Welcome to the LanguaGist series, where I teach you basic words and phrases you need when visiting a country where you don’t speak the language.
After visiting 21 countries, I’ve found that learning even a few words of the language goes a long, long way toward making your interactions with locals more “Yay!” than “Yikes!”
This little bit of effort has made my travels far more pleasant, rich, meaningful, and personal (and has even gotten me free stuff!).
I didn’t pull these words out of a textbook – they’re what people actually say during their day-to-day lives. I learned these phrases from friends, strangers, and by making some embarrassing (but useful!) mistakes.
These are all the words you need to get through a day of normal interactions (ordering food in a restaurant, buying a ticket to an attraction, saying you don’t understand, etc.) in that language.
I’m providing phonetic translations here (as the word sounds to English-speaking ears) rather than the correct spellings so you can learn to pronounce the words more easily.
Also, these aren’t perfect accent-wise – there are some sounds that German has and English doesn’t. With that said, you’ll make yourself understood with these pronunciations.
Let’s get started!
German Greetings and Goodbyes:
Hello: “Hallo.” Typical casual greeting in German.
Good morning: “Goo-ten more-gan.”
Casual goodbye: “Choo-ss!” (Like “juice”, but with a “ch” in the beginning instead of a j.)
Note: The above is a goodbye for casual interactions only, usually used with friends (or Uber drivers). I usually don’t say a formal goodbye (“Off vee-der-zane!”) to strangers; I would say “Danke”, smile, and leave it at that.
Excuse me: “En-shuul-di-gung.” Used both when bumping into someone by accident and when you need to get someone’s attention.
Thank you: “Dahn-ka.” You can also say, “Dahn-ka shoon” if you want to say “Thank you very much.”
Please or you’re welcome: “Bit-tuh.” (Think “bitter” in a British accent.)
No: Nine. (Actually spelling “Nein”, but pronounced like “Nine” in English.)
How to Explain You Don’t Know What You’re Doing:
I include this section because sometimes if you use a few words of their language, people will assume you’re fluent. This can lead to them speaking very fast at you while you silently panic.
These phrases let the other person know that you probably won’t understand most of what they say if they continue speaking in their language, and tells them the language you’d prefer to use.
I’m learning German: “Ick lern-ah Doy-tch.”
I only speak a little German: “Ick sprek-eh eye-n biss-en Doy-tch.”
Do you speak English? “Shprek-en zee English?”
I don’t understand: “Ick versh-tee-eh neek-t.”
Slowly please: “Lang-sam, bit-tuh.”
I’m sorry: “Ess toot mer lied.”
Buying a Ticket
Luckily the word for “ticket” is the same in German and English, so this is super simple.
Ticket for one, please. “Ticket fur eye-nen, bit-tuh.”
When I sit down in a restaurant in a German-speaking country, I preface the entire interaction by telling them (in German) that I’m in the process of learning German. This prepares the person to be patient and forgiving of mistakes.
Most people are happy to help you learn their language, so don’t be afraid to try!
Hello – table for one, please: “Hallo – tish fur eye-nen, bit-teh.” (If you want a table for two, replace “eye-nen” with “z-vy”.)
“Eating or drinking?” They’ll usually ask you this when you sit down. In German, this is “Essen odor trinken?”. Answer accordingly.
“What would you like to order?” Some common forms of this question: “Vass mock-ten zee essen?” or “Vass hatten zee gurn?”. Mostly I tend to just listen for the words “essen”, eat, or “trinken,” drink, and then answer accordingly.
I would like [name the thing you’d like], please: “Ick hat-tuh gurn … bit-tuh.”
Some connecting words you might find helpful while ordering:
- With: “mitt”
- Without: “oh-neh”
- And: “und”
The check, please: “Dee reck-nung, bit-tuh.”
And that’s it!
These are the basics of interacting in German on a day-to-day basis and should get you through most casual interactions.
Pro tip: If you’re ever in doubt about pronunciation, consult Google Translate. It’s usually pretty good.
Have you used these phrases in a German-speaking country? How did it go? Tell me in the comments!
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