Common German Phrases to Boost Your Fluency
Who hasn’t felt a little tongue-tied when first beginning to speak a foreign language? You know what you want to say, but the words just don’t want to come out. One of the best ways for getting over that hurdle is by committing a small yet important set of common German phrases to memory. Which phrases are right for you? Read on.
First, what is fluency?
I’m going to define fluency here as flow, focusing entirely on the ease with which you can speak. A fluent speaker might make mistakes, but they don’t hurt comprehension in any way. Even native speakers search for words sometimes, so of course that’s entirely forgivable. Don’t beat yourself up over a fumbled synonym or forgotten idiom. Being able to master a variety of topics is what I call expression – it increases your depth of knowledge and you come off as a truly competent speaker.
In my opinion, once you achieve fluency, expression is just a matter of time. It comes from consuming massive amounts of spoken and written German, just like the material you can find here on LingQ. A lot of language consists of the same patterns with new words and new expressions. When you can read and understand the language with ease, you’ll find yourself producing it without much conscious thought.
How can you lay that groundwork for German fluency?
Two main ways. First, you’ll want to build a core base of German words and phrases that will carry you through the majority of conversations you’ll have. Then, you’ll want to stake out your own topics and areas of conversation that you can feel at home in.
I’ve been lucky enough to travel quite a bit in my life. I noticed on my most recent (and longest) trip that I usually ended up saying the same things over and over. No matter where I was, people asked me the same general questions. It was like they were following a conversation script. “Hi! Where are you from? How long have you been here? How long have you been traveling? Where are you headed next?”
If you’ve learned to speak the local language, the script may shift topics to include “Wow, your German is good! How long have you been learning? Why are you learning German? Is it hard?” Take a moment to think about how you might want to answer these, and how you can break your answers into simple and easily mastered chunks. Believe me, you’re almost guaranteed to encounter them sooner or later. Once you master these core common German phrases, you’ll come across as fluent and confident to your speaking partner. Even if you struggle later on in the conversation, you’ve already proven yourself able to communicate and therefore they’ll be more patient with you.
Here are some examples of this script. See if you can swap out some of the words to make it apply to your own experience!
“Woher kommst du? Vielleicht aus Amerika?” “Ja, genau, ich bin in New York aufgewachsen.”
Where are you from? America, maybe? Yeah, exactly, I grew up in New York.
“Und wie lange bleibst du hier in Berlin?” “Oh, jetzt weiss ich nicht, vielleicht etwa drei Tage.”
And how long are you staying in Berlin? Oh, I don’t know, maybe about three days.
“Du kannst schon gut Deutsch!” “Nein, nein, ich mache Fehler immer noch.”
You can speak German well! Oh no, I always make mistakes.
“Warum lernst du Deutsch?” “Meine Oma hat Deutsch zu Hause gesprochen und ich wollte immer lernen…”
Why are you learning German? My grandma spoke German at home and I always wanted to learn…
How can I learn common German phrases?
Go through a phrasebook or the Introductory German material on LingQ to find more common phrases about introducing yourself or traveling. The mini stories in German are perfect for this. They are short stories told from two different perspectives with questions and answers afterward. The stories contain natural phrasing in simple contexts, so you Learn some of the related or similar vocabulary – for example the names of interesting places you’ve been to, and the modes of transportation you took to get there. Was it zu Fuss, mit dem Auto, mit dem Flugzeug, or perhaps zu Pferd?
Make sure you can understand the learning material first. Production always comes after reception. Later, write your own scripts and dialogue, imagining yourself with German speakers somewhere on your travels. Imagine what kind of topics or ideas could branch off from simple introductions like this. Complain about how long the flight was (du kannst dir einfach nicht vorstellen, was für ein schrecklicher Flug das war) and reveal your desire for seeing the Black Forest (es war mein erstes Mal Skifahren). Record yourself acting out both parts of the conversation and run it by someone who can judge your fluency.
Learn variants of these common German phrases. Maybe it was your grandfather who spoke German at home, or maybe you plan to stay in Salzburg for two weeks instead of Berlin for three days. Get familiar with the cases of the nouns and adjectives, as well as the conjugations of the verbs you need. Imagine reasons why learning German might be easy or hard for you – and think of how you would express that in a humble or bragging way. Then how your speaking partner might react. Even a small set of phrases can become a wealth of language practice with enough imagination.
Slowly, with enough time and feedback, you can become very comfortable talking about certain things in German. What happens later, when your conversation partner starts talking about something you can’t begin to sound intelligent on? Don’t panic: gently steer the conversation back on track: “Das erinnert mich an etwas anderes…” Then you supply one of the topics that you’ve mastered. Over time, thanks to enough reading and listening, you’ll feel comfortable expressing yourself on just about any topic. Welcome to fluency.
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Alex Thomas has been mistaken for a German native speaker in the past and will never stop bringing that up. He translates German to English and particularly enjoys reading poetry.