While traveling around Germany, you may find yourself…confused. Perhaps you’re having a tough time interpreting what’s written on your map, or you’re uncertain about something you want to buy. Because of that, you start talking to people around you hoping to get a little bit of help.
At some point, someone you’re talking to may say “sprechen sie Deutsch?” in an inquisitive manner. What is that person trying to say?
In this article, we’ll talk about some common phrases that you may need or hear as you continue your travels inside Germany. We won’t be turning you into a native speaker, but we can at least equip you with some of the essential phrases that will make getting around the country significantly easier.
Stick around as we learn more about “sprechen sie Deutsch” and other common German phrases!
What Does “Sprechen Sie Deutsch” Mean?
We left you with a bit of a cliffhanger in the introduction so let’s address that right away!
“Sprechen sie Deutsch” is a phrase you will hear if someone is asking about what languages you speak. To be more specific, they are wondering if you can speak German.
“Sprechen sie Deutsch” in English essentially means “do you speak German,” so that’s why you may hear it from the locals if they don’t answer you in English!
The aforementioned phrase is something you may hear if you asked a question and the person responding to you doesn’t have a good grasp of the English language or prefers German. They may be asking if you can speak German so they can better provide the information you’re seeking.
The phrase is also used in a joking manner, as a common stereotype about Americans among Germans is Americans’ lack of foreign language skills! Well let’s prove them wrong!
Given the “sprechen sie Deutsch” translation, you shouldn’t expect to hear it often inside Germany, unless your contact has poor English. Occasionally, it’s a phrase that Germans will use when they’re outside of the country.
That said most Germans (and continental Europeans), particularly those who find themselves abroad will have some mastery of English.
Is It Polite to Say “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?”
Perhaps you’re someone who’s studied a bit of the German language. You have a fairly good grasp of it and you feel confident using it in conversations.
As you move around some of the countries located close to Germany, you may be curious if someone with an accent similar to a German speaker does indeed know the language. You may be wondering if it’s polite to ask if they speak German.
The good news is that “sprechen Sie Deutsch” is actually the respectful way of asking someone if they know how to speak German. Most native speakers only use that phrase when trying to strike up a conversation with someone they don’t know already.
The informal or “impolite” way to ask the same question would be “sprechen du Deutsch”. Unless you know the individual personally, don’t ask like that – it’s rude…although if you know them personally you probably wouldn’t be asking that anyway!
Still, you shouldn’t use the phrase whenever you feel like it. You should only use “sprechen sie Deutsch” when you have a follow-up question or if you want to discuss something. If you just ask if someone speaks German and leave it at that, they will likely get the impression that you are wasting their time, just like if a tourist asked you if you spoke English and then ran away.
Don’t be surprised if the person you asked presents a reaction you didn’t expect upon hearing the phrase. Some accents from countries around Germany can sound very similar. Even if you think that someone has a German accent, that’s not always the case.
How Do You Say “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?”
The translate “sprechen sie Deutsch” portion of this article is now over. Now, let’s talk about the proper “sprechen sie Deutsch” pronunciation.
Breaking down the German phrase should make pronouncing it properly much easier.
With “Sprechen,” the part of the word that may trip you up most is the “CH” sound. The “CH” sound is supposed to be uttered almost like a “K” sound. Think of making that hard K sound but combined with the sound a cat makes when it hisses. You can get away by pronouncing it “sprekken“.
Next up is “Sie” and that can be a bit tricky as well. “Sie” is pronounced similarly to “zee.”
The last word is “Deutsch” and that must be sounded out like “doych.”
It will take a bit of practice, but you’ll get the hang of it eventually.
You can also watch this video a few times to pick up the proper pronunciation of the phrase.
How Do You Ask if Someone Speaks English Using German Words?
Now that you’re familiar with the phrase “sprechen Sie Deutsch,” it’s easy to swap out a word and ask a German speaker if they can speak English.
Some may think you impolite if you speak to them in English right away. It’s polite to ask someone first if they can speak English before attempting to converse with them in that language.
To ask if the person you’re speaking to can also converse in English, simply ask “sprechen Sie Englisch?”. If you struggle with German, using this phrase is advisable if you’re traveling in Germany, as a good number of Germans are fluent in English.
Remember, when saying “Englisch” make sure you pronounce the “eng” the same way you’d pronounce it in the word engage.
Other Phrases You Must Know as a Tourist in Germany
Learning how to ask someone in Germany if they can speak English is not the only piece of knowledge you’ll need. You should also take the time to learn some other basic phrases.
Over the next few sections, we’ll talk about some of the common phrases that you must add to your budding German vocabulary. Understand them and learn how to use them properly so you can have a better experience while traveling through Germany.
Let’s start by getting into the different ways to say hello in German.
The way most people greet each other in Germany is using the word “hallo.” As you’ve probably guessed, “hallo” translates directly to hello.
What’s great about that greeting is that you can use it in different situations. It is not impolite to use “hallo” in formal situations and it can obviously be used during informal scenarios as well.
Next up are the phrases “grüß Gott” and “moin.”
“Grüß Gott” (pronounced grooss got) is a phrase commonly used in the southern part of Germany. It’s the German equivalent of the phrase “God bless you”, or “go with God”. Another thing worth noting about the phrase “grüß Gott” is that it can also be used as a farewell greeting in some situations.
Saying “moin” (said almost like it’s spelled) is another way to greet people in Germany. It’s a greeting most commonly used in the northern part of the country. If you find yourself in that part of the country, saying “moin” may draw some smiles from the locals.
You can also use the phrases “guten morgen,” “guten tag,” and “guten abend” if you want to greet people in Germany. “Guten morgen” (gooten morgen) means “good morning,” “guten tag” (gooten tahg) means “good day/afternoon,” and “guten abend” (gooten ah-bend) means “good evening.” The people you’re speaking to will likely appreciate the fact that you know which greeting to use for the different times of the day.
See Related: Best Things to do in Karlsruhe
Like different greetings, there are also multiple ways to say goodbye in the German language.
Let’s start with “auf wiederhesen.”
“Auf wiederhesen” (Owf veeder-zayen) is the formal way of saying goodbye in German. The phrase basically means “until we see each other again” in English. It’s more common to hear older folks using this phrase.
Another way of saying goodbye in Germany is the word “tschüss” (chooss) This is probably the most common way to say goodbye in German. It just means “bye” and some might consider this a little informal, though so limit your usage to people you’re on good terms with.
If you’re not sure if you should use either of the two phrases above, you can go “alles gute” (allez gooteh) instead. “Alles gute” translates to “all the best.” It’s a pleasant way of saying goodbye and it works if you’re unsure when you might meet the person you’re speaking to again.
Saying Thank You
Whether you’re being served food or being led to your hotel room, it’s always polite to express your gratitude. There are many ways to say thank you in the German language. However, you only really need to remember 3 of them if you’re a tourist inside the country.
The first way of saying thanks involves saying “danke” (dan-keh). This is the way most Germans express thanks and it works in most settings. Still, you may find it a bit lacking if you want to be formal.
In that case, you should use “danke sehr” (dan-keh zair) “Danke sehr” is the English equivalent of “thank you very much.” “Danke sehr” is slightly more formal, but it wouldn’t be strange to use it in less formal situations.
The last phrase you should remember is “vielen dank” (veelen dank) “Vielen dank” translates to “many thanks” and Germans typically use it to express their heartfelt gratitude. You should use this phrase whenever someone goes out of their way to help you.
Completing Financial Transactions
Whether you’re looking to purchase souvenirs or food, you need to be able to talk with local vendors. You don’t need to learn lots of complex German words and phrases to complete those transactions. Picking up a few key phrases should suffice.
The phrase “Ich möchte” (ik/ish muush-teh) is an important one to know whenever you’re eating at a restaurant. “Ich möchte” translates to “I would like.” You can open up the menu, say “Ich möchte” while pointing to something you want to eat, and communicate what you want to order that way.
(Note that for the word “Ich“, [and many German words ending in “ch”] if you pronounce it “ish” you’ll sound like an Austrian, if you pronounce it “ik”, you’ll sound like an American. If you want to sound like a real German, the sound is somewhere between the “ik” and the “ish”, again sort of like the sound of a cat hiss at the back of your mouth).
After you’re done eating, you can say “Ich möchte bezahlen, bitte” (ik/ish muush-teh betz-aalen, bit-teh) to your server. That phrase translates to “I would like to pay, please.” Don’t forget to use that phrase after your delightful meal!
When picking out souvenirs, you will want to use the phrase “wieviel kostet das?” (vee-veal cost-et dass) to express your interest. This means “how much does this cost?” and you can use it while pointing to an item.
“Was ist?” (vass ist) is another handy phrase to include in your German vocabulary. Use it to seek clarification if you’re uncertain about what a specific item is for.
You should also learn how to say numbers in German so you can indicate how many pieces of something you want to buy.
Here are the words for useful German numbers and their rough pronunciations:
- Eins (eyenss) – One
- Zwei (zveye) – Two
- Drei (dry) – Three
- Vier (vear or fear) – Four
- Fünf (foonf) – Five
- Sechs (zex) – Six
- Sieben (zeeben) – Seven
- Acht (act) – Eight
- Neun (noyn) – Nine
- Zehn (zane) – Ten
- Zwanzig (zvann-zig) – Twenty
- Fünfzig (foonf-zig) – Fifty
- Hundert (hoondirt) – Hundred
- Tausend (tow-zend) – Thousand
Essential Phrases for Traveling
Going from one place to another will be difficult if you don’t know the appropriate German phrases to use.
Tourists will be well served to learn the phrase “wo ist” (vor ist) before heading to Germany. The phrase “wo ist” translates to “where is” and you can use it to ask for directions.
If you want to get back to your hotel and your driver doesn’t speak English, you can use the phrase “mein hotel ist” (mine hotel ist) and mention the name of the place you’re staying in at the end of it.
While at the hotel, vital phrases include “welche Zimmernummer habe ich?” (welsh-eh zimma-noommer har-ber ish/ik) and “wann muss ich auschecken?” (vann muhss ik/ish owss-checken) The first phrase is one you should use at the reception area when you’re asking for your room number. You should use the second phrase if you’re wondering what your check-out time is from the hotel.