Mistakes that native German speakers of English often make

As I taught English for many years in Germany, a student recently asked me to compile a list of mistakes that native German speakers often make in English. Here it is.

1)      Using make all the time instead of do. This is because their equivalents (machen/tun) are not equivalent at all. A common mistake being ‘make a party’. There are rules, but it's a hard habit to get out of.

2)      Using drive in situations where it is inappropriate – such as drive a bike, drive a train, drive on a scooter. Due to the fact that fahren seems to be ubiquitous in German. Remember, the only person who drives a train, is the train driver, the rest of you are travelling on a train. It is appropriate in situations about cars such as "I drive to work" meaning I drive to work in my car.

3)      Using until instead of by. ‘I will give you the report until Friday’. Which is probably because dict.leo.org gives ‘til’ and ‘until’ as the first and second results when translating that tiny but important word in German, bis.

4)      Incorrect use of the present continuous. Which is perhaps an overcompensation as there is no such grammar structure in German (they have to say, Ich bin gerade am Arbeiten which isn’t the same). Example, we are meeting until Friday- we will meet by Friday.

5)      Using ‘in the naehe of’ as it sounds similar to ‘near’. It’s wrong. You could say in English, ‘ in the vicinity of’ but 98% of people would just say ‘near’.

6)      Writing ‘Dear Julia, Dear Oliver’ in a letter as that is the custom in German. English is easier, ‘Dear Julia and Oliver’, and there is no ‘Hello Together’ as ‘Hallo Zusammen’. You can write LG or VG in a German letter at the end to a friend but you can't write KR or BR for Kind regards, best regards. 

7)      Using the present tense to mean the future tense. You can use the present tense in English in certain circumstances to mean the future- a future timetabled event- ‘My train leaves at 6pm, but not, ‘I see you next week’. It has to be ‘I’ll see you next week’, a future prediction.

8)      Using too many reflexives. English doesn’t have nearly as many as in German. ‘We meet us/ourselves’ next week is ‘we’ll meet next week’.

9)      'The entrance is at the backside of the building'. Just no-use back on its own. Rueckseite. I would avoid using ‘rear’ too. Backside, someone’s rear=Gesaess.

10)   ‘I work by Sanofi’. By is not a translation of bei. I work for Sanofi, I work for myself. 'I work by myself' means I work alone.

11)   This is not unique to German speakers. Adding a ‘s’ to nouns where it’s not needed. Eg informations, trainings, persons

In the interests of fairness, mistakes that native English speakers of German often make.

1)      My computer crashed trying to make the list.


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