5 Common Mistakes that German Speakers Make in English

Over the course of my English teaching career, I’ve worked with a lot of German speakers. What I’ve found is that the same mistakes are actually made by many different individuals. So if German is your native language, or if you’re teaching English to German speakers, here’s a quick list of 5 common mistakes, the corrected version, and a short explanation of what’s going on.

Mistake 1: “In the near from”

Incorrect:

He lives in the near from Toronto.
The gas station is in the near from the bank.

Correct:

He lives near Toronto. OR He lives close to Toronto.
The gas station is near the bank. OR The gas station is close to the bank.

What’s going on?

Many German speakers simply import the German version “in die Nähe von” into English.

Mistake 2: “Will”, when you mean “want to”

Incorrect:

I will learn English.
I will meet Taylor Swift.

Correct:

I want to learn English.
I want to meet Taylor Swift.

Why?

The German word will (from wollen) means to want. Meanwhile, the English verb will is used to form the future tense. “I will meet Taylor Swift” actually means “Ich werde Taylor Swift treffen”. It’s nice to hear such an optimism, but if you’re just expressing a desire or a wish to do something, then go for want to instead of will.

Mistake 3: “Become”

Incorrect:

I become 20 emails a day.
I became a new job.

Correct:

I get 20 emails a day. OR I receive 20 emails a day.
I got a new job.

Why?

The German word bekommen means to get or to receive, so many German speakers simply import it into English. But, unless a fairy comes down, waves their wand, and transforms you, there is no way to become an email or a job or a steak or a beer in English. You can, however, become a doctor or nurse or lawyer after a few years of training.

For example:

“Er ist Artzt geworden.” (He became a doctor.)

Other than that, switch any instances of become to get to for an instant improvement in your English.

Mistake 4: “meet us”

Incorrect:

We will meet us tomorrow.
We met us yesterday.

Correct:
We will meet tomorrow.
We met yesterday.

Why?

In the German sentence

“Wir treffen uns.”

the verb meet is accompanied by us. Just remember to cut the us out in English and you’re on your way to better English grammar.

Mistake 5: “actually” when you mean “at the moment”

Incorrect:

I actually work as a lawyer.
I actually live in Frankfurt.

Correct:

I currently work as a lawyer. OR I work as a lawyer at the moment.
I currently live in Frankfurt. OR I live in Frankfurt at the moment.

In English, actually means eigentlich, and isn’t related to the German word aktuell, meaning current.

These are 5 mistakes that most of my German-speaking students have made at one point or another, so identifying and eliminating them will put you (or your German-speaking students) straight onto the path to great English. I wish you lots of success learning English, and keep an eye out for a part 2!

Image by Robert Debowski (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ktz/59433562/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

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