German Phrases For Dummies

German Phrases For Dummies

by Paulina Christensen

ISBN: 9780764595530

Publisher Wiley Publishing

Published in Calendars/Foreign Language

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Sample Chapter

I Say It How? Speaking German

In This Chapter

* Recognizing the German you already know

* Pronouncing the basics

* Using popular expressions

The best way to learn a new language is total immersion - so in this chapter, you jump right into the German language. This chapter shows you the German you may already know, explains how to pronounce German, and introduces you to some popular German expressions.

The German You Know

Because both German and English belong to the group of Germanic languages, they have quite a few identical or similar words. These words are called cognates.

Friendly allies (perfect cognates)

The following words are spelled the same way and have the same meaning in German and English. The only differences are the pronunciation and the fact that in German, nouns are always capitalized:

  •   der Arm (dehr arm)

  •   der Bandit (dehr ban-deet)

  •   die Bank (dee bank)

  •   die Basis (dee bah-zis)

  •   blind (blint)

  •   die Butter (dee bu-ter)

  •   elegant (ele-gant)

  •   die Emotion (dee emoh-tsiohn)

  •   emotional (emoh-tsioh-nahl)

  •   der Finger (dehr fin-ger)

  •   die Garage (dee ga-rah-je)

  •   die Hand (dee hant)

  •   das Hotel (das hoh-tel)

  •   die Inspiration (dee in-spee-ra-tsiohn)

  •   international (in-ter-natsio-nahl)

  •   irrational (ira-tsioh-nahl)

  •   der Kitsch (dehr kitsh)

  •   modern (moh-dern)

  •   der Moment (dehr moh-ment)

  •   das Museum (das mu-zeh-um)

  •   der Name (dehr nah-me)

  •   die Nation (dee nats-iohn)

  •   die Olive (dee oh-lee-ve)

  •   die Orange (dee oh-rong-je)

  •   parallel (para-lehl)

  •   das Photo (das foh-toh)

  •   das Problem (das pro-blehm)

  •   die Religion (dee reli-giohn)

  •   das Restaurant (das res-toh-rong)

  •   die Rose (dee roh-ze)

  •   der Service (dehr ser-vis)

  •   das Signal (das zig-nahl)

  •   der Sport (dehr shport)

  •   die Statue (dee shtah-tooe)

  •   das System (das zuus-tehm)

  •   das Taxi (das ta-xee)

  •   der Tiger (dehr tee-ger)

  •   der Tunnel (dehr tu-nel)

  •   wild (vilt)

  •   der Wind (dehr vint)

    Kissing cousins (near cognates)

    Many words, like the ones in Table 1-1, are spelled almost the same in German as in English and have the same meaning.


    Notice that the English "c" is a "k" in most German words.

    False friends

    As in every language, German contains some false friends - those words that look very similar to English words but often have a completely different meaning:

  •   After (af-ter): If you want to avoid embarrassment, remember the meaning of this word. It means "anus" and not "after." The German word for "after" is nach (nahH) or nachdem (nahH-dehm).

  •   aktuell (ak-too-el): This word means "up-to-date" and "current," not "actually." The German translation for "actually" is tatsachlich (taht-seH-liH).

  •   also (al-zoh): This one means "so, therefore" and not "also." The German word for "also" is auch (owH).

  •   bekommen (be-ko-men): This verb is an important one to remember. It means "to get" and not "to become." The German word for "to become" is werden (vehr-den).

  •   Bowle (boh-le): This noun is a mixed drink of fruits and alcohol and not a "bowl," which in German, is Schussel (shuu-sel) (the one you put food into) or Kugel (koo-gel) (sports-type ball).

  •   brav (brahf): This word means "well behaved" and not "brave." The German word for "brave" is tapfer (tap-fer).

  •   Brief (breef): This word is a noun and means "letter" and not "brief." The German translation for the adjective "brief" is kurz (kurts), and, for the noun, Auftrag (owf-trahgk) or Unterlagen (un-ter-lah-gen).

  •   Chef (shef): This one is the guy you take orders from, your boss or principal, and not the guy who's in charge of the cooking. The German word for "chef" is Kuchenchef (kuu-Hen-shef) or Chefkoch (shef-koH).

  •   eventuell (eh-ven-too-el): This one means "possibly" and not "eventually," which would be schlie?lich (shlees-liH) in German.

  •   genial (ge-nee-ahl): This adjective describes an idea or person "of genius" and has nothing to do with "genial." The German word for "genial" is heiter (hy-ter).

  •   Kind (kint): This one is the German word for "child" and has nothing to do with the English "kind," which would be nett (net) or liebenswurdig (lee-bens-vuur-digk) in German.

  •   Komfort (kom-fohr): This word means "amenity" - describing something that is comfortable - and not "comfort." The German word for "comfort" is Trost (trohst).

  •   Most (most): This German word means a young wine (or juice). The German word for the English "most" is das meiste (das my-ste). For example, you would say die meisten Leute (die my-sten loy-te) (most people).

  •   ordinar (or-di-ner): This word means "vulgar" rather than "ordinary." The German word for "ordinary" is normal (nor-mahl) or gewohnlich (ge-vuohn-liH).

  •   pathetisch (pa-teh-tish): This one means "overly emotional" and not "pathetic," which, in German, is jammerlich (ye-mer-liH) or armselig (arm-zeh-ligk).

  •   Provision (pro-vi-ziohn): The meaning of this word is "commission" and not "provision." The German word for "provision" is Vorsorge (fohrzor-ge) or Versorgung (fer-zor-gungk).

  •   psychisch (psuu-Hish): This word means "psychological" and not "psychic." The German translation for "psychic" is Medium (meh-di-um) (if you mean the person) or telepathisch (telepah-tish).

  •   See (zeh): This word means "lake" or "sea." In German, the verb "to see" is sehen (seh-hen).

  •   sensibel (zen-zee-bel): The meaning of this word is "sensitive" and not "sensible," which translates into vernunftig (fer-nuunf-tigk).

  •   sympathisch (zuum-pah-tish): This word means "nice" and not "sympathetic." The German word for "sympathetic" is mitfuhlend (mit-fuu-lent).

    Lenders and borrowers

    The English language has adopted a few German words and retained their meaning with a different pronunciation, such as Kindergarten (kin-der-gar-ten) (Garten is the German word for garden), Zeitgeist (tsyt-gyst), Leitmotiv (lyt-mo-teef), and Angst (angst) - a term that lately has become quite fashionable.

    However, many more English words have made their way into the German language. Sometimes, the combination of English and German leads to quite remarkable linguistic oddities. For example, you may hear das ist gerade in/out (das ist ge-rah-de in/out) (that's in/out right now) or check das mal ab (check das mahl ap) (check that out).

    The following English words are commonly used in German:

  •   der Boss

  •   das Business

  •   die City

  •   cool

  •   das Design

  •   der Dress Code

  •   das Event

  •   Fashion (used without article)

  •   das Feeling

  •   das Fast Food

  •   Hi

  •   hip

  •   der Hit

  •   das Jet Set

  •   der Job

  •   das Jogging

  •   der Manager

  •   das Marketing

  •   Okay

  •   das Outing

  •   overdressed/underdressed

  •   die Party

  •   das Ranking (mostly sports)

  •   das Shopping

  •   die Show/Talkshow

  •   das Steak

  •   der Thriller

  •   das Understatement

  •   Wow

    Here are a few phrases using these English words in German:

  •   Hi, wie geht's? Wie ist der neue Job? (hi, vee gehts? vee ist dehr noye job) (Hi. How are you? How is the new job?)

  •   Super! Ich mache Marketing und mein Boss ist total nett. (super! iH ma-He marketing unt myn boss ist to-tahl net) (Super! I'm doing marketing and my boss is totally nice.)

  •   Warst Du in der City? (vahrst doo in dehr city) (Have you been downtown?)

    And finally, German uses a few "fake" English terms. These terms wouldn't be used in the same context in the English language. For example, the German word for a mobile phone is "Handy," and a "Party Service" is a company that caters parties and public events.

    Mouthing Off: Basic Pronunciation

    The key to pronouncing a foreign language is forgetting your fear of sounding awkward and never getting it right. To master the language, you need to know the basic rules of pronunciation and concentrate on small units, which can gradually be expanded - from sounds to words and sentences. The rest is practice, practice, practice.

    The German alphabet has the same number of letters as the English one, 26. However, many of the letters are pronounced differently than their English counterparts. The good news is that German words are pronounced exactly as they are. Here's the German alphabet:

    a (ah) b (beh) c (tseh) d (deh) e (eh) f (eff) g (geh) h (hah) i (ih) j (yot) k (kah) l (ell) m (em) n (en) o (oh) p (peh) q (koo) r (err) s (ess) t (teh) u (ooh) v (fow) w (veh) x (eks) y (uppsilon) z (tset)

    Pronouncing vowels

    In German, vowels (a, e, i, o, and u) can have long, drawn-out vowel sounds or shorter vowel sounds. Luckily, a few general rules do apply:

  •   A vowel is long when it's followed by an "h," as in Stahl (shtahl) (steel).

  •   A vowel is long when a single consonant follows it, as in Tag (tahgk) (day).

  •   A vowel is long when it's doubled, as in Teer (tehr) (tar) or Aal (ahl) (eel).

  •   In general, a vowel is short when two or more consonants follow it, as in Tanne (ta-ne) (fir tree).

    Table 1-2 gives you an idea of how to pronounce German vowels by providing you with examples and a phonetic script - the letter combinations that serve as the English equivalent of the German letter's pronunciation.

    In this book's phonetic script, diacritics (the little "hats" on letters) (for example, e) indicate that a vowel sound is short.


    Pronounce the German vowel "i" (long and short) like the English sound "ee"!

    Pronouncing umlauts

    You may have seen those pesky little dots that sometimes appear over vowels in German words. They're called Umlaute (um-low-te) (umlauts). They slightly alter the sound of a vowel, as outlined in Table 1-3.


    Nouns sometimes acquire an umlaut in their plural form.

    Pronouncing diphthongs

    Diphthongs are combinations of two vowels in one syllable (as in the English "lie"), and the German language has quite a few of them, as shown in Table 1-4.

    Pronouncing consonants

    You may be relieved to discover that the sounds of German consonants aren't as unfamiliar as those of the vowels. In fact, German consonants are either pronounced like their English equivalents or like other English consonants. Well, there are a couple of oddities and exceptions, which we show you later.

    Pronounce the letters f, h, k, l, m, n, p, t, and x the same as in English.


    Although the German "r" is represented as "r" in the phonetic script of this book, it's pronounced differently. In German, you don't roll the "r." To make the sound, position your tongue as if you want to make the "r" sound, but instead of rolling the tip of your tongue off your palate, leave the tongue straight and try to produce the sound in the back of your throat!

    Table 1-5 tells you how to pronounce the rest of the German consonants.

    Identifying a new letter: B

    In written German, you come across a letter, ? (estset), which is a combination of the letters s (es) and z

    (tset) and is pronounced as a sharp "s." It's considered a single consonant but isn't an additional letter of the alphabet.

    The German language used to have quite a few words that were spelled either with "ss" or "?" (the sound is identical) and it was tricky to get the spelling right. German has recently undergone a spelling reform that solved this problem. Here's the scoop:

  •   After a long vowel, the sharp "s" is spelled "?" - for example in Fu? (foos) (foot).

  •   After a short vowel, the sharp "s" is spelled "ss" - for example in Fass (fas) (barrel).


    Switzerland doesn't use the ? at all. Instead, the Swiss always spell words with the double "ss."

    Pronouncing combinations of consonants

    The German language has a few combinations of consonants that don't occur in the English language. Most of them are easy to pronounce, with the exception of "ch," which is unfamiliar to the English tongue.

    The letter combination ch has absolutely no equivalent in English. It's kind of a gargling hiss and is represented by a capital "H" in the phonetic script in this book.

    Try to approximate this sound by starting with the way you pronounce the letter "h" in the beginning of the word human and then drawing out and emphasizing the "h." The "ch" sound is produced at the same place in the back of your throat as the "k" sound. But instead of rolling your tongue in the back of your mouth - as you do when you pronounce a "k" - you have to lower it and bring it forward to your front teeth. If you practice it a little, you shouldn't have problems pronouncing the words ich (iH) (I) and vielleicht (fee-lyHt) (perhaps). (Yes, it does sound a bit like your cat when she has a hairball.)

    The good news is that there are a couple of words where "ch" is simply pronounced as a "k," for example in Wachs (vaks) (wax) or Lachs (laks) (salmon).


    Excerpted from "German Phrases For Dummies" by Paulina Christensen. Copyright © 2005 by Paulina Christensen. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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