Germanisms – common English mistakes


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.

Since

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.

Explain

“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.

Invite

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.

Eventuell

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.

Mit keine

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.

Arme mich

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

Codeswitching

The tragic nature of my boyfriend’s return is that Reikalein is inevitably going to be susceptible to faux honeymoon syndrome for a week or two. So, apologies for the slow posts.

As a peace offering, here is a picture in which you should be able to spot a few oddities:

CIMG7250

Yes, that’s me on my graduation day looking like I’m built like a shit brick house in a kimono.
My mother is Japanese and is 170cm tall. I’m 160cm. She’s taller than me and my graduation cap combined. If you look closely, you might even notice that I have Godzilla hands. Not complaining though; it makes climbing much easier than if I had hands that had stayed in proportion.

Anyway, onto a slightly more serious note; here is my most recent article on BPA:

Codeswitching

Hi there, come va? Sei uscito last night? Have you already asa gohan tabeta or do you want to go and dokka de grab a coffee? I’ve not eaten yet so maybe we can grab a bite to eat at that place that’s sugu soko?

Not that I go as far as mixing three languages in a single conversation, but code switching is and always has been an integral part of my life as a halfie. Code switching is used to describe the act of using two or more languages within a conversation. Multilingual people tend to find themselves hopping between their languages when speaking to anyone sharing the same language combination. I’m sure for many people, especially in the US, the term Spanglish will ring a bell. Well, Japlish, Frenchtalian, Chindeutsch and Korgolian may be less catchy, but they’re all feasible combinations that probably mesh into each other more easily than you could possibly imagine as non-native speakers of any of those languages.

When someone asks me how to explain how code switching works, I often describe it as having an expansion pack on your mental language programme. While one language is usually the MVP of any communicative engagement, you have a bench on which you keep your subs, just in case your MVP has a wobbly moment or is completely and utterly defeated by cotton mouth syndrome. That’s how multilingual people end up being able to switch between one language and another; the languages are basically intertwined in their brains, they just have to throw out whichever one comes to them first and when that fails to function properly, they can dip into their other one for some help….

To read the rest, head over to the site! I would love to read about anyone else’ experience with code switching!