Travelers visit German speaking countries for a plethora of reasons, including leisure, work, or to visit family and friends. The reasons are endless, but one thing is certain: knowing helpful German phrases can make your visit that much more meaningful, and provide insight into culture and customs. Plus, these phrases can inspire conversation and connection with strangers and loved ones in your own community!
The top 10 most useful German phrases
If you’re traveling to one of the several German speaking countries—which include Germany, Austria, and Switzerland—learning ein wenig Deutsch (“a little German”) can make your stay more enjoyable. Below, you’ll find 10 of the most useful phrases to help you navigate various situations. This list balances both formal and informal phrases, so you can tailor your speech accordingly and sound more like a native speaker!
|Entschuldigen Sie bitte… (formal)Entschuldige bitte… (informal)|
|Excuse me, please…|
|Ich habe eine Frage.||I have a question.|
|Können Sie mir helfen? (formal)Kannst du mir helfen? (informal)||Can you help me?|
|Sprechen Sie English? (formal)Sprichst du Englisch? (informal)||Do you speak English?|
|Ich spreche ein wenig Deutsch||I speak a little German.|
|Einen Moment, bitte.||One moment, please.|
|Nein, danke.||No, thank you.|
|Ja, bitte! or Gerne!||Yes, please!|
|Vielen Dank!||Thank you!|
|Ich weiß es nicht or Keine Ahnung||I don’t know / No clue|
How to say hello and start a conversation in German
In your native language, etiquette—or politeness—is second nature. With friends, a quick “what’s up?” and a hug is all you need. In professional settings, a phrase like “pleasure to see you again” is often more appropriate.
Use the list of German phrases below to confidently meet, greet, and strike up a conversation with acquaintances. Just like in English, there are plenty of ways to say hello in German, the most common of which are Hallo (“hello”) and Guten Tag (“good day”). Bitte (“please”), danke (“thank you”), and bitteschön/gern geschehen (which both mean “you’re welcome”) are equally useful. Plus, you can take these conversation starters even further with tips on what to avoid and how to politely end a conversation that’s run its course.
|Guten Morgen||Good morning|
|Guten Tag||Good day|
|Guten Abend||Good evening|
|Moin, moin||Hello (Northern Germany)|
|Servus||Hello (Southern Germany, Austria, Switzerland)|
|Guten Tag Frau/Herr Meier (formal)||Hello Ms./Mr. Meier|
|Ich heiße…||My name is…|
|Wie heißen Sie? (formal)|
Wie heißt du? (informal)
|What is your name?|
|Ich komme aus…Spanien/den USA/der Türkei||I’m from…Spain/the United States/Turkey|
|Woher kommen Sie? (formal)|
Woher kommst Du? (informal)
|Where do you come from?|
|Freut mich, Sie kennenzulernen (formal)|
Freut mich, dich/euch kennenzulernen (informal)
|It’s a pleasure to meet you|
|Ich bin zum ersten Mal hier||This is my first time here|
|Ich bleibe…über das Wochenende/für ein paar Tage/eine Woche||I’m staying…over the weekend/for a few days/a week|
|Wie lange bleiben Sie? (formal)|
Wie lange bleibst du? (informal)
|How long are you staying?|
|Was sind Ihre Hobbies? (formal)|
Was sind deine Hobbies? (informal)
|What are your hobbies?|
|Was machen Sie heute noch? (formal)|
Was machst Du heute? (informal)
|What are your plans for the rest of the day?|
|Ich gehe heute noch…|
… ins Theater
|Later on I will go…|
…to the theater
…to the museum
…grab a bite to eat
…to the concert
|Haben Sie Lust mitzugehen? (formal)|
Hast du Lust mitzugehen? (informal)
|Would you like to join?|
A couple more tips on the phrases above:
- Among the many ways to say “hello” in German, you’ll find greetings specific to each region. Moin, moin is often used in Northern Germany, while Servus is used across Southern Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
- Greet women formally with the title Frau (“Ms.” or “Mrs.”) before their last name. Similarly, Herr is used for “Mr.”
- When introducing themselves in a formal setting, German speakers will state their first and last name.
How to ask for directions in German
The conversation starters listed above make for great, meaningful interactions. But when you need to get to the point—or a particular place—you’ll need to know how to navigate transportation and ask for directions.
Let’s say you’re hungry, but you can’t find the nearest cafe. While it is fairly simple to learn Ich habe Hunger (“I am hungry”) or Ich habe Durst (“I am thirsty”), it’s more useful to know the full German sentence used to ask about the closest restaurant or grocery store. This way, people know you’re looking for a particular place rather than making a general statement.
|Wo finde ich…|
… einen Geldautomaten?… ein Taxi?… eine Toilette?
|Where do I find…|
…a cash machine?
…a taxi? …a toilet?
… der Bahnhof? … die Touristeninformation?
…the train station?
…the tourist information?
|Wie komme ich…|
…zum Kino?…zum Einkaufszentrum?…zum nächstgelegenen Supermarkt?
|How do I get …|
…to the movie theater?…to the mall?…to the closest Supermarket?
|Ich habe mich verlaufen||I’ve lost my way (while walking)|
|Ich habe mich verfahren||I’ve lost my way (while driving)|
… der nächste Bus?
… die nächste U-Bahn?
…die nächste S-Bahn?
…der nächste Zug?
… the next bus?… the next subway?…the next suburban train?…the next train?
… eine Fahrkarte nach Berlin? …eine Tageskarte?
|How much is…|
…a ticket to Berlin?….a day pass?
|Ich bin unterwegs||I am on my way|
|Ich bin gleich da||I am almost there|
How to order food in German
Germany is known for its Biergärtens which are, quite literally, gardens (or more commonly, rustic backyard settings) where beer is served. But there’s far more to Germany than beer! From restaurants to unique fast food, the vibrant German food scene is one that can’t be missed.
Pro tip: When being served, you may hear, Die servieren ein halbes Schwein auf Toast which translates to, “They serve half a pig on a slice of toast.” If that’s the case, prepare to be very, very full at the end of your meal.
Below, you’ll find all the German phrases you need to order and eat well.
|Ich hätte gerne…||I would like to have…|
|Haben Sie…?||Do you have..?|
|Die Speisekarte||A menu|
|Was können Sie empfehlen?||What can you recommend?|
|Das ist alles, danke||That’s all, thank you|
|Das Essen schmeckt lecker!||The food tastes very good!|
|Zum wohl or Prost!||Cheers!|
|Die Rechnung, bitte||The bill, please|
|Ich möchte bitte zahlen||I would like to pay|
|Kann ich mit EC-Karte zahlen? |
Kann ich mit Kreditkarte zahlen?
|Do you take debit cards? Do you take credit cards?|
|Stimmt so!||Keep the change!|
Don’t forget the cultural context:
- From döner to currywurst, fast food is popular in Germany! You’ll find a wide selection of fast food at Imbissbudes, which are small fast food trailers or vendors.
- Germans surprisingly don’t have a direct translation for “snack” but German speakers in Austria say Jause and Switzerland has its own expression, Z’nüni” und “Z’vieri (“I take a short break and snack”).
German slang and regional expressions
It’s one thing to be able to speak German, but what about blending in as a native speaker? Or at least, impressing the people you meet. Learning basic German slang can help you get there. If you know where a speaker is from or if you’re visiting a specific region, you can even break out localized phrases!
The best part about slang is that it actually makes languages more accessible. In German, pairing the word sau (“super”) to adjectives adds emphasis and breaks the mold of German’s notoriously long vocabulary. Gut (“good”) becomes supergut (“above good”).
When it comes to regional expressions, most regions of Germany—as well as some German speaking countries—have their own dialects.
Don’t be alarmed by this—all German speakers will understand the basics! Regional expressions are simply a fun way to deepen your understanding of culture and to connect with locals on a deeper level. Here are several slang and regional expressions to pull from:
- Weisst was ich meine? = You know what I mean? Got it?
- Unglaublich, geht ja gar nicht! = Unbelievable, that can’t be!
- Das ist gehupft. Wie gesprungen. = It’s all the same. It doesn’t make a big difference.
- German phrase in Austria: Ghupft wia ghatscht.
- Nur keine Eile. = Don’t stress or rush.
- German phrase in Austria: Nur ned hudln.
- Mahlzeit! = Going to lunch!
- If greeted with the word “Mahlzeit” in the hallway of your office, the best way to reply is “Mahlzeit!” It doesn’t get more German than that.
- Jetzt mach mal hin! = Hurry up/Get stuff done/Make a decision! (Used in the right context, it can mean all three!)
- German phrase in Switzerland: Chasch nöd dä Foifer und s’Weggli ha!
Idioms are fun in every language. Some may sound nonsensical, but they often function as windows into a region’s history and culture. Inject humor into your next conversation with the list of idioms below, or check out even more expressions to use.
Der Apfel fällt nicht weit vom Stamm. = The apple doesn’t fall far from the stem.
Replace “stem” with “tree,” and this one will sound quite familiar to English speakers! German speakers use this idiom when comparing the similarities between a child and their parent.
Es regnet in Strömen. = It rains in streams.
No, it doesn’t rain cats and dogs in Germany when it rains heavily. Instead, it rains in streams which makes… a bit more sense, depending on who you’re talking to.
Es ist alles in Butter! = Everything is in butter.
Grease makes everything work smoothly. And for those that eat dairy, butter is a beautiful thing. This idiom can help you express that everything is great. Life is good.
Ich habe zwei linke Hände. = I have two left hands.
When you’re feeling less than talented at what you’re doing, it would be appropriate to say that you have two left hands. You can also use this to describe a general clumsiness.
Seine Zunge im Zaum halten = Keeping one’s tongue in the bridle.
If you need to hold back words or avoid answering in a spiteful way, then bite your tongue and remember this German saying.
Da wird ja der Hund in der Pfanne verrückt! = The dog in the pan gets crazy!
If you see something totally out of the ordinary or hard to comprehend, this would be the expression to use in German.
Ich stehe auf dem Schlauch = I am standing on the hose.
If you hear someone say this expression, get ready to offer help. The speaker does not know what to do or how to solve the problem at hand.
Learn German phrases for every conversation
You don’t have to know much German to feel comfortable striking up a conversation! With the list of German phrases above, you can feel confident when meeting acquaintances for the first time, ordering food, and making people laugh with a cheeky idiom.
If you want to take your German to the next level, Rosetta Stone has everything you need. From bite-sized lessons to immediate pronunciation feedback, you’ll learn every word naturally and immersively. No vocabulary lists or flashcards required.
Ready to jump in? Start your first lesson today at www.rosettastone.com.