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Basic German Phrases When Traveling To Germany

Updated on April 5, 2012
A typical town square in Traunstein, Germany
A typical town square in Traunstein, Germany | Source

Speaking German in Germany is a Polite Gesture

Germany is undoubtedly one of those countries where English as a second language is the norm. However, while it might be unnecessary to become über-prepared before traveling overseas, it is always a good idea to pack a few key phrases. This will surely get your trip off on the right foot. Attempting to 'do as the Germans do while in Germany' is a much appreciated gesture and will go a long way towards truly experiencing the local culture.

If you find German a difficult language to pronounce, you are most definitely not alone. The sounds of any two languages are never exactly the same, but with some practice you will be able to make yourself understood. Most noteworthy among the difficult sounds to master, due to the discrepancy between the English and German pronunciation rules, are the following:

German Pronunciation

German Letter
English Pronunciation
Celsius (tsehlziuss)
doch (dokh)/Wachs (vahks)
ja (yaa)
Quark (kvahrk)
sie (zee)/spät (shpait)
schnell (shnehl)
deutsch (doych)
vier (feer)
wie (vee)
zeigen (tsighgern)

The Umlaut Makes German a Difficult Language to Master

And then, of course, there are ‘the two dots above the vowel’ made famous in the United States via the 'Fahrvergnügen' ads from Volkswagen. Yes, these are the ever-challenging, always amusing ‘Umlaut’ sounds which give German its unique guttural appeal. In written language, they can be replaced with the underlying vowel and followed by an ‘e’.

Umlaut Pronunciations

German Letter
English Pronunciation
ä (ae)
Lärm (lehrm)/spät (shpait)
ö (oe)
können (kurnern)
ü (ue)
über (ewber)

Shall I 'Siezen' or 'Duzen'?

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The Formality Surrounding 'You' is Part of the German Culture

Before diving into a few basic German survival phrases, a short formal word on the use of formality in the German language. Although standards might be relaxing a little bit in casual settings and among the younger generations, it is absolutely important to understand the correct use of ‘you’ in German.

There are two forms of 'you': ‘Du’ and ‘Sie’. ‘Du’ is a form of ‘you’ used only with those with whom one is on familiar or intimate terms, such as family, close friends, and children. ‘Sie’ is a more polite form of ‘you’ implying a certain formality between people and taking into account social considerations. 'Sie' is used for those people we commonly address as Herr (Mister), Frau (Misses) and with other titles (such as co-workers).

Map of Germany

Speaking a Little German Will go a Long Way

Germany-bound travelers will have their homework covered if they know ‘ein bisschen Deutsch’ (a little German) before boarding the plane. Truth is that, in the worst case scenario, the rest can be made understood with a couple of universal hand signals. To get you started, take a look at the following list of basic German phrases. Keep it at your fingertips as you leave the comforts of home behind you. If you desire further preparation or help, consider picking up a pocket size ‘German for Travellers’ book, such as those published by Berlitz.

Basic But Useful German Phrases

German Phrases
English Translation
Guten Morgen/Tag/Abend.
Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening.
Wie geht es Dir/Ihnen?
How are you? (informal/formal)
Mein Name ist...
My name is...
Auf Wiedersehen.
Please/Thank you.
Sprechen Sie English?
Do you speak English?
Ich verstehe nicht.
I don't understand.
Könnten Sie das bitte wiederholen?
Could you repeat that please?
Wo ist...?
Where is...?
Was bedeutet das?
What does that mean?
Help me, please.
Helfen Sie mir, bitte.
Guten Appetit.
Enjoy your meal.
Noch ein Bier, bitte.
Another beer, please.
Ich möchte gerne...
I would like...

Gute Reise! (Have a great trip!)


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    • Robin profile image

      Robin Edmondson 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Wow! This is so incredibly useful. I have wanted to go to Germany for a long time and will reference this Hub as soon as we are able to go!