Follow Me

Therese Iknoian

Traveler | Photographer at HI Travel Tales
Little did her parents know that a short trip to Europe in high school would launch a lifetime love of travel, languages and cultures. Trained as a news journalist, Therese Iknoian spent a decade as a daily newspaper journalist before launching a freelance writing career specializing in outdoor, fitness and training. All the while trotting the globe, her focus finally turned to travel. Fluent in German, Therese runs a translation business (www.ThereseTranslates.com) working primarily with companies in the outdoor/sports/retail industry. Also a French speaker, she loves to learn a bit of the language wherever she goes -- gdje je kupaonica? Мне нужна помощь! -- often embarrassing herself in the quest for cross-cultural communication and the search for great travel discoveries.
Follow Me

Going to another country means you are a guest of that nation. Learning a few basic phrases – more if possible, especially if you are there longer or just love languages like I do– is the ticket to getting around better. People will just be nicer too!

In this German Language Cheat Sheet for Travelers, we will introduce you to a few basics words, sounds and phrases, as well as what to expect, see or hear in different situations such as shopping, dining, etc. For simple words, we will also do our best to help with a pronunciation, noted in parentheses after the word — to take a printable guide with you, click here to download our PDF.

Basic sounds that will drive you nuts

  • “ch” – like in “ich” (English: I). Sounds a bit like the hiss of an angry cat. If all else fails, say a softer version of “ck,” as in “ikh,” or a “ssh” sound. (Some “ch” sounds are harder, like the one that follows an “a” like in the number 8 or “acht,” and come off more like a gargle!)
  • “z” – like in “zwei” (English: 2).
  • “w” – like the English “v” sound.
  • “v” – like the English “f” sound.
  • “ei” or “ie” – opposite of English. Pronounce the SECOND vowel, so “Bäckerei” (En: bakery) does not end with an “ee” sound but an “eye” sound.
  • ß – This cute little scribble is the equivalent of two ss’s and is pronounced like that (You may also see it written as two ss)
  • And then there are those two-dots on vowels (ä, ö, ü). Without that so-called “umlaut,” the vowel is much like in English. With them, however, they are a totally different sound, so “ä” becomes broader like “eh,” “ö” means pursing up your lips like “oooo,” and “ü” means, well, pursing them up tighter like “uuuuu.”
  • Sp / st – pronounced as if there is a “ssh” stuck between the letters, so “sprechen” (English: speak) is said “schpre-khen”.
HITT Tip: German write all proper nouns upper case so “house” is “Haus” and “bank” is “Bank.”

German language cheat sheet for travelers translations

Daily niceties

Please – Bitte (“bit-uh”)

Thank you – Danke (“dahnk-uh”). Go for the slightly more formal “danke schön” in stores (“dahnk-uh sh-ooo-n”)

You’re welcome – Bitte (like the above). Or, as above, slightly nicer is “bitte schön” (“bit-uh sh-ooo-n”)

HITT Tip: “Bitte” is often used as a nice way to say “here you are” when handing somebody something, and somebody will say it when they hand something to you, like a bag or a purchase in a store.

Good morning – Guten Morgen (“goo-ten more-gen”). Said first thing in the morning and through about 10 a.m. or so.

Good day – Guten Tag (“goo-ten tak”) – a final “g” in this word sounds like a hard “k” in English). Said during the day until dinnertime.

HITT Tip: Since “good day” is like saying hello, you will also hear “hallo” as well as other varieties in different regions, like “Servus,” “Ciao,” “Gruss Gott,” and “Salut.” Stick with “good day” in stores and formal situations, though.

Good evening – Guten Abend (“goo-ten ah-bend”). Your evening greeting.

Good-bye – Auf Wiedersehen (“ow-ff vee-dur-zeh-en”). Like “see you again.” You will also quite casually hear “Tschüß” (“chuuus”).

Excuse me – Entschuldigung (“ent-shool-dee-gung”). Used if you bump into somebody or if you want to catch somebody’s attention, like in a restaurant. Tip: Today you often hear Germans say “sorry” or “pardon” too.

Sorry – Es tut mir leid (“Ess toot mirr lied”). More of an apology, like “I’m sorry, I don’t speak German.)

Mrs. or Ms. — Frau xxxx (“frow”). For addressing women and used very commonly instead of a first name.

Mr. — Herr xxxx (“hair”). For addressing men and used very commonly.

Bathroom basics

Where is the bathroom – Wo ist die Toilette? – (“voh isd dee toy-let-uh”)

WC – (“veh-seh”) This stands for Water Closet, and is also what the bathroom is called, but no baths involved here, just sinks and toilets.

What you will see on bathroom doors:

  • Damen (sometimes “Frauen” or “Mädchen”) – Ladies (or women or girls)
  • Herren (sometimes “Jungs”) – Men (or boys)

Numbers and currency

1 – Ein (“eye-n”)

2 – Zwei (“tsv-eye”)

3 – Drei (“dr-eye”)

4 – Vier (“fear”)

5 – Fünf (“fuuu-n-f”)

6 – Sechs (“zex”)

7 – Sieben (“zee-been”)

8 – Acht (“akht”)

9 – Neun (“noy-n”)

10 – Zehn (“ts-eh-n”)

11 – Elf (“elf”),

12 – Zwölf (“tsv-oolf”)

Teen-numbers:

Add the number, above (1-9), to the word for 10 (zehn), for example, 13 is (“drei-zehn”)

And beyond*:

Zwanzig (“ts-vahn-tseeg”)

Dreißig (“dr-eye-tseeg”)

Vierzig (“fear-tseeg”)

Fünfzig (“fuuu-n-f-tseeg”)

Sechzig (“zex-tseeg”)

Siebzig (“zee-b-tseeg”)

Neunzig (“noy-n-tseeg”)

Hundert (“who-n-dare-t”)

*For multiples of 100, simply add the simple numbers 1-9 at the top of the numbers section to the word “hundert” such as “zwei-hundert” (200).

Note: Once you get beyond the simple 1-10 and teens, German numbers will also drive you nuts since they are said in a way we would call backwards. No worries. German can even mess this up. Best bet is to write it down.

For example, 52 is “zwei und fünfzig” (two and fifty) and 75 is “fünf und siebzig” (five and seventy).

Euro (“oy-row”) and cents (pronounced as in English).

Currency exchange chart for language story

HITT Tip: In German, the 7 is written with a short horizontal line through the stem and the numeral 1 has a little slash shooting off the top to the left and down, which may sometimes make it look a little like our 7 or even an upside down V!)

Communicating

Speak slower please – Sprechen Sie langsamer bitte (“schpre-khen zee laang-sam-ehr bit-uh”)

Write it down please – Schreiben Sie es auf bitte – (“shr-eye-bin zee es owf bit-uh”) – Know this one for when you go into stores and ask for prices!

Do you speak English? – Sprechen Sie Englisch? –(“schpre-khen zee ehn-glish?”) – Rather than just launching in English, the polite thing is to ask first.

I don’t speak German – Ich spreche kein Deutsch (“ikh schprekh-uh k-eye-n Deutsch”).

How much does it cost? – Wieviel kostet es? (“vee-feel kohs-tet ess”) Or, simply, wieviel? (“Vee-feel”)

Directions

Where is – Wo ist… (“Voh isst”)

– a bakery – eine Bäckerei (“eye-nuh behk-err-eye”)

– a post office – die Post (“dee post”)

– the main train station – der Hauptbahnhof (“dare howpt-bahn-hoff”)

– (name) street – die (name) Strasse (“dee (name) shtrah-ssuh”)

– a good restaurant – ein gutes Restaurant (“eye-n goo-tes restaurant”)

Bakery in Berlin

A typical small German bakery. Note the lineup of goods with price tags at the front, plus the racks of bread on the back wall.

What you will hear

  • Rechts (“reh-ktss”) – right
  • Links (“leenkss”) – left
  • Gerade aus (“Guh-rahd-uh owss”) – straight ahead

In Transit

When asking how to get somewhere, keep it really simple and just say the equivalent of “to (destination)?” e.g. “nach (destination)?” (“nahkh xxxx”)

One-way ticket — einfache Karte (“eye-n-fakh-uh car-tuh”)

Round-trip ticket — Rückfahrt (“ruuuck-fah-rt”)

HITT Tip: In train stations to determine or confirm a train time and platform you will see a large yellow posters titled “ABFAHRT” for DEPARTURE times, and a large white posters titled “ANKUNFT” for ARRIVAL times.

Abfahrt sign at Berlin train station.

A departure poster of all train times, connections and platforms. The arrival sign in white will be next to it or behind it.

Before you take a seat in a train, point to the seat you want and ask whomever might already be sitting next to it or across it….. “Frei?” (“fry?), which mans “available?”

In Bakeries or at deli cases

Just keep it simple and point!

That – Das (“dass”)

One loaf of bread – Ein Brot

One roll – ein Brötchen (“broootchen”)

What you will hear

  • Bitte? – a request for your order

(They might also say, “Darf ich Ihnen helfen / bedienen?”)

  • Noch etwas? – asking if you want something else

(Answer: Danke, alles – “dahnk-uh, all-ess” (thanks, that’s all)

What you may see

  • Laugen – pretzel rolls, twists, or pretzels (Brezel) special to the south
  • Weizen – wheat
  • Drei (vier, sechs, etc.) Korn – three (four, six) grain
  • Roggen – rye
  • Sauerteig – sourdough
  • Bauernbrot – a brown bread without grains or seeds

Our basic language and country how-to tips will help you get around and better enjoy your stay! If you like our German Language Cheat Sheet for Travelers, please feel free to download our PDF and share it!