MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology

German Students Learning English – Typical Problems

English and German both belong to the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family. Unlike French, Italian, Spanish, Romanian and Portuguese, German has had limited Latin influence, Germany never having been conquered by the Romans. German has a far more Angles and Saxon influence. However, there are a few identical words in German and English, which are derived from Latin and are still used to this day.

Activo / Aktiv / Active – Directum / Direkt / Direct

Modern German and Modern English are closely related and this is the reason that German speakers find English easier to learn than their European counterparts. English is pervasive in German media and popular culture and therefore, Germans have consistent exposure to English. However, there are some aspects which interfere with the production of good English by German students.

ALPHABET

There are twenty-six letters in the German alphabet plus the umlauted letters Ä/ä, Ö/ö, Ü/ü (vowel change due to i or u in next syllable ) as well as the scharfes S(ß). German speakers can experience interference problems when words are spelt out. There is often confusion with “I” being misunderstood as “E” and “A” misunderstood as “R”.

PHONOLOGY

The sounds of English and German are similar as are the stresses and intonation patterns. However, the “th” sound, voiced or unvoiced as in “the” or “thing, does not exist in German and,so,students have difficulty in pronouncing these sounds. Another common mispronunciation for German speakers is the “W” as,in German, this is pronounced as a “V”.

GRAMMAR

There is a significant lack of correspondence between tenses used in English and those used in German to convey a particular meaning. For example, in German, there is no continuous tense.

“He doesn’t come. He eats his lunch”.

When expressing the future, German uses the present simple and not the future tense.

“I tell him tomorrow”.

In German, when speaking about the past, the present perfect is used.

” Then,, I have walked home”.

German is an inflected language which means that most of the parts of speech used in a sentence change according to their purpose. An English person learning German would find this much more of a problem than visa versa as English is generally uninflected.

In German, the main verb must be the second element in the independent clause. This requires an inversion of subject and verb.

“Manchmal komme ich mit dem Bus in die Schule.”

“Sometimes, I go to school by bus”.

The past participle must always be the last element in the independent clause.

“Ich hab ihn night gesehen”

“I have not seen him”.

The main verb must be the last element in the dependent clause.

” Sie fragte mich, weil ich zuviel Bier getrunken habe.”

“I feel bad because I have drunk too much beer”.

VOCABULARY

German and English share many cognates such as:

Winter /Winter Haus/ House Agent/Agent

However, there are many cognates which are known as “false friends”.

Tasten / To touch Konsequent /Logical.

German has stricter punctuation rules than English so,sometimes, a German student will over-punctuate in written English.

Nouns are capitalized in German which can become confusing for students, our rule being, capitals solely for proper nouns.

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