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Handy German language tips for beginners

by Phoebe on 18 Sep 2018

By now you’re probably super excited that you’re going to be moving to Germany! Many expats choose Germany when they want to spend a semester abroad, start a new career with a promising startup, or take an internship to help prepare for their future. Regardless of your reason for moving, you may be wondering where you should start with learning German. No one wants to start up a German conversation with a local, only to say something awkward or offensive, right?

The good news is that a large majority of the German-speaking population can also speak English, especially in cities with universities and younger demographics, such as Berlin. This also applies to other countries and cities where German is the language of choice, like Vienna. In fact, English is spoken as a second language in most workplaces, while a number of courses at the university are taught completely in English.

Additionally, due to its central location in Europe and its growing number of growing influences, the German people are very used to expats, so many residents can switch from language to language with ease. And with a large international scene, it’s easy to begin to feel comfortable in Germany and try to have German conversations with the locals, who will usually break into English if you get stuck searching for a word in German.

But still — no matter how simple it may be to get by without being fluent in German — a good practical tip is always to learn as much of it as you can, even before your move. Plus, with the large number of free language apps that you can download, such as Duolingo, HelloTalk and Memrise, you can easily practice from your smartphone whenever you have a few spare minutes.

Yet, the most important thing about speaking the official language is that it’s the perfect way to really embrace the culture and learn about the local population. And why not look cool in front of your new friends by ordering in German the next time you go out for dinner?

This helpful guide includes plenty of language tips should help with a variety of German conversations in your life.

Getting Started

![Berlin streets] Comprised of five vowels and 21 consonants, the German language has the same number of letters as in the English language. However, all pronunciations are not the same, and there are also combined letters and umlauts which are the dots you’ll see above some letters.

Vowels

German vowel sounds can be pronounced in different ways than you may be accustomed. All vowels are long unless followed by a consonant grouping. An umlaut or a pairing can also change the sound.

Ä - “eh” as in “led”

Ö - "i" as in "girl"

Ü - "oo" as in "soon"

au - “ow” as in “now”

äu - “oy” as in “toy”

eu - “oy” as in “toy”

ei - “long i” as in “eye”

ie - “long e” as in “see”

Consonants

The sounds of many German consonants can also vary, whether in singular letters or pairings, but many are very similar to English.

b - “p” when at the end of a word, as in “leap” d - “t” when at the end of the word, as in “bat” g - “k” when at the end of the word, as in “back” ß - “ss” as in “class” j - “y” as in “yack” w - “v” as in”violin” st - “sht” as in “shtick” ch - ”k” as in “track” ig - “ich” as in “sick”

Common phrases

Now that you have an understanding of some of the most common German sounds, it’s fairly simple to begin learning a few phrases that can be of use when you need directions or want to make small talk.

Conversation

Casual conversation can be a good start, including asking questions or being polite.

How are you? - Wie geht es dir?

Excuse me. - Entschuldigung.

Good morning. - Guten Morgen.

Do you work tomorrow? - Arbeitest du morgen?

When is your next class? - Wann ist dein nächster Unterricht?

I’m sorry. - Es tut mir Leid.

It’s nice to meet you! - Schön, Sie kennenzulernen!

What is your name? - Wie heißen Sie?

My name is… - Mein Name ist…

Directions

Map_Munich_Germany Being directionally challenged in a new city is no fun. Knowing how to ask a few questions in basic German can go a long way.

How do I get to the university? - Wie komme ich zur Universität?

Where is the closest bus stop? - Wo ist die nächste Bushaltestelle?

What is the best metro station for the … ? - Was ist die beste U-Bahnstation nach ...?

How close is the city center? - Wie nah ist das Stadtzentrum?

How far is the train station? - Wie weit ist es zum Bahnhof?

Reading signs

Learning to read a few signs in German can be helpful, especially if there are no English translations posted.

Stop - Halt

Go - Gehen

Bathrooms - Toiletten

Staff only - Nur Personal

Entrance - Eingang

Exit - Ausgang

Registration - Anmeldung

Information - Information

Police - Polizei

Eating out

eating out Eating out is very popular in Germany, and with such a wide variety of tasty dishes, it can be helpful to understand what you’re ordering.

Important mentions

Before your meal, there are usually a few questions that you might need to ask, so why not ask them in German?

There will be two for dinner. - Wir werden zu zweit zum Abendessen kommen.

When do you close? - Wann schließen Sie?

I can’t eat gluten. - Ich kann kein Gluten essen.

I have a food allergy to … - Ich habe eine Lebensmittelallergie gegen ...

I am lactose intolerant. - Ich habe eine Laktoseintoleranz.

Asking your server

If you want to try out some of your new German words, practice with your server!

What is this? – Was ist das?

Is this sugar-free? - Ist das zuckerfrei?

Can I see the beer menu? - Kann ich die Bierkarte sehen?

What are your specials? - Was haben Sie im Angebot?

Could I have the ketchup? - Könnte ich den Ketchup haben?

Can I have another drink? - Könnte ich noch ein Getränk bekommen?

Shopping

retail shop Shopping is something that no one can avoid for long, especially when you need to get your new apartment in Berlin ready, and need to fill it with some new furniture and other essentials.

Grocery shopping

If you have a budget to stick to, shopping for your own groceries can be very important. Learning a few basic questions can be really helpful, as well as good practice for speaking German.

How much is it? - Wie viel kostet das?

Where is ...? - Wo finde ich … ?

Pork - Schweinefleisch

Chicken - Hähnchen

Veal - Kalbfleisch

Fish - Fisch

Beef - Rindfleisch

Markets

market-fruit German is known for its many markets, especially during the holiday season. You can also find fresh food ingredients, including fruits, vegetables, meats and spices.

Is this for sale? - Ist das zu verkaufen?

Do you have bicycles? - Haben Sie Fahrräder?

What is the price? - Was ist der Preis?

Do you have change? - Haben Sie Wechselgeld?

Is the meat fresh? - Ist das Fleisch frisch?

Health-related

health insurance While staying in Germany, you may need to use your health insurance and see a physician or pick up medications at a pharmacy.

Do I have a fever? - Habe ich Fieber?

I have pain in my … - Ich habe Schmerzen in meinem ...

I need medicine for a headache. - Ich brauche Medikamente gegen Kopfschmerzen.

I have a stomach ache. - Ich habe Bauchschmerzen.

Can I return to the university? - Kann ich wieder zur Universität zurückgehen?

When can I go back to work? - Wann kann ich wieder arbeiten gehen?

I think it may be broken. - Ich denke, es könnte gebrochen sein.

After reading our language tips, hopefully, you feel comfortable with using a few German words to get started. With so many other things to do to help get ready for your move to Germany, don’t forget to also refer to our informative guide to Germany, filled with help on registration, permits, opening bank accounts and even finding accommodation. If you’d like a little more help with German conversation, be sure to check out Google Translate to hear spoken words and phrases in the German language!

by Phoebe on 18 Sep 2018
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