German Conversation: Phrases, Tips and Resources to Get Talkin’
Why are beginner German conversation skills so important?
Well, the point of learning German is to use it! There’s no reason to wait.
Just read the post below from beginning to end and you’ll be well on your way to sounding like a native German speaker in no time.
- Essential German Phrases You Should Keep Handy
- Basic German Phrases
- Complimenting Germany
- German Travel Expressions
- German Shopping Phrases
- German Restaurant Phrases
- German Kebab Phrases
- German Drinking Phrases
- German Phrases for the Apotheke (Pharmacy)
- German Phrases for the Doctor’s Office
- German Expressions to Ask for Help
- German Expressions for Friends
- German Expressions for Significant Others
- Negative German Expressions
- German Conversation Wayposts
- German Slang
- German Conversation Tips
- Resources to Master German Conversation Phrases
Essential German Phrases You Should Keep Handy
Basic German Phrases
Some of the first words you pick up in beginner German conversation are bitte (please) and danke (thank you). They’re not only useful in a variety of real-life situations (like someone opening a door for you), but also for those instances when someone hands you a suitcase full of cash because you look cool.
Other basic phrases that will come in handy for everyday life in a German-speaking country (that will also make you look cool) are:
|Basic German Phrases||English Translation|
|Guten Tag!||Good day!|
|Ich heiße ...||My name is ...|
|Wie heißen Sie?||What is your name?|
|Wie geht’s?||How are you?|
|Mir geht’s gut.||I’m doing well.|
|Woher kommen Sie?||Where do you come from?|
|Ich komme aus ...||I come from ...|
|Und Sie?||And you?|
|Ich bin in ... geboren.||I was born in ...|
|Bis später!||See you later!|
|Ich verstehe das nicht.||I don’t understand that.|
When in Germany, the question Mögen Sie Deutschland? (Do you like Germany?) will likely come up. If your aim is to keep the conversation going, you’re probably going to want to say yes.
You can also reply as follows, depending on the context.
|German Compliments||English Translation|
|Ich mag das Essen sehr.||I like the food very much.|
|Die Leute hier sind sehr freundlich.||The people here are very friendly.|
|Hier ist es äußerst sauber.||It's extremely clean.|
German Travel Expressions
Of course, you’re not going to get by in Germany solely on compliments! You need a few phrases to help you get around too.
|German Travel Expressions||English Translation|
|Entschuldigung, wo ist … ?||Excuse me, where is … ?|
|Halten Sie bitte hier an.||Please stop here.|
|Es ist da.||It’s there.|
|Nach links||To the left|
|Nach rechts||To the right|
|Um die Ecke||Around the corner|
|Jetzt geht es nach Hause.||Now it’s (time to go) home.|
|Fühl dich wie zu Hause.||Make yourself at home.|
German Shopping Phrases
What’s a trip to Germany without taking home a souvenir or two? The country may be famous for its food (specifically, sausages and beer), but it also has kitchen utensils, seasonal tablecloths and wooden toys for children.
|German Shopping Phrases||English Translation|
|Haben Sie Souvenirs?||Do you have souvenirs?|
|Verkaufen Sie ... ?||Do you sell ... ?|
|Was kostet das?||How much is that?|
|Haben Sie etwas Billigeres?||Do you have something cheaper?|
|Kann ich mit Kreditkarte bezahlen?||May I pay with a credit card?|
|Haben Sie eine Kundenkarte?||Do you have a customer card?|
German Restaurant Phrases
In Germany, you can usually take your own seat without having a waiter do it for you, unless you’re at a particularly high-end place. On the other hand, you shouldn’t expect to automatically get things like added ice and water refills—you have to ask for them!
|German Restaurant Phrases||English Translation|
|Kann ich bitte die Speisekarte sehen?||Can I see the menu, please?|
|Ich hätte gern ...||I would like ...|
|Ein Glas Wasser, bitte.||A glass of water, please.|
|Noch einmal, bitte!||Another one, please!|
|Wo ist die Toilette?||Where is the bathroom?|
|Die Rechnung, bitte.||The check, please.|
|Darf ich eine Quittung haben, bitte?||Can I have a receipt, please?|
German Kebab Phrases
Wurst , potatoes and sauerkraut are no longer the only foods that define Germany. Since the mass migration of Turkish workers to the country in the middle of the 20th century, Turkish food has infiltrated German life—and the kebab is its most famous ambassador.
A kebab is a piece of bread loaded with meat, vegetables and sauces. Not the healthiest food, but certainly pretty delicious. Fast food stands selling these delicacies are all over Germany’s major cities, and in many of its small towns as well.
|German Phrases Used at the Kebab Shop||English Translation|
|Hallo! Was darf es sein?||Hello! What’s it to be?|
|Ich hätte gern einen Döner, bitte.||I’d like a kebab, please.|
|mit Fleisch?||With meat?|
|Mit alles?||With everything?|
|Ohne Zweibeln.||Without onions.|
|Okay. Und welche Soße?||Okay. And which sauce?|
|Scharf und Knoblauch, bitte.||Spicy and garlic, please.|
German Drinking Phrases
In Germany, you’ll find a Kneipe everywhere. A Kneipe is sort of like a bar, sort of like a British pub, but really, Kneipen are their own institution. It’s a corner bar, usually a bit dingy and very neighborhood-oriented, where Germans go to hang out, drink, smoke, play pool and socialize.
In Berlin, you’ll find hipster Kneipe where the decorations are artfully shabby and the clientele are all young Brits or Americans. You’ll also find decidedly unfashionable Kneipe founded in 1913 that cater to Germans who have lived in the city since before the Wall fell.
|German Phrases Used at the Kneipe (and Other Drinking Places)||English Translation|
|Ist hier noch frei?||Is this (seat) free?|
|Leider nicht. Eine Freundin kommt noch.||Sadly, no. A friend is coming.|
|Ein Schlückchen für dich und mich.||A sip for you and me.|
|Cheers! (translation for both phrases)|
German Phrases for the Apotheke (Pharmacy)
An Apotheke is a German pharmacy—but it’s a bit different from pharmacies in the United States. Whereas an American pharmacy usually appears at the back of a store like Rite Aid, CVS or Walgreens, German pharmacies are separate stores that typically only sell medicines or remedies.
You need a prescription to buy certain medications at the pharmacy, but you can also buy non-prescription treatments for maladies such as dry eye or the common cold. The best part? Pharmacists are there to help you figure out just what you need to buy to get better.
|German Phrases Used at the Apotheke||English Translation|
|Hallo. Ich brauche Augentropfen.||Hello. I am looking for eye drops.|
|Warum? Haben Sie ein Problem mit Ihren Augen?||Why? Do you have a problem with your eyes?|
|Kein großes Problem, aber meine Augen werden manchmal trocken.||Not a big problem, but sometimes my eyes get dry.|
|Okay. Nehmen Sie diese Augentropfen bis zu viermal täglich.||Okay, do you need a bottle, or one-time-use drops?|
|Super, danke.||Great, thanks.|
German Phrases for the Doctor’s Office
Doctor’s offices in Germany are probably different from what you would expect. They tend to be small, cozy rooms on the first floors of apartment buildings. Most of them offer walk-in hours rather than appointments, and visits are very cheap (approximately €20 or $21), even without insurance.
|German Phrases Used at the Doctor's Office||English Translation|
|Ich habe Rückenschmerzen.||I have back pain.|
|Seit wann haben Sie diese Schmerzen?||How long have you had this pain?|
|Seit Dienstag. Ich glaube, ich habe mich im Fitnessstudio verletzt.||Since Tuesday. I think I injured myself in the gym.|
|Okay, ich werde Ihnen eine Überweisung an einen Facharzt ausstellen.||Okay, I’ll write you a referral to see a specialist.|
German Expressions to Ask for Help
“Können Sie mir helfen?” Those words might save your life… or at least lead to a better German conversation.
“Can you help me?” is something you’ll invariably be asking, whether you’re living in a German-speaking country or just passing through.
If you’re in an emergency, here are other expressions you can use.
|German Expressions to Ask for Help||English Translation|
|Ruf die Polizei!||Call the police!|
|Ich habe ... verloren||I've lost ...|
|Wie komme ich zum Krankenhaus?||How do I get to the hospital?|
|Mir geht’s schlecht.||I don’t feel well.|
|Ich habe mich verlaufen.||I got lost.|
|Wie komme ich zur ... Botschaft?||How do I get to the ... embassy?|
German Expressions for Friends
If you managed to strike up a friendship with a native German speaker (congratulations, by the way!), you’re going to need a few phrases on hand to let them know how you feel at any given time. For example:
|German Expressions for Friends||English Translation|
|Wir schaffen das schon!||We will make it!|
|Ich freu mich.||I’m glad.|
|Fühl dich gedrückt.||Sending you a hug.|
|Das stimmt.||That’s right.|
|Du kannst mich jederzeit anrufen!||You can call me anytime!|
|Hab dich hier vermisst.||Missed you here.|
|Ist alles OK?||Is everything okay?|
|Wenn du meinst ...||If that’s what you think ...|
|Das sieht aber gut aus.||That looks good.|
|Gerne||Would love to|
|Muss ein toller Kerl sein.||Must be a nice fella/bloke/chap/guy.|
|Was hast du vor?||What are you up to?|
German Expressions for Significant Others
What if your friendship with that native German speaker progresses into something more? Well, here’s how you can let them know, in no uncertain terms, that your relationship has progressed beyond the platonic stage.
|German Expressions for Significant Others||English Translation|
|Er/Sie ist sehr hübsch.||He/She is very cute.|
|Du kannst von mir jederzeit alles haben!||You can have anything from me anytime!|
|Hast du Lust, heute Abend was trinken zu gehen?||Do you fancy getting a drink tonight?|
Negative German Expressions
Of course, not everything is going to be hunky-dory all the time. Sometimes, it’s all right to express displeasure—though you do have to be careful who you’re being negative around!
|Negative Expressions in German||English Translation|
|Ich glaube es gibt Verbesserungsbedarf.||I think there's room for improvement.|
|Du irrst dich.||You are wrong.|
|Das war echt anstrengend||That was really stressful|
German Conversation Wayposts
Inevitably, the conversational German you’re going to hear in Germany or Austria is going to be slightly different from what you’re learning in formal study materials. Much like in English, German speakers have a few words for interjecting conversations or signalling that the topic is about to change.
|German Conversation Wayposts||English Translation|
|Bin jetzt schon ein bisschen neugierig||Now I am quite curious|
|Mal gucken||We shall see|
|Thema wechseln||Change the subject|
|Vor allem||Above all, especially|
If you’re talking with younger people in German, you’re bound to come across a ton of lingo and idioms. Throwing in some slang now and then should definitely score you bonus points.
|German Slang||English Translation|
|Das ist Hammer||That is Hammer (i.e., "That is awesome")|
|Das ist fett||That is fat (i.e., "What you just said is impressive!)|
German Conversation Tips
Practice Being Formal
Some of the hardest parts of a new language include those that don’t exist in your mother tongue. As such, the two types of “you” are sometimes a stumbling block for native English speakers: the informal du and formal Sie .
Although most Germans would likely understand a new speaker doing their best, using Sie ensures you’re not likely to commit any faux pas. Practice using the formal conjugation at home, especially when you regularly speak to someone who isn’t a peer. Again, getting the Sie and du down is simple, but takes a little work at first.
Concoct the Perfect Line
When first learning German in Germany, I often sat quietly and awkwardly in the corner, trying to follow what the Germans were saying but not confident enough to butt in.
For these situations, I riffed off the motto of a grocery store: “Wie Rewe, jeden Tag ein bisschen besser” (“Like Rewe, every day a little better”).
They loved it. All of a sudden they’re trying to speak German to me.
Coming up with a cool line that can be applied in many different situations is an easy way to add flavor to your conversational German while working with beginner skills. It can bring a spark to the dialogue and keep the party going, while still scoring mad points as a German speaker.
One way to set yourself up for a lively German conversation is to have something to talk about. Whether it’s the Bundesliga, the weather or what bands are on the radio, preparing your opinion on something in German is one more step in getting ready to use the language.
My favorite way to stay up-to-date with news events is “Tagesschau in 100 Sekunden” (lit. “the news in 100 seconds”). You get all the major headlines for the day in a minute and a half, from politics to sports. Who said German efficiency isn’t a real thing?
Prepare at Home
Although preparing for the day’s conversations feels like studying (okay, it actually is), your efforts will be greatly rewarded in the quality of conversations you’ll have. If you’re going shopping, learn how to ask the store worker where the scarves are.
If you’re bored, go down to a cafe and be ready to ask the waitress how her day has been or what she recommends to order. Anticipating sentences you can use that day will help speed you along your way in the great quest for fluency.
If you’re really feeling confident, consider ringing one of your German friends for a quick phone call in German—it’ll really force you to practice your listening and speaking skills when you don’t have the benefit of visual context cues.
Resources to Master German Conversation Phrases
Listening to natural German conversations through authentic content is a great way to prepare yourself for an actual conversation. You can learn new words and phrases to add to your vocabulary straight from native speakers.
For example, while you’re listening to a podcast, you can learn intonation easier. Likewise, watching videos gives you an inside look into natural German body language and facial expressions for certain moods and conversation topics.
So let’s look at some resources you can use to see what natural conversations between German speakers look like.
This video series on YouTube is a great resource to look for natural German conversations. The interviewers ask people on the street interesting questions, and they travel all over Germany, exploring different cities and topics.
The videos include captions with English translations under the German captions. They also offer a site where you can find podcasts of these videos with transcripts.
FluentU is an immersive language-learning program where you can watch authentic German videos with interactive captions. By watching content that German speakers actually watch themselves, you’ll hear natural word usage, slang, language nuances and more.
FluentU also uses a contextual video dictionary to find definitions for any word in a video. Plus, if you find new words and want to study them further, you can create flashcards from them.
Deutsche Welle is a state-owned media organization based in Germany. Not only do they report on the latest news from around the world, but they also have an extensive collection of free resources for beginners who want to learn the German language. If you’re not sure what level you should start with, you can take their placement exam to find out.
Deutsche Welle has video courses, as well as audio and interactive materials, to help you with your language studies. For example, they have a podcast called Warum nicht? (Why not?), which is a funny series about a journalist who works at a hotel and his various hijinks. You’ll hear many different conversations presented in a way beginners can easily understand.
Unfortunately, the podcast is no longer available on the main Deutsche Welle website, but you can find it wherever you get your podcasts.
Goethe Institut is Germany’s most famous language school, with locations all over the world. They often run events where you can meet other German learners who might want to practice their speaking skills with you.
For example, if you have a local film festival that showcases German films, there’s a good chance Goethe Institut is behind it. Google your city name plus “Goethe Institut,” and you’re bound to find one of these near you.
There’s no shortage of German videos on the world’s largest video platform. You can start by searching clips of your favorite movies dubbed into German, so you can get a feel for the similarities and differences between German and your native language.
Alternatively, you can check out videos like the following.
“Fritten zum Mittag” (“French Fries for Lunch”)
This is a nice, relaxed German comedy film. You’ll see the idea that “men are absolute dogs” is just as relevant in Germany as anywhere else! In this short film, you can practice your conversational skills for dating.
“Zu Besuch” (“On a Visit”)
This one has quite an eerie plot. By the end of the video, you might not be very sure what exactly happened. It’s left to the viewer to decide what the ending could mean. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting video to watch and learn some good Jugendsprache (youth language/slang).
An important point to note here would be the usage of colloquial German where most of the pronouns are dropped. For example: Bin neu hier instead of Ich bin neu hier (I am new here).
This is an excellent video with a very slow speaking pace, ideal for non-native speakers who want to learn German. The video consists of students from different parts of the world who are currently studying in Germany and want to share their experiences with the viewers.
This video is ideal for picking up conversational phrases in school involving subjects, research, studying, etc.
And so there you have it. The code to conversational German has been broken. You no longer have to worry about being an expert in German to carry on a beginner conversation—although the more waitresses you bother, the quicker you’ll get there.
With a few key phrases, you’ll be chatting away in German like an old lady with gossip.
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