By mastering the basics of polite conversation, you can put yourself and the person you’re talking with at ease. You’ll find that there are many words and phrases that come up in most everyday conversations. Everyone should take the time to learn these common conversational words and phrases in German before traveling.
Being polite are just as important in German-speaking countries as they are in America. The following words and phrases cover most of the pleasantries required for polite conversation. After all, learning to say the expressions of common courtesy before traveling to a German-speaking country is just good manners.
danke. (Thank you.)
Bitte schön. (You’re welcome.)
Kein problem. (No problem.)
Entschuldigung! (Excuse me; sorry)
natürlich (of course)
Vielen Dank. (Thank you very much.)
Nein, danke. (No, thank you.)
Es tut mir leid. (I’m sorry.)
Verzeihen Sie. (Forgive me.)
Once you’ve mastered the common pleasantries, the next important thing to learn is how to refer to people. The most common way we refer to people is by using personal pronouns. In German, the pronouns (you and they) are complicated by gender and formality. You’ll use slightly different variations of these words depending on to whom you are referring and how well you know them.
du (you [singular/informal])
ihr (you [plural/informal])
Sie (you [singular, plural, and formal])
Sie, which is formal “you,” is polite and can be used when speaking with a new acquaintance, elder, or person in a high office. With friends, family, and children, use informal du (you).
References to people
When meeting people in German-speaking countries, be sure to use the appropriate formal title. A man would be called Herr, which is the same as Mr. or Sir. A woman is called Frau whether she is married or not.
It is also helpful to know the correct vocabulary term for referring to people based on their age, gender, or relationship to you.
der Mann (man; husband)
die Frau (woman; wife)
der Junge (boy)
das Mädchen (girl)
die Familie (family)
das Kind (child)
der Vater (father)
die Mutter (mother)
der Sohn (son)
die Tochter (daughter)
der Bruder (brother)
die Schwester (sister)
der Freund [M]; die Freundin [F] (friend)
The gender of a noun determines the article you use with it. With masculine (M) nouns, you use ein (a; an) or der (the). With feminine (F) nouns, you use eine (a; an) or die (the). With neuter (N) nouns, you use ein (a; an) or das (the).
Phrases for travelers
There are some phrases that are particularly helpful to international travelers. Below are several phrases that might come in handy during your stay in a German-speaking country.
Entschuldigung! (Excuse me. [as in may I have your attention].)
Nichts, danke. (Nothing, thanks.)
Sprechen Sie Englisch? (Do you speak English?)
Ich spreche Englisch. (I speak English.)
Ich spreche nicht viel Deutsch. (I don’t speak much German.)
Können Sie das übersetzen? (Can you translate that for me?)
Ich verstehe nicht. (I don’t understand.)
Bitte wiederholen Sie! (Will you please repeat that?)
Können Sie langsamer sprechen? (Could you speak slower?)
Was brauchen Sie? (What do you need?)
Ich brauche Auskunft. (I need some information.)
Ich brauche Hilfe. (I need some help.)
Ich habe mich verlaufen. (I’m lost.)
Wohin gehen Sie? (Where are you going?)
Ich weiß nicht. (I don’t know.)
Ich gehe zum Park. (I‘m going to the park.)
Das Museum ist nicht offen. (The museum isn’t open.)
Kein Mensch versteht es. (No one understands it.)
Darf ich mir einen Stadtplan ansehen? (May I see a map?)
Did you know that most of the people in German-speaking countries have learned at least a little English? When you travel to their country, they expect you to have done the same. If you’re able to demonstrate that you’ve learned basic words and phrases, most people will be more willing to help you.