Updated: Aug 17, 2020
When your intended readers are Americans who have never been to Germany, AND those who have been here long enough to know basic terms, you have to choose. If you use common German words (like bakerei), your American readers who aren’t familiar with the term are going to think you’ve misspelled “bakery”. On the other hand, if you refer to it as a bakery, others who live here might think you’re not trying very hard to adapt to the German culture.
When we lived here the first time (2008-2012), I left Germany with the ability to say one phrase (other than the normal please, thank you, excuse me kind of dialog). That phrase was “zum mitnehmen” which means “take away” or “take along”. I learned that phrase early because German portions of foods are way larger than those to which I had been accustomed.
My husband, who was then on his third tour to Germany, used to encourage me to learn the language. When I would point out that most Germans took English as their second language, and especially those whose businesses thrive near US military bases, most could speak English, he would remind me that it’s just courteous to demonstrate that you are making an attempt to conform to their culture.
Once I returned to the states, I had a better understanding of why I should have put forth more effort. I was now being asked when I called many businesses to “choose 1 for English” in a country where English is the primary language! Bi-lingual signage had become much more prevalent. I know America is made of many cultures, languages, ,but since we can’t possibly accommodate all languages spoken, I kind of felt like everyone who comes to America should be making an effort to speak the language that is synonymous with the country. I now had a much better understanding of why I should have made more effort during our first tour – to be able to fluently converse with the people of Germany.
I feel like I've been afforded another opportunity to do it right. For this post on “Coming to terms”, I am not hoping to help you learn how to speak German; I am merely sharing some common words so that friends/family in the states will not be trying to correct my spelling! And perhaps it might provide some insight for those who coming to Germany for the first time.
Giving credit where it's due; the above graphic is from a language learning business.
First let me clarify Germany is referred to as Deutschland, and the language is Deutsche (pronounced DOYTCH), a language you will also hear spoken in other European countries (Austria and Switzerland, among others).
The language is MUCH easier to interpret than to speak (in my opinion!). There’s an accent associated with Deutsche that is not easy to acquire, but it’s easy to interpret when you see it in print. Many words may be used differently than in the US but have the same meaning and are even spelled the same (example: Halt, which you may see at a stop line while driving). Others are spelled differently, but are easy to interpret (example: schul, schulbus, eis, and bier) if you sound them out. Many are easy to understand because they have just replaced our “c” with their “k” (examples: construction/konstruktion, production/produktion, alcohol/alkohol).
Just like in America, there are different dialects for different regions of Germany. I’ve heard people refer to “high German” like it’s “high opera”……..and if someone says they speak Schwabische, it means it’s a dialog only spoken in a certain part of Germany; a more formal form of Deutsche than most.
In 2008 I learned to say “entschuldigen Sie, bitte” for “excuse me please” when trying to get around someone (for example). Perhaps a reader from the KMC can tell us whether that whole phrase is still commonly used, but in Bavaria, I never hear it. People just say “Bitte”. In fact, “Bitte” is used to mean please, pardon and you’re welcome.
Words you are likely to know within a couple days of your arrival, just because you will see them everywhere include:
Bahnhof (Train Station)
Biergarten (Beer Garden)
Marktplatz (Market Place)
Metzgerei (Butcher Shop)
Remember, “W” is pronounced as a “V”…..so Wein is pronounced Vine and means WINE! And perhaps the most important word (after Bier and Wein) will be Schokolade, which is CHOCOLATE!
And the two Deutsch phrases often learned by Americans at an early age (Auf Wiedersehen for Goodbye, and Gott segne dich for God bless you), I can’t say I’ve ever heard used by anyone in Germany!
I have found a few really good resources for helping with either learning Deutsche or acclimating to the German culture. In the near future I will be building out a “Resources” where you can find these.
Google Translate for your computer and your mobile device might be your best friend!