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GERMAN WRITING - common mistakes



German Mistake 1: Thinking in English
As we discussed in Part 1, it's only natural that you'll think in English when you begin to learn German. But the
number one mistake made by beginners is thinking too literally and translating word-for-word. As you progress
you need to start to "think German" more and more. Even beginners can learn to "think" in German phrases at an
early stage. If you keep using English as a crutch, always translating from English to German, you're doing
something wrong. You don't really know German until you start to "hear" it in your head! German doesn't always
put things together like English. - A related problem could be called "The Misuse of the English-German
Dictionary." Don't just take the first word you find. See our dictionary tips below for more.
HELP > How to Use a Dictionary | Learning Tips

German Mistake 2: Gender
While languages such as French, Italian, or Spanish are content to have just two genders for nouns, German has
three! Since every noun in German is either der, die, or das, you need to learn each noun with its gender. Using
the wrong gender not only makes you sound stupid, it also can cause changes in meaning. Yes, I know it's
aggravating that any six-year-old in Germany can rattle off the gender of any common noun, but that's the way it
is. But there are ways to predict the gender of many nouns in German, as we point out in "Gender Hints" below.
HELP > Gender Hints

German Mistake 3: Case
If you don't understand what the "nominative" case is in English, or what a direct or indirect object is, then you're
going to have problems with case in German. Case is usually indicated in German by "inflection": putting different
endings on articles and adjectives. When der changes to den or dem, it does so for a reason. That reason is the
same one that makes the pronoun "he" change to "him" in English (or er to ihn in German). Not using the correct
case is very likely to confuse people a lot!
HELP > The Four Cases in German

German Mistake 4: Word Order
Another term for "word order" is syntax. German syntax is more flexible than English syntax and depends more on
case (see Mistake 3) and case endings for clarity. In German, the subject may not always come first in a sentence.
In subordinate (dependent) clauses, the conjugated verb may be at the end of the clause.
HELP > Word Order in German | German Subordinating Conjunctions

German Mistake 5: 'Sie' and 'du'
Almost every language in the world—besides English—has at least two kinds of "you": one for formal use, the
other for familiar use. English once had this distinction ("thou" and "thee" are related to German "du"), but for
some reason it now uses only one form of "you" for all situations. This means that English-speakers often have
problems learning to use Sie (formal) and du/ihr (familiar). The problem extends to verb conjugation and
command forms, which are also different in Sie and du situations.

German Mistake 6: Prepositions
One of the easiest ways to spot a non-native speaker of any language is the misuse of prepositions. German and
English often use different prepositions for similar idioms or expressions: "wait for"/warten auf, "be interested
in"/sich interessieren für, and so on. In English you take medicine "for" something, in German gegen ("against")
something. German also has its two-way prepositions that can take two different cases (accusative or dative),
depending on the situation.
HELP > Prepositional Pitfalls | Two-Way Prepositions

German Mistake 7: Umlaute
German "Umlauts" (Umlaute in German) can lead to problems for beginners. Words can change their meaning
based on whether they have an umlaut or not. For example, zahlen means to "pay" but zählen means to "count."
Bruder is one brother, but Brüder means "brothers" - more than one. Pay attention to words that may have
potential problems. Since only a, o, and u can have an umlaut, those are the vowels to be aware of. If you need
help with how to type umlauts and other special German characters or accents on your computer, see the link
HELP > Confusing Word Pairs in German | German Characters FAQ

German Mistake 8: Punctuation and Contractions
German punctuation and the use of the apostrophe is often different than in English. Possessives in German
usually do not use an apostrophe. German uses contractions in many common expressions, some of which use an
apostrophe ("Wie geht's?") and some of which do not ("zum Rathaus"). Related to the prepositional hazards
mentioned above are German prepositional contractions. Contractions such as am, ans, ins, or im can be possible
HELP > German Punctuation
German Mistake 9: Capitalization
German is the only modern language that requires the capitalization of all nouns, but there are other potential
problems. For one thing, adjectives of nationality are not capitalized in German as they are in English. Partly due
to German spelling reform, even Germans can have problems with spelling hazards like am besten or auf Deutsch.
You can find the rules and a lot of hints for German spelling in our capitalization lesson and try our spelling quiz.
HELP > Capitalization in German | German Spelling Reform Hits the Newsstand

German Mistake 10: Verbs with 'haben' or 'sein'
In English, the present perfect is always formed with the helping verb "have." German verbs in the conversational
past (present/past perfect) can use either haben (have) or sein (be) with the past participle. Since those verbs
using "to be" are less frequent, you need to learn which ones use sein or in which situations a verb may use haben
or sein in the present or past perfect tense.

                                          GERMAN STUDY TIPS
Here are some study tips and practical advice to help make your learning of German more effective:

Use your first language to learn the second!
German and English are both Germanic languages with a lot of Latin and Greek thrown in. There are many
cognates, words that are similar in both languages. Examples include: der Garten (garden), das Haus (house),
schwimmen (swim), singen (sing), braun (brown) and ist (is). But also watch out for "false friends" — words
that appear to be something they're not. The German word bald (soon) has nothing to do with hair!

Avoid language interference
Learning a second language is similar in some ways to learning your first, but... there is one big difference! When
learning a second language (German), you have interference from the first (English or whatever). Your brain
wants to fall back on the English way of doing things, so you have to fight that tendency.

Learn nouns with their genders
German, like most languages other than English, is a language of gender. As you learn each new German noun,
learn its gender at the same time. Not knowing whether a word is der (masc.), die (fem.) or das (neut.) can
confuse listeners and makes you sound ignorant and illiterate in German. That can be avoided by learning das
Haus rather than just Haus for "house/building," for example. More: The Top 10 German Mistakes Made by

Stop translating!
Translation should only be a temporary crutch! Stop thinking in English and trying to do things the “English” way!
As your vocabulary grows, get away from translating and start thinking in German and German phrases.
Remember: German-speakers don't have to translate when they speak. Neither should you!

Learning a new language is learning to think in a new way!
Das Erlernen einer neuen Sprache ist das Erlernen einer neuen Denkweise. - Hyde Flippo

Get a good German-English dictionary
You need an adequate (minimum 40,000 entries) dictionary and you need to learn how to use it! A dictionary can
be dangerous in the wrong hands. Try not to think too literally and don't just accept the first translation you see.
Just as in English, most words can mean more than one thing. Consider the word “fix” in English as one good
example: “fix a sandwich” is a different meaning than “fix the car” or “he's in a fine fix.”

Learning a new language takes time.
Learning German — or any other language — requires a long period of sustained exposure to German. You didn't
learn your first language in a few months, so don't think a second one will come any faster. Even a baby does a lot
of listening before talking. Don't get discouraged if the going seems slow. And use all the resources at your
disposal for READING, LISTENING, WRITING and SPEAKING. This site can lead you to those resources.

The United States is the only country where people believe you can learn a foreign language in two
school years. - Hyde Flippo

In Australia there is widespread believe that learning a foreign language is a waste of time. The only
people interested in learning another language are those that have a direct contact to a foreign
language community. – Patrick Marzohl

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