When you find yourself in Germany or another German-speaking country, some sentences are incredibly important to know to get through everyday life. Not everyone speaks English here, so you’d better cram some German before your trip!
Telling people that you don’t speak German well
Firstly, you need to be able to let people know that you’re not a German speaker – otherwise, they’ll just assume that you’re a German resident and know the language.
So, let’s start with ways that you can alert people that you don’t speak German very well (not yet, anyway!)
Ich spreche nicht viel Deutsch.
I don’t speak German very well.
Ich lerne (noch) Deutsch.
I’m (still) learning German.
Sprechen Sie Englisch/Französisch/Polnisch?
Do you speak English/French/Polish?
Don’t just assume Germans only know English as a second language – there are many people living in Germany who know French or Polish. So, if you know either of those languages, you’ll also have a chance of getting by.
Some key vocabulary you should know is:
- sprechen – to speak
- lernen – to learn
- Französisch – French
- Polnisch – Polish
When you’re lost
It has probably happened to the best of us – you’re traveling in a new country, and suddenly you find yourself completely lost. Google maps doesn’t make sense, your phone has died, or you ran out of internet bundles and didn’t carry any money to top it up.
When you’re lost and you need to ask for directions, a good point to ask for is the tourist information center – usually, you find information centers in railway stations.
The crucial word to remember here is “where” – “wo“. Even if you forgot the rest of the sentence, knowing the word “wo” will help you a lot:
Wo ist der Bahnhof?
Where is the train station?
Wo ist das (Touristen-)informationszentrum?
Where is the (tourist) information center?
Wo finde ich ein Taxi?
Where do I find a cab?
Wo finde ich eine Toilette?
Where do I find a toilette?
When you need to take public transport in German
Germany has a widely spread public transport system that includes trains, buses, and a tram system in some cities.
Sentences you might want to remember for taking public transport:
Wann fährt der Zug nach Hamburg?
When does the train to Hamburg take off?
Auf welchem Gleis fährt der Zug nach Münster?
On which track does the train to Münster take off?
Here is your key vocabulary for public transport in Germany:
- der Zug, die Züge – the train
- der Bus, die Busse – the bus
- die Straßenbahn, die Straßenbahnen – the tram
- fahren – to drive / to go / to ride
When you’d like to order food
Although most places for eating out in Germany accept payments made with both cash or card, some places only accept one of those payment methods. So it’s wise to always carry enough cash for eating out (50€ is enough by far), and your bank card.
In bigger cities, most waiters speak English as they are used to serving tourists. Going to any cafe in Berlin often means that the waiters talk to you in English right away. However, in smaller towns you probably need some basic German to feel comfortable in restaurants.
Here are the most important German sentences to know when eating out:
Wie viel kostet das?
How much does this cost?
Ich hätte gern eine Portion Pommes.
I’d like to order a portion of chips.
Kann ich bitte bezahlen?
Could I pay, please?
You can keep the change.
When you’re going to a fancy restaurant or cafe in Germany, you are almost expected to tip the waiter when you pay. Not tipping the waiter is seen as rude in some circles, though of course don’t worry about tipping if you’re tight financially!
Some key vocabulary for ordering food:
- Pommes – chips / french fries
- Kaffee – coffee
- Wasser – water
When you don’t understand what the other person is saying
If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t understand what a German person is telling you, just ask politely for the sentences to be repeated or for the speaker to speak slower:
Könnten Sie das wiederholen?
Could you repeat that please?
Könnten Sie etwas langsamer sprechen?
Could you speak a little slower?
Before you start your travels to Germany
You’re now all ready for your trip to Germany – or are you? Apart from knowing German, there’s a lot more about German customs that you might want to prepare for!