10 typical mistakes made by German speakers who are learning English
(The ideas from this post were also featured in one of my podcasts. You can listen to it here.)
I teach students with a variety of native languages but most of my students are German speakers. There are some errors that I come across regularly and I’m going to post them here so that other German speakers can avoid making the same mistakes.
If I ask my German-speaking students why they haven’t done their homework, they won’t follow the German grammar rules and reply “because I very much to do had and unfortunately no time had, my homework to do!” However, it’s natural that our native language influences our thought processes at times and this causes us to translate expressions literally or to express things in a way which isn’t right in the language that we are trying to learn.
Things that you shouldn’t say
1. In the near of
We can’t use this expression in English. It’s enough to say:
“I live near London”
“the station is near the library”
2. For three years (if you mean “vor drei Jahren”)
“For three years” means that something has been going on for three years. The duration was three years.
I have been learning Turkish for three years. I began this activity three years ago and I am still learning Turkish.
I lived in London for eight years. We know that this is an action that has finished because we have the word “lived” in the sentence. So I moved to London, stayed there for eight years and now I live somewhere else.
“Vor drei Jahren” = three years ago.
3. In our English class we were five
“When I was five = als ich fünf war but this isn’t what we are talking about here.
There were five people in our English class.
We won’t all fit around that small table. There are five of us.
But avoid “we were/are + a number”.
4. I feel myself happy
When describing how you feel, don’t make the verb reflexive. I feel happy/sad/tired etc.
5. The dog of my friend
In English, the ‘ has several functions and one of them is to show possession:
My friend’s dog.
My sister’s birthday.
My friend’s uncle’s cat!
6. If I would have enough money
Perhaps I will write some other posts which look at conditional sentences in more detail but “would” does not belong in the part of the sentence which gives the condition. Depending on what you want to say, there are various ways in which we can write this sentence, but “if I would have” is not one of them.
If I have enough money, I will go on holiday.
If I had enough money, I would go on holiday.
If I had had enough money, I would have gone on holiday.
7. She slammed the door angry
In German, we don’t have to think about adjectives and adverbs but in English, using an adjective where you need an adverb is wrong.
Adjectives describe nouns: his singing was loud.
Adverbs describe verbs: he was singing loudly.
Our sentence needs an adverb because it is describing how she slammed the door. She slammed the door angrily.
8. I was in the bus
I know it sounds illogical that whilst we can be in the car, we have to be on the bus or on the train. After all, we don’t sit on the roof and ride on top of them! However as a general rule, “on” is used for many larger forms of transport:
On the bus
On the train
On the plane/aeroplane.
9. BR, KR etc
It’s not a case of avoiding abbreviations – we just don’t write these things! When I saw this for the first time, I had to ask what it meant. If you mean “kind regards”, you have to write “kind regards” if you want your English speaking reader to understand you.
10. How does it look like?
How does it look?
This is usually used if someone wants to know whether or not something looks ok. Maybe I’m trying on a dress in the shop and I ask a friend “how does it look?” What I really mean is “does it look good on me/do you like it/shall I buy it?”
What does it look like?
This is used when you want somebody to describe something to you. What shape is it? What colour is it? How big is it? You want to know about its appearance.
Can you think of any more?
I finished my list when I got to number 10 but if you have any more ideas, you can write them in the comments section!
As this post was so popular, I decided to write another one and look at 10 more mistakes. You can find the second post in the series here.
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