English derailed by Deutsche Bahn


As a regular commuter, Deutsche Bahn has caused me quite some headaches in the past. However, they also provide valuable input for this blog. Today, I want to share some of my recent observations regarding their special version of the English language. While it is quite common for passengers to make fun of the staff, you may want to double-check that you are not making some of these mistakes yourself!

Welcome an board

Very often, things get off to a bad start when new passengers are welcome with the phrase “Welcome an board”.

Improper pronunciation of places

Quite a few towns in Germany have an English translation of their name. Examples include Munich, Nuremberg, Cologne, and Berlin. However, the staff of DB tries very hard to avoid using these internationally known names in their English broadcasts, and instead uses the German names that are typically very hard to understand for foreigners. Hence, you often hear sentences such as “The next stop will be Köln.” or even worse “We will now arrive Nüremberg” (yes, they do pronounce the English word Nuremberg with an umlaut!).

Improper use of arrive

There is a widespread misunderstanding at DB that arrive is the direct translation of the German word erreichen. Therefore, the staff construct very strange sentences such as “We will now arrive München” (Wir erreichen jetzt München) instead of “We will now arrive in Munich”. I have even heard the expression “We will arrive the next stop”…

Track vs. platform

DB staff typically translate “Gleis 5” as “Track 5” instead of the more common “Platform 5” used, for example, in the UK. This may cause confusion at the train station.

Opposite and opposide

A very interesting mistake that could also affect others is the incorrect pronunciation of the word opposite, which is often pronounced as if it were spelled opposide (on the other side); the correct pronunciation is given here.

Good bye

Finally, especially in Bavaria, it is very common to hear a friendly good bye with bye pronounced in Bavarian at the end of your journey.

How to pronounce bye, by, and buy

Every week, I hear conductors working for Deutsche Bahn say good-bye to passengers. And every week, the word bye is pronounced incorrectly. If you enjoy making fun of Deutsche Bahn English, read on to make sure you don’t make the same mistake.

What happens is that German speakers tend to pronounce bye exactly like the German word bei. While quite obvious to those with ears trained for English pronunciation, the mistake is actually rather subtle. In fact, bye and bei have almost the same phonetic spelling:

byebeiThe important difference is that in the English language the beginning of the diphthong [] is formed further back in the mouth. Listen to the English and German pronunciation of bye and bei, and then speak these words out loud a couple of times to notice the difference. An incorrect pronunciation of by can be quite confusing. For example, on German radio, adverts sometimes include phrases such as

Kaufen sie Produkt x by Firma y
(Buy product x by company y)

Because the rest of these adverts is in German, pronouncing by like bei leaves the impression that the product is not made by company y, but rather sold at company y (bei in this context means at):

Kaufen sie Produkt x bei Firma y
(Buy product x at company y)

Hence, even in German, the correct pronunciation of by is important.

The same principle applies to other words that contain [], such as
Hi (not the same as the German Hai), high, my (not Mai), and cry.

Finally, the words buy, by, and bye have identical pronunciations.