German – Ten phrases I still say wrong

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Even though my German is always improving, I still find myself getting tangled up and mashing random things together. Then there are some things that I just keep saying wrong. No matter how many times I’m told, or how often I tell myself, they are practically ingrained. Here’s my top ten.

Ich bin heiß

This translates directly to: I am hot. So when I’m hot I always say: Ich bin heiß. Except what I should be saying is: Mir ist heiß. There is a very subtle difference in the words, yet a considerable difference in the meaning. Mir ist heiß means you are feeling hot, temperature-wise. Ich bin heiß, however, means you think you’re damn sexy. It’s the same with cold – one way means cold temperature-wise, the other way implies that you are cold-hearted. Even though I know the rule by heart, it still trips me up.

Formal speech

I’ve already written a separate blog about this because this is just such a big difference between Austria and Australia. But it’s getting awkward, because previously, I was just trying to get words out, to be understood, so it was ok that I didn’t pay attention to formal/informal… however now that I am far more proficient in German, not only do I have to worry about which one I should be using, but I also sometimes hear my mistakes when I make them.                                                         

Evening salutations

In winter it’s cold and dark really early – and as soon as that happens, for me, it’s night time. So when I leave somewhere, be it work or dinner or a friend’s house, I tend to roll out gute nacht. Which is good night. Of course I have discovered that using gute nacht is only really appropriate when you are literally off to bed. So you might say it when you leave a friend’s place very late at night, but you definitely wouldn’t say it when you were leaving work – ever. Oh, but I do. It just slips out. What I should say is schönen Abend which is good evening. I’m working on it.

Introducing myself

There seems to be different rules about whether you introduce yourself with a first or last name. When answering the phone it seems to be usual to say your last name, not your first. I tend to answer the phone with ‘Debbie speaking’, but I should probably answer the phone by barking my last name (which I still can’t pronounce properly, by the way). Because in German it should sound a bit angry when you’re not sure who’s on the other end.

Ich bin recht

I am right! I am right! That’s what ich bin recht translates to word-for-word. But apparently I am not right. I am so wrong. Saying this essentially proclaims that I’m devoted to the right wing party. Which, in Austria, is not really an acceptable thing to say. I just hope that when I say it wrong people realise that I am not trying to be offensive, or political – I just want to say: ich habe recht.

Ich gehe ins Klo

Oh, if it is not embarrassing enough to have to announce to people you are off to the bathroom in another language, I then go and do it consistently wrong. The words for in and on in German are very confusing. Off I go to the toilet announcing ich gehe ins Klo. Which I assume means I am going to the bathroom. But what it actually means is that I am going to get into the toilet. Literally, all the way into. Apparently I should say ich gehe aufs Klo

Nicht jetzt

The classic! Not yet, I want to say. So I translate word for word: nicht jetzt. Except that’s not how you say it – nicht jetzt just sounds stupid. What you want to say is: noch nicht. Much lighter and smoother on the tongue.

Mixing up farewells

I’ve mentioned this before, how in Austria it seems to be that when you say goodbye, it’s more friendly if you say it in multiple different ways, rolling them off the tongue in rapid succession. In trying to fit in I attempt this myself, but often mix up ciao with the English bye, and I farewell someone by saying chai. Embarrassing!

Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time of the day

At different times of the day, you are meant to say different things in greeting people. And I’m not just talking about good morning or good evening, that’s easy. Much like gute nacht above, I still get confused about when to say servus, mahlzeit and so on. Generally, I stick with the safe hallo and often just a standard hi comes out, which to be fair, they all understand.

Mixing up umbrellas

Did you know that in German there are two types of umbrellas. There’s a Regenschirm (that is a rain umbrella) and there is a Sonnenschirm (that is a sun umbrella). I will regularly mix up the two, taking my ‘sun umbrella’ out in the rain and ordering a ‘rain umbrella’ at the beach. Sigh.


4 thoughts on “German – Ten phrases I still say wrong

  1. Mum August 12, 2019 / 4:44 am

    I just love this Debbie. It makes me feel less inadequate. These things are so hard to remember.

    • debbiekaye1980 August 15, 2019 / 1:08 pm

      It’s all hard to remember… but I guess we just keep trying 😉

  2. Rosie August 12, 2019 / 5:25 pm

    #1 has tripped me up in French in the past; one mis-chosen verb is all it takes to inadvertently say I’m sexy/frigid instead of I’m hot/cold. Continuing on that theme, jams are sometimes called ‘preserves’ in English… but in French, ‘un préservatif’ means a condom. I didn’t know Germans had specific words for rain/sun umbrellas. I guess it’s similar to us saying umbrella and parasol, only no one really uses the latter these days!

    • debbiekaye1980 August 15, 2019 / 1:07 pm

      hehe. I did not know the French word for condom – that would be embarrassing if you used it in the wrong place!

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