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.

Journal editors can improve your English

Most high-quality science journals have editors who will proof-read your manuscript before it is printed or published online. While not all journals exclusively employ native speakers as editors, their English is typically very good. Therefore, the proofs you receive should not be regarded as an annoying hurdle on the way to another publication, but can serve as a very useful way to improve your English.

To this end, several years ago, I started a list of errors that I committed and that were corrected by the editors. While it may not make sense to keep track of all errors (this typo only occurred once), I think that you will quickly find that there are some errors that come back again and again. Of course, the list can also include errors that you discover yourself before submitting a paper.

Before submission, I usually go through the list of errors and check the manuscript. Interestingly, after having kept and used this list of mistakes, I managed to permanently avoid many of the mistakes in the first place. This in turn means fewer corrections in the proofs, easier to read papers, and more efficient publishing.