Eliminate these wannabe-Germanisms

In this post, I want to discuss some fascinating mistakes made even by very advanced speakers. They concern expressions which are borrowed from their native language (called Germanisms when borrowed from German), and are not used by native English speakers. The examples given below are typically absent in formal writing, but often show up in spoken English.

Example 1

German native speakers often try to make their talks more lively by ending sentences with “ja?”. For example,

Das ist die entscheidende Frage, ja?

The “ja?” in the above example is not used in the sense of “oder?” (or “isn’t it?” in English). The speaker does not raise the question of whether or not this is the key question, but wants to emphasize that it really is the key question, and ensure that the audience is aware of that.

Interestingly, many German native speakers carry over this “ja?” to English, leading to sentences such as

This is the key question, ja?

or (slightly better but still not very English)

This is the key question, yes?

In English, a common way of achieving this effect is to use “OK?” or “right?” at the end, as in

This it the key question, right?

or, imagining a sober person addressing his/her drunken friend at the end of a bender,

We are going home now, OK?

Example 2

My second example concerns the incorrect use of the word “Good” by non-native speakers. In German, it is quite common to say “Gut”, for example, at the end of an extended discussion of a topic (but not after each sentence). Again, this “Gut” is not really necessary for the conversation or presentation, but it is used to fill the pause between two topics or two parts of a discussion. The “Gut” in this context is an expression of satisfaction or achievement concerning the completion of a certain argument or point that you wanted to make.

Many German speakers use this “Gut” also in English, where it becomes “Good”. Strictly speaking, we are therefore not dealing with a Germanism in the strict sense. At any rate, I have never heard a native speaker use “Good” in this way. Instead, native speakers tend to use “OK” or “Alright” for this purpose. Once again, the repeated use of these words between sentences is unnecessary at best, and irritating at worst. OK.

Example 3

Non-English expressions such as in the examples above can often be avoided by rehearsing a talk a couple of times. However, your native language can still pop up when you are confronted with questions. Quite often in such situations, you can hear a very good speaker suddenly fall back to typical (for example) German expressions such as “also” and “ähm”.

Conclusion

To truly master the English language, it is necessary to be able to switch completely between your native language and English. As illustrated here, this switch goes beyond pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary.

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3 thoughts on “Eliminate these wannabe-Germanisms

  1. Interesting post! Another curious germanism is that habit of ending sentences with “…,or?”, as a direct translation of the tag question “oder?”. I think those are the most difficult points of mastering english properly!

      • Yes, totally agree! it’s due to the different uses of the word “bitte”, oder? 🙂
        This kind of speaking habits show up just when we struggle to figure out how a language like german works

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