10 common mistakes made by German speakers learning English

When we learn a language, the way we speak the new language is influenced by our native language. One way to reduce this problem is to learn to think in the new language, so we no longer translate from our mother tongue. Despite this, we may still make some mistakes because we have structures and vocabulary from our first language in our mind. Here are some of the most common errors made by German-speaking learners of English.

10. to remind/to remember

These two similar verbs are very often mixed up by learners of English. To remember means to think about something from the past; to remind, on the other hand, means to make someone remember something. It is a transitive verb, which means it is always used with an object. Here are some examples:

I remember my first day at school. 

I will remember to buy bread.

I reminded to buy bread. –> I reminded him to buy bread. 

9. to make/to do

German uses the verb machen a lot, so German-speakers often use the verb to make in English. As a general rule, we use to make  when we are talking about creating or forming something, e.g. to make a plan, to make dinner, to make a confession, to make a cake. However, if we are focussing on a process itself, we use to do, e.g. to do a course, to do homework, to do the cleaning, to do someone a favour. This rule doesn’t work in all cases, but it’s a good start.

8. I drive with the bus.

English has several verbs to describe travelling, depending on the distance, the means of transport and whether we are the driver or passenger. Whilst German uses the verb fahren in lots of situations, in English we only use the verb to drive when we are the driver of a car, bus, train or boat. If we use a bike, we say we ride our bikes or we cycle. If we are a passenger, we have several options:

  • I took the bus/the train/a taxi.
  • I got the bus/the train/a taxi.
  • I went by car/boat/bus.
  • My friend gave me a lift. / My friend drove me. (as a passenger in a car)
  • I flew. (also as a passenger on a plane)

7. Is there the possibility to …?

This is another example of English having lots of translations for one word in German. The German Möglichkeit is most often translated as possibility, but in many cases there may be a better English word to use:

  • possibility: something that may happen, e.g. There is the possibility that we may lose the game.
  • option: something that can be chosen, e.g. Consider all your options before you make a decision.
  • opportunity/chance: a situation that makes something possible, e.g. I have the opportunity/chance to learn a new language.
  • way: a method, e.g. There must be another way to solve this problem.
  • can: to be able or possible, e.g. Can I book a table for this evening?

6. I didn’t went.

When using the simple past, we need a helping verb (did) when we form questions and negative sentences. However, only the helping verb needs to be in past form to show the time we’re talking about, so we use did/didn’t followed by the base form of the main verb.

I went. / I didn’t go. / Did you go? I didn’t went. / Did you went?

I saw it. / I didn’t see it. / Did you see it? I didn’t saw it. / Did you saw it?

In the same way, in the simple present, only the helping verb needs an  added with the third person.

He goes. / He doesn’t go. / Does he go? He doesn’t goes. Does he goes?

She tries. She doesn’t try. / Does she try? She doesn’t tries. / Does she tries?

Here are more tips about using negative sentences.

5. Have you time?

The verb to have has two main functions. It can be used as the main verb of a sentence to mean to own/possess; it can also be a helping verb, often in the present perfect.

The general rule is that if we use to have as the main verb, the negative form is usually don’t/doesn’t have and the question form is ‘Do you have …?’

I have enough time. –> I don’t have enough time. –> Do you have enough time? (main verb)

When it is used as the helping verb, the negative form is haven’t/hasn’t and we can make questions such as ‘Have you seen …?’

I have seen the film. –> I haven’t seen the film. –> Have you seen the film? (helping verb)

4. Yesterday I have been …

One of the hardest things about learning English is mastering the tenses. It can be confusing to decide which tense to use, and the structure of present perfect looks like the most commonly used past tense in German. However, signal words like yesterdaylast weeklast year and on Wednesday that show that an action is completed and not relevant for now are clues that we need to use the simple past.

Yesterday I have been to work. –> Yesterday I went to work.

Follow this link for more tips on the present perfect and past simple.

3. Two persons

There are a few special cases when English speakers use persons instead of people, but these are only in legal or very formal texts, or signs in lifts or buses (e.g. ‘maximum 10 persons’). In all other cases, we use people as the plural form of person.

There are five persons in my office. –> There are five people in my office.

2. If I would have …

In if sentences in English, would and will do not normally belong in the same half of the sentence as if. Instead, we use the present simple, past simple or past perfect forms to show a condition:

If I see her, I’ll tell her. (First conditional: If + present simple , will + base form. These situations are possible and likely.)

If I saw her, I would tell her. (Second conditional: If + past simple , would + base form. These situations are possible but unlikely.)

If I had seen her, I would have told her. (Third conditional: If + past perfect , would have + past participle. These situations are not possible because they’re in the past.)

  1. Informations

Unlike in many other languages, information in English is uncountable and therefore it is not possible to talk about ‘one information’ or ‘informations’. It’s always simply ‘information’. The same goes for advice.


Can you think of any other typical mistakes? Which tips do you find most useful?

Four apps for learning vocabulary

We have our smartphones with us all the time, so what better to learn new words than with vocabulary apps. When we learn new words, it’s important to be active and to review them regularly. Apps are perfect for practising for short periods of time wherever you are – and having fun at the same time! Some apps have sets of vocabulary to learn; others let you add your own. There are so many out there, it can be hard to choose one. I’ve made a list of my favourite apps for learning new vocabulary on the go. (I don’t have links to these apps; they’re just my preferences.)

Quizlet

I love using this app with my students. You can create your own sets of vocabulary or use sets made by other people. I would recommend organising the sets by theme, such as restaurants or shopping, and writing a description for each new word in English instead of translating the word into your native language. This will help you to think in English. You can also add pictures from the Quizlet library to help.

Once you’ve created sets of vocabulary, you can test yourself by looking at the ‘cards’, playing games or testing yourself with a quiz. It’s possible to share sets of vocabulary too – perfect for learning with friends and classmates.

Johnny Grammar’s Word Challenge (British Council)

This app is excellent for reviewing vocabulary for certain situations. There are three modes: grammar, words and spelling. In the words section, you can choose from different categories, such as restaurants, hobbies, shopping, idioms, etc. There are three levels for each category (but ‘easy’ is not suitable for beginners). You then play multiple-choice quizzes against the clock. When time is up, you can review the vocabulary from that round.

The spelling mode is also a good way to check you know how to write words. Here, there are no categories; you are given a random selection of words. You choose the correct word from two options.

In addition, the grammar mode provides multiple-choice questions on grammar topics such as prepositions, irregular verbs, modal verbs, and many more.

English Essential Vocabulary Builder

The Essential Vocabulary Builder helps lower level learners practise the most important words needed to communicate in English. First, you work through a selection of words and mark which ones you know and which ones are new. You can then complete multiple-choice activities to check you know the meaning and spelling of new words. The apps gives simple definitions and examples in context, and it’s easy to track progress over time.

WordUp Vocabulary

When you start using WordUp, you take a test to check your level. You can then decide how many words you would like to learn each day and whether you would like to see translations of words you’re learning (I would recommend English definitions).

The app then suggests words to learn. You can learn by reading the definition and example sentences. What I really like about the app is that it shows famous quotations and lines from films and songs that include this word. This is great for remembering new vocabulary!

When you think you know a word, you can test yourself with multiple-choice question or simply say you already know the word. The app will then show the word a few days later so you can review it.


What are your favourite apps for learning vocabulary? I’d love to hear about your experiences with these or other apps!

How to say any date in English

Do you have an important event coming up? Do you need to invite someone to a meeting? Or maybe you need to arrange an appointment? Here is your guide to using dates in English.

Weekdays

There are four possible parts to a date: the day, the ordinal number, the month and the year. We’ll start with the weekdays. As a reminder, here they are:

  • Monday
  • Tuesday
  • Wednesday (“Wensday”)
  • Thursday
  • Friday
  • Saturday
  • Sunday

It can be difficult to remember the difference between Tuesday and Thursday. Tip: Tuesday has seven letters and Thursday has eight. Thursday is longer so it comes later in the week.

Ordinal numbers

Once you’ve mastered the seven days, you can move on to the date in the month. Often we just add ‘th’ to the number to say the date, e.g. nineth, tenth. However, there are a few special numbers to watch out for:

  • first (twenty-first, thirty-first)
  • second (twenty-second)
  • third (twenty-third)
  • fifth – we swap the ‘ve’ in five for an ‘f’, but when we say it, we make it easier: “fith
  • sixth – we turn the ‘x’ into a ‘k’ sound: “sikth
  • twelfth is pronounced “twelth
  • twentieth is pronounced as three syllables: “twen-ti-uth

Months

The next element is the months. Lots of the months are very close to other Latin-based languages. Here are a few tips to help with pronunciation:

  • January: “jan-yu-ry” (3 syllables)
  • February: “feb-yu-ry” (3 syllables)
  • March
  • April: stress the beginning
  • May: like pay or stay
  • June: one syllable
  • July: “ju-lie” (stress second syllable)
  • August: “OR-gust”
  • September, October, November, December: all stress the second syllable

Years

In British English we say the years as follows:

  • 1900: nineteen hundred
  • 1905: nineteen-oh-five
  • 1998: nineteen ninety-eight
  • 2000: two thousand
  • 2003: two thousand and three
  • 2012: two thousand and twelve (also twenty-twelve)
  • 2020: two thousand and twenty (twenty-twenty)

In American English, the and is often left out. For example:

  • 2003: two thousand three
  • 2012: two thousand twelve

Putting it all together

In British English, the day comes before the month. When we write the date in numbers, it’s 14/06/09. We usually write the full date like this: Monday 14th June or Monday 14 June. However, we say: “Monday the 14th of June“.

In American English, the day is often after the month: 06/14/09 or June 14th. You could say this as either “June 14th” or “June the 14th“.

Extra practice: Change the language settings on the calendar on your 
phone so you regularly review months and weekdays in English. 
You could also go through some important dates for you and practise 
writing and saying them in English. 

Which days or months do you find it hardest to remember? Do you normally say dates in British or American English?

Essential phrases for your English class

Starting a new class can be scary. What if I don’t understand the teacher? What if I forget how to ask for something? What if I can’t talk to the other students? Being prepared can help us feel more confident in a new situation. Here are some phrases to help you in the classroom.

To the teacher

  • What does… mean? (You don’t understand a word.)
  • How do you spell…..? (You don’t know how to write a word.)
  • How do you say this word? (You don’t know how the word sounds.)
  • Can you repeat it?
  • I’ve finished.
  • Can you help me with question …?
  • I don’t understand this question.
  • Where is….?
  • I didn’t hear…
  • What page are we on?

Getting to know other students

  • What’s your name?
  • Where are you from?
  • What’s your job?
  • What are your hobbies?
  • Have you been to this school before?
  • Have you long have you been learning English?

Working together with other students

  • Shall we work together?
  • What do you think about question …?
  • Can you help me with question …?
  • Would you like to do question/role …?
  • Do you have a pen/piece of paper?

Discussions

  • What do you think about…?
  • What’s your opinion?
  • I agree/disagree.
  • I see your point, but …
  • That’s a good point.
  • Have you thought about …?

Online classes

  • Can you hear/see me?
  • How do I turn on the microphone/camera?
  • How do I leave the meeting?
  • How do I mute the microphone?
  • I can’t hear/see you (clearly).
  • The connection is poor.
  • The connection stopped.
  • I will re-start the meeting.

Which of these phrases do you use in class? Can you think of more to add to the list?

Say or tell?

Many languages have just one verb to express both say and tell, but in English there is an important difference between the two. Confusing the two can sometimes change the meaning of the sentence. But, don’t fear! There is a simple trick to remember when to use each verb.

The basic rule is we say something, but we tell someone something.

I said (that) I was leaving.

I told my friend (that) I was leaving.

That is optional in these sentences.

If we use the verb say and wanted to include the person, we need to before the person’s name.

I said to my friend (that) I was leaving.

More example sentences:

We said (that) the meeting room was booked.

We told our colleague (that) the meeting room was booked.

We said to our colleague (that) the meeting room was booked.

They said (that) they would go.

They told us (that) they would go.

They said to us (that) they would go.

Phrases with tell

There are also some special phrases with the verb tell, for example:

  • to tell the truth
  • to tell a lie
  • to tell the difference
  • to tell the time
  • to tell tales

Can you think of more examples?

Are there any other verbs you find difficult to use in English?

15 English/German false friends

One challenge – and source of confusion – for all language-learners is false friends. German and English do share many words which have either been adopted from the other language or which have similar linguistic roots. However, so-called false friends look or sound similar in two languages but have entirely different meanings! Here are 15 common false friends in English and German that often catch learners out.

eventuell/eventually

eventuell = perhaps

eventually = schließlich/letztendlich

irritieren/to irritate

This one could cause offence if misunderstood: if you are ‘irritiert’ in German, you are not irritated but confused!

irritieren = to confuse

to irritate = nerven

weil/while

weil = because

while = während (noun = die Weile)

das Gift/gift

das Gift = poison

gift = das Geschenk

aktuell/actual

aktuell = current

actual = tatsächlich

When spoken, different syllables are stressed: aktuell vs actual

sensibel/sensible

sensibel = sensitive

sensible = vernünftig

Note that the stress is different here too: sensibel vs sensible

Who/wer/where/wo

This four-way false cognate is particularly confusing for beginners!

wo = where

wer = who

spenden/spend

The German ‘spenden’ has a more charitable meaning than the false friend ‘spend’.

spenden = to donate

to spend = ausgeben

die Milliarde/million

Numbers are also a sticking point when learning a new language. Mixing these two words completely changes the amount you are talking about!

die Milliarde = billion

million = die Million

(die Billion = trillion)

der Chef/chef

These two professions have very different roles in the workplace!

der Chef = boss

chef = der Koch

das Gymnasium/gymnasium

And these two locations have very different functions!

das Gymnasium = grammar school

gymnasium = die Sporthalle

kontrollieren/to control

Though these two words can sometimes have a similar meaning, for example in the sense of ‘quality control’, they are often confused by learners of both languages.

kontrollieren = to check

to control = steuern/leiten/beeinflussen

checken/to check

checken = to understand/get it

to check = prüfen/kontrollieren

Note that ‘checken’ is a colloquial word most often used by younger people. It can also be used in the context of checking emails (‘meine E-Mails checken’).

die Nudeln/noodles

German uses ‘Nudeln’ to describe both noodles and pasta. To avoid confusion, you can specify that you’re talking about ‘asiatische Nudeln’ when you mean noodles.

die Nudeln = pasta/noodles

noodles = asiatische Nudeln

bekommen/to become

Lastly, the ultimate English/German false friend:

bekommen = to receive

to become = werden


I hope you find these tips helpful. 🙂 Do you know any other English/German false friends? If so, feel free to share them below.

Top tips for learning vocabulary

Whether you’re learning English with a teacher, a course book or through self-study, one of the hardest things is learning all the new words and phrases you need. Which words should you learn? How should you record them? How often should you practice? Here are my top tips for vocabulary-learning success.

Find a system

When learning a language we hear and read lots of new words and phrases. Before we can memorise the words, we need a way to record them. There are lots of systems people use to write down their vocabulary. There is no right or wrong system, but here are some examples:

  • a traditional vocabulary book:  a list of English words and either translations in their language (sometimes translations are not possible!) or descriptions
  • flashcards: the new word of phrase on one side of the card and a description, picture or translation on the other
  • mind maps: the topic in the middle of a page and related vocabulary sorted into categories, e.g. ‘restaurants’ and then the categories ‘verbs in a restaurant’, ‘phrases to order food’, ‘food types’, ‘objects in a restaurant’, ‘adjectives to describe restaurants’, etc.
  • spreadsheets: a list of English words and the translation or description in the next column.
  • apps: there are lots of apps available to help with vocabulary. Some let you add your own words; some already have set categories.
  • post-its: label objects around your house with post-it notes, or have a wall/door where you stick up words you are trying to learn. The words can be colour-coded according to word type or situation.

Start small

Take five new words you would like to learn, the most important words for your job or everyday life. Every day when you are eating breakfast, sitting on the bus or cooking dinner, make a sentence with each new word. Repeat this every day for a week or until you know the words very well. The next week you can try new words. If five words are too easy, try eight or ten words. It’s better to start small and then make it more difficult if needed.

This is a good method because we remember new words and phrases better when we actively use them. It also means that you don’t need to find extra time in your day to learn vocabulary. You can practise when you are doing something else. Follow the link to read more about practising English you don’t have much time.

Practice makes perfect

When we have worked hard to learn new words, we want to remember them for a long time. It’s good to regularly review vocabulary using the systems above, for example, by covering the English words and then testing how many you remember. Instead of just saying the word or writing it down, try to put it in a sentence. You can also try to make a story with groups of words. Learning vocabulary is an active process.


Do you have any more tips for learning vocabulary? I’d love to hear them in the comments below! Also, let me know if you try out any of these methods.