nice restaurant. And on the street it gives a lot of nice cars. And despite common belief, it gives a lot of happy and friendly people here. Sounds odd? Well it’s all true, except that you shouldn’t use it gives for there is / are, which is just what a lot of Germans do. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t notice this mistake. How does it happen? The correct German phrase for there is / are is es gibt. And this translates one-to-one into it gives.

Understand you Germans now? I hope this bit helped. And be sure to check out the rest of the blog, it gives a lot of great entries here and I become a lot of nice comments from all over the world. Really!

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