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The Top 10 German Mistakes Made by Beginners

Common Mistakes in German


Introduction: German Pitfalls

The title of a popular book for learning German is 1001 Pitfalls in German. Unfortunately, there are many more than ten mistakes you can make in German! However, we want to concentrate on the top ten kinds of mistakes that beginning students of German are likely to make.

But before we get to that, think about this: How is learning a second language different from learning a first? There are many differences, but the most significant difference is that with a first language there is no interference from another language. An infant learning to speak for the first time is a blank slate—without any preconceived notions of how a language is supposed to work. That is definitely not the case for anyone who decides to learn a second language. An English-speaker who is learning German must guard against the influence of English.

The first thing any language student has to accept is that there is no right or wrong way to construct a language. English is what it is; German is what it is. Arguing about a language's grammar or vocabulary is like arguing about the weather: you can't change it. If the gender of Haus is neuter (das), you can't arbitrarily change it to der. (See "Mistake 2 - Gender") If you do, then you risk being misunderstood. The reason languages have a particular grammar is to avoid breakdowns in communication.

Mistakes Are Unavoidable
Even if you understand the concept of first-language interference, does that mean you'll never make a mistake in German? Of course not. And that leads us to a big mistake that many students make: Being afraid to make a mistake. Speaking and writing German is a challenge for any student of the language. But the fear of making a mistake can keep you from making progress. Students who don't worry so much about embarassing themselves end up using the language more and making quicker progress.

If you aren't familiar with some of the grammar terminology used here and on the next page, please see our Grammar Glossary and the German Grammar Guide. Okay, now let's look at the first five mistakes made by beginners in German:

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