Quick fixes for 5 typical mistakes German speakers make in English

Germans generally speak good business English. A worldwide study published by Harvard Business review ranked Germany 14th for English workforce proficiency (or “high” and with a score of 60.2 out of 100). In another study, 100% of German employers interviewed said that English skills are significant for their organization. Evidence like this shows why Germans are rightfully proud of their English skills – and the vast majority of Germans we work with want to be even better. If your first language is German, and you want to improve your English at work, you might find it frustrating that your English-speaking colleagues don’t correct you. After all, you can’t get better if you don’t know what you’re doing wrong! In this post, we’re going to take a look at a handful of German speaker errors that are really common in Business English. The good news? They’re really easily fixed..
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1. “We discussed about last month’s figures at the meeting.”

In English we don’t discuss about something. To fix it, leave out the about after the verb discuss. So the correct English sentence is “We discussed last month’s figures at the meeting.” Keep in mind that you can use about after the noun “discussions” as in “There were discussions about last month’s figures at the meeting”.

2. “Good morning together.”

This is a direct translation of a lovely (and efficient) German way of greeting everyone at the same time. Logically, together, makes 100% sense but it doesn’t work in English. How can you fix it? As with about in the last example, cut it out completely. The correct English phrase is simply “Good morning”. You can also use alternatives like “Good morning everyone” or “Morning all” (informal)

3. “We see us tomorrow.”

This is also a direct translation from German. We don’t have an identical phrase in English, so it sounds understandable, but strange in English. In this case, you need to use another expression. So the correct English sentence is “We’ll see each other tomorrow”. You can also use “See you tomorrow.” or “Look forward to seeing you tomorrow.”

4. “I visit normally on Thursdays my clients in Bamberg.”

The word order is German. The sentence is 100% understandable, but it simply sounds wrong in English (likewise when English speakers speak German it can be understandable but grammatically wrong). Adverbs of frequency (words like: normally, sometimes, always, never) almost always go between the person (I) and the verb (visit). So, the correct English sentence is “ I normally visit my clients in Bamberg on Thursdays.”

5. “I work since five years by my company.”

There are only 8 words here, but there are actually 4 mistakes in this sentence.

  1. The tense (work) is wrong.
  2. We can’t combine since and a period of time.
  3. By is not the right preposition.
  4. The word order is German.

Here’s how to fix it:

  • If something started in the past, is happening now, and is likely to continue in the future, then we usually use present perfect simple or continuous e.g. I have worked / I have been working…
  • We can use since with a point in time, and for with a period of time. e.g. since 2012/ for 5 years.
  • There are very few concrete rules for prepositions. You just need to develop a feel for them and learn them in a context. In English we say “ We work for a company”.
  • Word order. This is the same as in the last example – time generally goes to the end of the sentence in English.

So, the correct English sentence is “I have been working for my company for five years.”

And if you’d like more practice then check out our latest Ebook “Common English mistakes (Germans make) and how to correct them”.

1 reply
  1. Derek Smith
    Derek Smith says:

    Interesting list, fun to read.
    I live in Germany and hear these mistakes quite a lot. The other common mistake I tend to notice is an incorrect use of the continuous.
    A typical response to a question about hobbies is to say “I’m playing football”.
    The other thing I hear is “You have right”.
    Thanks for the informative article.

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