3 Mistakes Beginners Make With German

From studying German to teaching it, I’ve learnt several facts about the language; some through my trainers and some while teaching. As a language, German I would say is very organised. It has concrete rules and exceptions for virtually every function of grammar. Beginning from sentence structures to the verb forms, German has distinguished guidelines for every concept. 

Having said that, for a foreign language learner at the beginner’s level it’s a huge task to make sure they remember all of these before forming sentences. Needless to say, this sometimes leads to the construction of structures that are just funny. This is not to embarrass or poke fun at the beginners, I’ve been there and done just that. So, if anything this is to caution you of these mistakes so you never find yourself in such instances. Here’s a start to that:

1. Ich bin frei v/s Ich habe frei

You will often find Germans saying, “Da hast du recht” (You are right about that). This often confuses a lot of beginners or someone who has limited prior knowledge about the language. Hast is a form of the verb haben which means to have. This indicates that the literal translation of the statement would be “You have right.” This for a new speaker is quite amusing. 

It’s the same with “Ich bin frei” (I am free). The literal translation of this would be “I am free”, free in the sense of being independent and away from restrictions, or in a political sense: in a free city/ state, etc. So a conversation like this; 

Wanna hast du frei? (When are you free?) 

Ich bin frei am Samstag (I am free on Saturday) 

would amuse a native speaker and you might see a confused expression on their face. What you want to say to a question like that, is that you “have free time”. So, let’s say you have free time on Saturday, which would be:

“Ich habe frei am Samstag.”

Literal translations from English have proven to be dangerous and culturally shocking in terms of linguistic structures in German. Maintaining the distinction between “to be” (sein) and “to have” (haben) is quintessential to grasp a hold over the language. 

2. Mein(e) Freund(in)  v/s  Ein(e) Freund(in) von mir

To begin with- German does not have a gender-neutral term like “friend” (sigh). You can either have a Freund (a friend who identifies as a man) or a Freundin (a friend who identifies as a woman). That explains the brackets in the title of this section. 

I remember A1 was the first time I had seen a smirk on my trainer’s face. We had just been taught how to introduce ourselves in German. When doing that, one of us said, “Mein Freund heißt…” (My friend is called…)  to which I saw my teacher smile. Later she explained that even though it is sort of changing now- the connotation of mein Freund is as good as saying “my boyfriend”. The class burst out laughing.

This means that if you want to explain to someone that you have a friend you are not romantically involved with, you would say “Ein Freund von mir heißt…” (One of my friends is called…). I promise no one would mistake your equation then. 

3. Ich bin heiß v/s Mir ist heiß

One of the most beloved themes for conversations for Germans is the weather. These are also the basic sessions of vocabulary for any foreign language learner. However, in German only knowing the verbs for “hot” and “cold” and formulating them with the “to-be” form will simply not do (and this is similar to the first point).

One of the most common mistakes beginners make when speaking about the weather is saying “Ich bin heiß”/ “Ich bin kalt”. Although these are the right words to use, the verb used changes the meaning for a native speaker. Saying the aforementioned sentences is as good as saying you are a hot person or a cold person. So a conversation like that would confuse a German speaker. 

Instead what you want to say is:

Mir ist heiß– I am feeling hot

Mir ist kalt– I am feeling cold

To make it easier- using the verb sein (to be) in German in such cases refers to anything that takes place over a long period/ does not change quickly. For instance, the way you’re feeling, from the previous example, is a temporary situation. It is bound to change. As opposed to something that cannot be changed so quickly, like your name. Having said that, these examples stay:

Ich bin Suchitra (I am Suchitra)

Mir geht es good (I am doing good)

In the second example, it is quintessential to note that the verb gehen is used as opposed to sein.

Looking at these mistakes closely one can understand that most of these mistakes can be avoided by steering clear of literal translations from English to German. What is more important to note though, is you correcting yourself. These mistakes (and others) are natural and human. If you are mindful of your mistakes and correct them, I would argue that it would only flourish your language. It makes a significant difference for any student to be able to identify their mistake by themselves and correct it. So, just correct yourself and pat yourself on the back!

What mistakes have you made when it comes to language learning? Have I missed out on any mistakes with German? Please let me know 😉

See you soon with another blog! Thanks for reading.