I see these mistakes on a weekly basis. Here’s how to avoid them.

False Friends

There are many words in English and German that look similar, but have different meanings. Some examples are words like chef, billion, and critic. I recommend that you google ‘false friends english german’ to identify all of these words. Then add some of them to your flashcards.

Reflexive verbs

There are several reflexive German verbs that in English are not reflexive. I often get messages from my students with the following phrase: We can meet us at 5 pm. The correct phrase is: We can meet at 5 pm. Other examples of reflexive German verbs that are not reflexive in English are:

  • sich amüsieren: to have fun
  • sich erholen: to recover
  • sich freuen: to be happy
  • sich setzen: to sit down
  • sich etwas anziehen: to put something on

The first step to correcting this mistake is to be aware of it. Write some examples down and practice, practice, practice. You can use the Pomodoro Technique during your study sessions.

Present Continuous

This is one of the most peculiar mistakes I notice from my students. In German, the Present Continuous tense doesn’t exist, so I either get students who never use it, or who over-use it. Remember, the Present Continuous tense is there to tell us about actions happening now. For example, right now I’m writing a blog post. It is also used to talk about temporary actions. For example, I’m working at the cinema until the end of the week.

Pay particular attention to this tense, because it’s the number one mistake I notice from German learners of English.

Just like when you go to the gym to workout, you take breaks in between your sets, you also need to take breaks in between your study sessions. Read this blog post to learn more about Focused and Diffuse Learning

Machen vs Make

Germans love the verb machen. In German you say: Party machen, Photo machen, Urlaub machen, but in English we say: have a party, take a picture and go on vacation/holiday. Sometimes we use the verb to make in the same way, but most of the time it’s going to be a different English verb.

Simple Past vs Present Perfect

Germans often use the Present Perfect tense to talk about finished actions in the past. In English, we use the Simple Past. This is why I read sentences from my students that say: I have gone to the store yesterday and I have done that last week. Both are wrong. In English we say, I went to the store yesterday. I did that last week.

In order to correct this mistake, you need to get into the habit of saying it correctly. Building good habits is the key to learning anything successfully.

Simple Present vs Simple Future

Another mistake that involves the tenses is the use of the Simple Present tense to talk about the future. For example, many Germans tell me “I do that later” or “I go after our lesson”. And you guessed it, both are wrong. In English, we use the Future tense to refer to the future. Simple, no? There are exceptions (because the English language loves exceptions), such as when we are talking about the timetable of future events. For example: Hey Jorge, when does your train leave? It leaves at 2 pm.

Word Order of Time Phrases

In the German language, you can put time phrases in the middle of a sentence. In English, you usually find these phrases at the end, and sometimes at the beginning. Examples: I will have a meeting tomorrow with my boss. I will go on Tuesday to the market. Both are wrong! Please remember to put time phrases at the end. Correct: I will have a meeting with my boss tomorrow. I will go to the market on Tuesday.

Are you ready to test what you’ve just learned? If yes, do the German-English Quiz.

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