I wonder if dear Angie ever had to tackle such linguistic obstacles. Though, I suppose with a cleavage like that you don’t have to worry about whether your Italian or French counter party is listening to you or not.
Unless you’re a native speaker of a language, you are always going to face the inevitable infiltration of your mother tongue into your borrowed tongue. Since living in the German speaking part of Switzerland and interacting with German speakers on a daily basis, I’ve noticed some mistakes in English that seem to be made universally by almost all German speakers. I don’t know whether this is entirely due to people directly translating from German to English or whether German speakers have spread these common errors amongst themselves. Either way, I find it amusing how a linguistic conglomerate will consistently make the same mistakes when speaking English, and I’m sure this extends beyond German speakers, but it’s not something I’ve noticed as much in Italian, I have to say.
So, here’s a list of commonly made mistakes, according to me.
This one is clear – in German, to say that you’ve lived in Zurich for three years, you would say, “seit drei Jahren”. Seit meaning since, of course. So, understandably, many German speakers say, “I have been a skier since ten years”, instead of “I have been a skier for ten years.” I’m pretty sure English speakers must do the opposite when learning German.
How does it look like?
This is understandably confusing. In English you can say:
“How does it look?” or
“what does it look like?”
In German you say, “wie sieht es aus?”
Wie=how and I guess the aus at the end in German makes German speakers want to add an extra syllable at the end of the English version, without realising that only works when you switch to what instead of how.
I would tend to differ between the two English options listed depending on context, but essentially, they are more or less interchangeable.
At some point in time
This is one I hear surprisingly often. I admit I’m not sure why German speakers say it. My boyfriend was unable to shed any light on the matter either.
In English, or at least the English I was brought up speaking, you would refer to an occurrence that took place at a vague point in time as having happened at some point. I’m not sure you could say that “at some point in time” is strictly incorrect per se, because grammatically it isn’t, it’s more the case that English speakers abbreviate it to “at some point”, so the former sounds unnatural.
To stay, instead of stand
This one’s logical, in German to stand is stehen, which essentially makes it a false friend.
If a German person turns to you on the train and says, “shall we just stay?”, they are unlikely to be suggesting that you root yourself to the spot and make a new home of the vehicle, rather, they are dismissing the notion of hustling for a seat.
So to say
Again, one could easily do the same going the other way: so zu sprechen. In German you’d say, so zu sagen, resulting in many German speakers opting for say, rather than speak.
To make party
This one’s sort of endearing, if you ask me. In German it’s party machen. Machen is one of those words that confuse the hell out of German learners at the beginning, I think, or perhaps I’m alone on this one.
Just know that if a German speaker suggests you go out to make party with them, they are seeking a place in which they can enjoy a bit of a piss up coupled with dancing.
“I can explain you.”
A bit of a harrowing prospect when the words come from your boss’s mouth, for example. Relax, this is not an attempt to dissect your psychological makeup, the person is hoping to explain something to you.
The look on people’s faces when you say “thank you for inviting me” at the end of any sort of gathering that racks up a bill at the end is priceless. Many people will misconstrue your politeness as an encroachment on their goodwill. In German, einladen, in such a situation, means that the invitee’s bill is being settled by the inviter.
I do chuckle when German speakers will correct me by saying, “oh, you don’t mean that I’m going to invite, you, I see. Ho ho ho.” Rather than acknowledge the linguistic misunderstanding they have undergone in your language, they will correct the social mishap on your part.
People often look confused if I say something like, “oh, I’m sure I’ll get hungry eventually”. This is a false friend, my friends. Eventuell is the German word for maybe. So if I declare I’m sure of something that will maybe happen, it can cause ripples of confusion through a room full of German speakers.
She’s getting a baby
I like this one. If I could get a baby that is a perfect combination of my own genes and my partner’s, I would certainly opt for that method as opposed to squeezing one out myself one day. In English we have babies, at least we women do, and in German one gets, as in bekommen, a baby.
But don’t think I’m letting myself off lightly. I make plenty of mistakes in German in a very similar fashion.
The word for without in German is ohne, but the word with embedded in without in English had me tripping up at first. I kept saying, mit kein…whoops. It’s even grammatically incorrect, but I didn’t know what the dative form even was back then.
When feeling sorry for yourself, you could say, poor me in English as a casual alternative to “oh woe is me”. If you say this in German, people will snigger. Trust me. I would have to step outside my own body and address myself in the third person and say, arme Christine. I’ve opted instead to just exaggerate my sad face when in doubt.
Check out this link for a list of false friends if you’re in doubt!
Sexy image from here