German Language Blog

4 Ways to Identify a German Speaking English Posted by on Jun 28, 2021 in Language, Pronunciation

Sometimes you hear somebody’s accent, and it’s clear that they are from some European country. But which one? It often depends on the native language of the speaker. So let’s look at 3 ways that you can identify a German speaking English. The next time you hear somebody speaking like this, you could show off your German to them!

1. Or?

German Accent oder English pronunciation

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

English, mostly British English, has the infamous tag – you were going to make tea, weren’t you?

German, on the other hand, doesn’t do this. Instead, we do this: Du wolltest Tee kochen, oder?

Similar to a “right?” in English, Germans say oder?, meaning “or?”

Like a tag, it is an abbreviated form. Oder is a short of oder nicht? So you’re really asking: “you wanted to this, or not?”

And while it sounds aggressive in English, in German it basically functions like the English “right?” It is not really formal, but it is quite ubiquitous.

Anyway, if you hear somebody say “or?” like a tag, there’s a good chance they’re German!

2. False Friends

German Accent oder English pronunciation

Merkel infamously used the word “Shitstorm”, prompting international media attention (Image by WikimediaImages from Pixabay)

Of course, any person using a different language than their own is prone to false friends – words that sounds or look very similar to a word they know in a different language, but that mean something else. If you notice a use of false friends, such as “to become” used with the meaning of “to get”, that could be a German confusing bekommen. Or perhaps they use the word Shitstorm without realizing that this is not a super normal word in English. Of course, there are many like this. So if you use your extensive, unparalleled knowledge of the German language, you might hear some words that sound suspiciously like German false friends. They might be Germans!

3. The Open-Mouth Sound

German Accent oder English pronunciation

Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash

In a previous post, I gave tips for Americans to sound better in German. One of them is simply to open your mouth! German simply is a language that requires you to open your mouth to sound proper, whereas American English doesn’t. British English, on the other hand, more than not requires more mouth movement as well.

The point is that Germans will also speak English with this open mouth technique. In fact, the advice for Germans would be the opposite – close your mouth more when speaking English!

In that previous post, I spoke an English sentence with a German accent, and it sounds like this:

This also has an impact on r-sounds, also discussed in that post. That means that words like weather will sound more like weathah – or will they?

4. The th-sound

German Accent oder English pronunciation

Photo by Max LaRochelle on Unsplash

The th-sound in English sounds a bit like a light letter d: though, lather, weather. It can also sound like a light letter f: thorough, thought, thick. Germans have a hard time with these sounds. They require the tongue to be slightly pressed between the teeth, which is something German practically never requires. German either has an f-sound, where the lips touch the teeth, or an s-sound, where the teeth are on top of each other. The closest German gets is with the ch-sound, but the tongue is recessed, and would never dare to slip between the upper and lower teeth!

So how do Germans fix this pronunciation problem? Well, the th either becomes a kind of d-sound, or, infamously for the German accent, an s, a sound that phonetically sounds like a z in English: weather becomes wezzah in a way.


If any of these 4 match, you could ask them: Sprechen Sie vielleicht deutsch? (Do you speak German, perhaps?) And you have yourself a little conversation!


Of course, I am not saying that speaking with the German accent is a bad thing. Accents are used to label people all the time, and many times not in a positive way – I don’t think that’s helpful, encouraging or productive. In the end, it’s about speaking and making yourself understood, not about having the perfect pronunciation!

Furthermore, I am not saying that all Germans speak like this. Some might speak with a stronger accent, and some might speak with an accent that’s indistinguishable from your own! These are just some things you might encounter in general and that can help you start a little conversation in German!

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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.


  1. Angela:

    Another give-away is the way a German-speaker pronounces the “v” sound in an English word; it’s as if they are struggling between the “f” and “w” sounds. This is something I always found so adorable, especially since German HAS a “v” sound (with their “w”). I’d tell my German friends to see the English “v” as a German “w”, and then they would pronounce the English word perfectly.

    • Sten:

      @Angela Very good point, Angela! The tip you’re giving is great.
      One thing that always tripped me up, being Dutch and German (in Dutch, the w is pronounced much more like in English), is how Russian names would be written:
      Russian chess master Anatoly Karpov becomes Karpow in German! So the v indeed matches the w.

  2. Maggie McCloskey:

    Germans use “furthermore” and “further” to start their sentences in written German way more than Americans do.

    • Sten:

      @Maggie McCloskey Interesting, I never noticed that… Do you have a hunch as to why that is?