If you are planning on visiting Germany, Austria, Switzerland or one of the smaller German-speaking communities like Liechtenstein, it’s nice to know that you will find that more often than not the people you meet will speak at least a little English and many will know a lot. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a go at learning as many German phrases as possible.
If you are planning to spend much time in a German speaking country, then you should certainly consider learning German more thoroughly, but if you are only visiting for a few days or weeks, then stick to some common German phrases, especially those simple German phrases that are most useful for travellers. We’ve chosen a few German phrases to know below! Just to make your trip more interesting we’ve included a few useful German phrases that you might not find in a typical German phrase book, like rude, funny and romantic phrases! Enjoy!
Simple German Phrases that Might Come in Useful
The most useful simple German phrases are the ones that you are likely to use over and over again, even if most of your conversation is in English.
Greetings are certainly important and you should be able to remember Guten Morgen (Good morning), Guten Tag (Good day), Guten Abend (good evening) and Gute Nacht (Good night). You won’t just be meeting people, of course, you will be saying farewell or good bye (Auf wiedersehen) as well.
Please and Thank You
One slight peculiarity about what might seem some very useful German phrases is how they are used in everyday speech. Bitte, or bitte schön (please) and Danke or Danke schön (thank you) are a case in point. When you thank a German speaker, you will find they say “Please” afterwards. That sounds a bit weird to us English speakers at first, until you realise that the Bitte schön, after your Danke schön is the German speaker’s equivalent of the American “You’re welcome.” You do need to remember this yourself as it can cause offense if you don’t. Americans, in fact, often complain that the English seem a bit rude because they don’t acknowledge their “thankyous!”
Funny German Phrases
German speakers may not agree with our selection of funny sounding German phrases to know. The fact is that there are some words and phrases when you are learning some useful German for travellers that seem funny to you that are just things that are quite ordinary to the German speaker.
For example, German speakers seem to have rather an unhealthy yet funny obsession with pigs. Maybe it’s because pork and pork products are such an important part of the traditional German diet. “Wir haben zusammen noch keine Schweine gehütet!” is a bit of a tongue twister for an English speaker with little German experience, but it means literally, “we haven’t yet kept pigs together!” Eh? Well, it’s not quite what it seems to imply and is simply a simple German phrase which means that you don’t know the people you are speaking with too well! If you do get to know them well, then you might say that you have schwein haben (literally “have pig”). Eh? Don’t worry, you don’t have to deal with a smelly, squealing hog, it just means that you are in luck!
Pigs are not the only animals that are used in such useful German phrases. When you think that someone has hit the nail on the head (and isn’t that a funny English phrase anyway?) you could say in German “Da liegt der Hund begraben.” Literally, it means “that is where the dog is buried” which seems to make as much sense as hitting the nail on the head, but it means the same!
Rude German Phrases
We would caution you about saying any of these words unless you knew someone really well, but you could try them out on someone who doesn’t know any German at all to practise your accent and have the sense of satisfaction afterwards that they didn’t understand what such a rude yet common German phrase it might have been!
Schleich dich! means “get lost!” used not literally of course, although if you think you could do with a break from someone for a while, the literal meaning fits, too. In fact there seem to be a number of useful German phrases that mean more or less the same thing but with varying degrees of aggressiveness (as in their English equivalents). Geh mir aus den Augen! For example, means “get out of my sight.” Hau ab! is another similar phrase.
Of course, many rude words and phrases are just too rude for such a gentle discourse as this, but seem to be far more tolerated in Germany where swear words are routinely used on TV. Here’s a relatively useful German phrase that might come in handy for those learning German for travellers: So ein Misthaufen! It means “what a load of crap!” Just be careful who you say it to and make sure it’s not to someone at the Munich Bier Festival who has already had several steins of bier!
At the other end of the spectrum are romantic German phrases. Some unkind English speakers who know absolutely nothing about the German language seem to think that German is a staid and dull language, but how wrong they are. German speakers express their affection and love just as elegantly as any other language group!
German Love Phrases
Ich liebe dich!, meaning “I love you” is probably something you might not use yourself on a short trip to Germany, Austria or Switzerland, but you might hear it said by others around you.
The phrases: Willst du mein Freund sein/ Willst du meine Freundin sein? are definitely phrases that you wouldn’t use unless you meant them. Freund, by the way, could either mean (male) friend or boyfriend and Freundin a (female) friend or girlfriend, so you need to be confident about your pronunciation and your intentions before you use these expressions!
Viel Glück (good luck) and Viel Spaß (enjoy yourself) when you practice these and other useful and not so useful, yet entertaining German phrases outlined in this article!