What To Say In German When Words Fail You Posted by Constanze on Jun 13, 2015 in Language
A little while ago I wrote a post about words and phrases that’ll make your German sound more natural and ‘real’ (you can read that post here). One thing that many language learners get frustrated with is not sounding natural enough, and often that is because of the rather scripted nature of the things they learn to begin with (Hallo, wie geht es dir? – Mir geht es gut, danke. Und dir? – Ja, sehr gut, danke. – Tschüß). As this is not spontaneous (you’re unlikely to just say ‘bye’ after someone tells you how they are!), it can become boring very quickly. However, you can’t expect to be fluent straight away- but the more you talk and write in German, the quicker you’ll get there!
While you’re learning, if you want to keep conversation going without the long pauses and silences, or without resorting back into your native language, then here are a few phrases that will keep you going in German – even when you haven’t a clue what to say next!
Looking for a word in German (example word: rabbit)
Wie kann ich ‚rabbit‘ (auf Deutsch) sagen? – How can I say ‚rabbit‘ (in German)?
Wie sagt man ‚rabbit‘ (auf Deutsch)? – How does one say ‚rabbit‘ (in German)?
Was ist ‚rabbit‘ auf Deutsch? – What is ‚rabbit‘ in German?
Was ist das deutsche Wort für ‚rabbit‘? – What is the German word for ‚rabbit‘?
Asking what a certain German word means (example word: Hase)
Was bedeutet bitte ‘Hase’? – What does ‘Hase’ mean, please?
When you’re confused
Ich bin verwirrt – I’m confused
Ich habe mich geirrt – I’ve gone wrong/made a mistake
Apologising for lack of words (not that you should be apologising, but it happens!)
Verzeihung – Sorry/forgive me
Es tut mir leid – I’m sorry (lit: ‚It does me sorrow‘)
Ich spreche nur ein bisschen Deutsch. – I only speak a little German.
Mein Deutsch ist nicht besonders gut. – My German is not especially good.
Asking someone to repeat what they said
Können Sie das bitte nochmal sagen? (formal: to a stranger/superior) – Can you please say that again?
Kannst du das bitte nochmal sagen? (informal: to a friend/relative) – Can you please say that again?
When your mind goes completely blank
Ich weiß nicht, welches Wort ich sagen will. – I don’t know which word it is I’m trying to say.
Ich kann mich nicht richtig ausdrücken. – I can’t express myself properly.
Ich habe das nicht verstanden. – I didn’t understand that.
Ich kann heute nicht auf Englisch denken/sprechen, geschweige denn Deutsch! – I can’t even think/speak in English today, let alone German!
The great thing about using these phrases is that they’re all things you’d say in your native tongue should you be having ‘one of those days’, so it’s perfectly natural to use them in German, too. Even though you’re stuck for words, by using them in German you’ll still feel good for having communicated your lack of words in German. That’s impressive in itself! So don’t fret – use these phrases, and your confidence in your language ability will soon grow!
If there are any other phrases you’re after, let me know in the comments!
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