A wise man once said…
“Practice more German to get fluent!”
Okay, okay, you don’t need to be all that wise to know that.
Every language has its own set of wisdom quotes and proverbs that pass on knowledge from generation to generation. They can be really beneficial for language learners, too, as they highlight linguistic quirks and both the similarities and differences between languages.
Just take the following German wisdom quotes for example. Try and drop them into the conversation whenever you can and you’ll sound wise beyond your years!
15 Wonderful Wisdom Quotes Straight from Germany
Übung macht den Meister (Practice makes perfect)
If you translate Übung macht den Meister literally, you’ll get “practice makes the master.” Of course, that makes no sense in English, and our nearest translation is “practice makes perfect.”
So, take some inspiration for your German studies. The more you practice your grammar and vocabulary, the sooner you’ll become fluent!
Bald reif hält nicht steif (Early ripe, early rotten)
Literally translated, bald reif hält nicht steif means “quickly ripened doesn’t hold stiff.”
The best English equivalent, though, is “early ripe, early rotten.”
This expression is often applied to children, as it’s thought that someone with many talents early on in their childhood doesn’t hold onto them for long as they grow up.
Nur die Harten kommen in den Garten (Only the strongest survive)
When you translate this phrase literally, you get “only the strong come into the garden.”
It basically means only the strongest survive—I’m not really sure what exactly is going on in the garden, but it seems you have to be tough to make it!
Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei (Everything has an end, only the sausage has two)
This one is easy to understand as it’s quite literal—everything has an end, no matter how long something takes. However, that’s not the case for the good old sausage!
Kleinvieh macht auch Mist (Small amounts add up to something bigger)
If you translate this quote literally, you get “small animals also produce dung.”
That might not paint such a pretty picture, but it does have a meaningful message behind it: small amounts always add up to something bigger.
So, don’t give up on your German studies, even if it feels like you’re inching along! As this piece of German wisdom indicates, it’s a good idea to keep working on something even if you only do it bit by bit.
Das Leben ist kein Ponyhof (You can’t always get what you want)
This is another animal-themed wisdom quote as it literally translates to “life isn’t a pony farm.”
It basically means that you can’t live like a pony at a pony farm and have your every whim taken care of.
In other words, you can’t always get what you want!
Kinder und Betrunkene sagen immer die Wahrheit (Children and fools tell the truth)
“Children and drunks always tell the truth.” Well, that’s according to the literal translation of this quote. In English we might say something similar: “children and fools tell the truth.”
This phrase can be used to describe certain groups of people who are much more likely to be open and honest about a situation, for better or for worse. Children are the worst at keeping secrets and drunks are often a little loose-tongued too… while the rest of us know how to lie when we want to.
Wenn man dem Teufel den kleinen Finger gibt, so nimmt er die ganze Hand. (Give an inch; they’ll take a mile)
In English, we have the proverb “if you give an inch, they’ll take a mile.” That’s what this German wisdom quote equates to, but if we were to literally translate it, we’d get “if you give the devil your little finger, he’ll take the whole hand.”
Simply put, it means that people can take advantage of you if you let them.
Klappe zu, Affe tot (Let’s end this)
This one doesn’t make much sense when we translate it directly, as it means “close the lid, the monkey is dead.” It raises a lot of questions about that poor monkey.
The English version doesn’t have such dark connotations, thankfully. We’d simply say, “let’s end this” or even “end of story.” And no monkey gets hurt in the process!
Was ich nicht weiß, macht mich nicht heiß (What I don’t know can’t hurt me)
We’ve all heard people say “what you don’t know can’t hurt you,” which is how we’d usually translate this expression.
But have you ever heard it in German? Was ich nicht weiss, macht mich nicht heiss literally translates to “what I don’t know doesn’t make me hot.”
You can think about that in terms of the English phrase “hot and bothered,” relating to frustration or being flustered.
Was Hänschen nicht lernt, lernt Hans nimmermehr (You can’t teach an old dog new tricks)
This is such a cute saying—if you translate it straight, you get “what little Hans doesn’t learn, adult Hans will never know.”
It’s basically our version of “you can’t teach an old dogs new tricks,” but with humans! You should take particular note of the word Hänschen (little Hans) in this sentence. It’s in the diminutive form, which is often used for children’s names.
Stochere nicht im Bienenstock (Let sleeping dogs lie)
This German expression warns you, “don’t poke around in the beehive.” But it equates to another one of our dog-themed proverbs in English. We’d say, “let sleeping dogs lie.”
You don’t want to bother the bees or the sleeping dogs. Who knows what they’ll do if you disturb them!
Wo sich die Füchse gute Nacht sagen (The back of beyond)
Do you know “where the foxes say good night?” Because that’s what wo sich die Füchse gute Nacht sagen translates to.
Well, we have the answer in U.K. English. The British idiom for a highly remote place, “the back of beyond,” would be an equivalent for this quote. Seen any foxes out there lately?
Besser ein Spatz in der Hand, als eine Taube auf dem Dach (A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush)
You’ll have certainly heard the English proverb, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Well, it’s pretty similar in German.
Besser ein Spatz in der Hand, als eine Taube auf dem Dach actually translates to “a sparrow in the hand is better than a pigeon on the roof.” The Germans just specify which birds they’re talking about in their quote.
Arbeit ist die beste Jacke (The best way to warm yourself up is by doing something useful)
The Germans will tell you that “work is the best jacket.” And we’d agree as our version of this wisdom quote is “the best way to warm yourself up is by doing something useful.”
Feeling cold? Maybe you should try to warm yourself up by learning some German vocabulary!
So, next time you’re chatting in German, you should try and throw in some of these wisdom quotes. You’ll sound wise as well as fluent!
And One More Tip for Learning German Phrases
What’s the key to learning German language and culture effectively?
It’s using the right content and tools.
You’re not going to pick it all up from your textbook.
You’re going to learn it from real-world videos like music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks.
Well, that’s exactly what FluentU is for. FluentU takes great videos and turns them into language learning experiences so that you can learn real German as people really speak it:
Watching a fun video, but having trouble understanding it? FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts.
You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocabulary list.
And FluentU isn’t just for watching videos. It’s a complete platform for learning. It’s designed to effectively teach you all the vocabulary from any video. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and it recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned. This is a level of personalization that hasn’t been done before.
Laura Harker is a freelance writer based in North Yorkshire, U.K.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.