Published 20th February 2018

We’re told we should never generalise, but sometimes it can be to our advantage. Getting to know our students is one way we can make sure we are fully prepared for our lessons, and that includes the kind of mistakes they make. The generalisation comes in because we are able to anticipate the difficulties and problems our students are going to have based on their first language.

In previous posts we’ve talked about the common problems for Spanish, Arabic and Chinese speakers, but now let’s talk about German learners.

English and German are both Germanic languages in the Indo-European language family. It follows that they are closely related. Plus, if you understand that English is quite pervasive in everyday life in Germany, you won’t be surprised to learn that many German speakers become proficient in English. However, there are still a few aspects of the language which can cause difficulties for German learners of English.


German does not have a continuous tense, so German speakers may avoid the use of it or overuse it.

For example, I drink coffee versus I’m drinking coffee

Or I’m going to work every day versus I go to work every day.

German speakers tend to use will when speaking about the future, even when English doesn’t.

For example, I’ll tell him when I’ll see him versus I’ll tell him when I see him.

There is a similar problem when speaking about the past, as well. In German, the present perfect is often used to speak about the past which would result in a sentence like Then I have made dinner.


False friends are words which look the same in both languages but which have different meanings. Though German shares a lot of words with English, there are still a few false friends which can be problematic.

For example:

  • aktuell means current, not actual
  • also means so, not also
  • der chef means boss, not chef
  • die rente means pension, not rent
  • der see means lake, not sea

and these are only a few of them!


German does not have the /Ɵ/ sound, as in Thursday and thirsty and German speakers may pronounce words which being with a /w/ with a /v/, for example wine as vine.


Punctuation rules in German are much stricter than in English so German speakers may overuse punctuation when they write in English. Also, nouns are capitalised in German, which can lead to German speakers capitalising all English nouns too.

Even if you are not teaching English in Germany you could still find yourself teaching German learners. Though they may already have an advanced level of English, keep these common problems in mind because they might still be an issue for your learners.