Austria: Eight of the funniest mistakes people learning German make

The German language is filled with false friends and words that sound dangerously close to something else with a completely different meaning. Sarah Magill discusses some of the most common mistakes non-native speakers make.

Austria: Eight of the funniest mistakes people learning German make
Waiters in Berlin carry beer on Tabletten - or is it Tabletts? Photo: JOHN MACDOUGALL / AFP

Let’s face it, German is not an easy language to master.

Most of us who have made Austria our home and managed to get to grips with the language have unwittingly made fools of ourselves along the way by making ridiculous-sounding errors to native speakers.

Here are some of the best mistakes I have heard, been told of – and made myself.

Ich will, ich werde

Another common pitfall for native English speakers, is using the word will instead of werde thanks to the falscher Freund (false friend) that is will

READ ALSO: The 10 false friends English and German speakers keep muddling up

In German, ich will means “I want”, whereas ich werde means “I am going to”. This mix up can lead to a lot of confusion, especially when it comes to making plans. 

The only tip I can give is to try to think of the word will in German meaning “I have the will” 

Leistungswasser or Leitungswasser?

Asking for tap water can be a bit awkward at the best of times, so it doesn’t help if you throw a confusing mispronunciation into the mix. 

The German word for tap water is Leitungswasser meaning water from the Leitung (pipeline). If you insert an “s” into the word, you are creating a brand-new German word, which translates into English as “performance water.” 

It may not be correct but it could certainly be a great name for an energy drink, right?

Trying to speak German can be thirsty work. Photo: DPA

Ich bin heiß

For native English speakers, this is a mistake which comes naturally, as it is a literal translation of how we would say “I am hot.”

If you say this to a German, however, you may find the conversation taking a risqué turn, as you will have in fact told them that you’re horny. 

heiß is however, one of the adjectives which are used with the dative mir (others examples are “kalt – “cold”, langweilig – “boring”, peinlich – “embarrassing”). 

So make sure you say mir ist heiß instead.

Versorgt or besorgt?

This is a tricky one which I have seen trip up many competent German language-speakers, much to the hilarity of the natives. 

The problem is, that in the infinitive, the verbs versorgen and besorgen have very similar meanings: besorgen is to obtain, or to provide, versorgen is to provide for, to tend to. 

But the past participle is a different story, if you want to say “I am well taken care of/I have everything I need” the correct word is versorgt. If you choose besorgt then you are saying “I am worried”.

An example of how this mistake typically arises in an exchange like this:

“Hast du alles, was du brauchst?“

Do you have everything you need?

“Ja, ich bin besorgt, danke.“

Yes, I’m worried, thank you.

Don't ask for financial advice in a bike shop. Photo: DPA

Pleiter Reifen?

If you turn up to your local bicycle repair shop and declare “meiner Reifen ist pleiter”, as a friend of mine once did, expect confusion. What you will be telling them is that your wheel is bankrupt. 

What you need to say is “ich habe einen platten Reifen” – using the word platt meaning “flat”, as most bike shops won’t be able to help you with matters of financial insolvency. 

schwül oder schwul

Watch out for this one. A failure to pronounce your ü umlaut correctly will have you calling weather homosexual (schwul) when you want to say it’s humid (schwül). 

READ ALSO: Funniest mistakes that Germans make in English

Entspannt or gespannt

This is another case where two German words with the same Stamm (stem) alter the meaning of the word significantly.

A common phrase in German is “ich bin gespannt“, which is a way of saying “I’m curious” or “I’m looking forward to it”. This is a common and polite way to round off a conversation about a planned date or announcement. 

However, if you say instead “Ich bin entspannt” (relaxed) it may sound like you’re not that interested. 

Mixing up trays and tablets can become a problem. Photo: DPA

Tabletten, Tabletts

Another friend of mine, whilst working as a waiter, once loudly asked a colleague in a packed restaurant:

“Wo sind die Tabletten?” 

The German-speaking customers must have thought that he was suffering from a bad headache.

What he meant however, was to ask where the trays were. These words are almost identical – a tablet or pill in German is die Tablette and the plural is die Tabletten. A tray, on the other hand, is das Tablet (plural die Tablets). Oops.

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The German language you need for summer in Austria

Summer in Austria is when people go outdoors to enjoy public pools, swim in rivers and lakes and complain about the weather. Here are a key few words and expressions to have at hand.

The German language you need for summer in Austria

As we near summer and scorching temperatures, it is about time to brush up on our (Austrian) German in order to enjoy the season to its fullest.

There is no shortage of activities that Austrians enjoy during the hottest months of the year and it’s essential to know some basic vocabulary to enjoy them to the fullest.

READ ALSO: Five of the best things to do in Vienna this summer

If you are more advanced, we also bring a couple of phrases and idioms locals use so that you don’t get too confused when you hear that it’s emperor weather outside.

Basic summer vocabulary

Here are some basic words to get you through the season:

Der See, or the lake. Especially in Austria, with its numerous beautiful lakes (and best bathing waters in Europe!), going for a swim in the lake or a river (der Fluss) is a perfect summer activity.

READ ALSO: Austria home to the ‘best bathing waters’ in Europe, new ranking claims

If you are in Vienna, you’ll likely visit one of the great Freibäder, the outdoor public swimming pools. Another common pastime during the season is parties and barbecues, die Grillparty, but don’t forget to check the rules in your area to see if you are allowed to light up the grill and which type.

Some basic vocabulary for these popular summer activities include die Sonnenbrille (sunglasses), das Wasserrutsche (water slide), das Eis (icecream), der Hut (hat), die Sonnencreme (sunscreen), and die Radtour (bike tour).

If you go through a summer heatwave (a Hitzewelle), you might look for places to cool down. Austria offers spots with Trinkbrunnen (drinking fountains), Bodenfontäne (ground fountains), and Sommerspritzer, which are cooling water sprinklers.

Some common expressions to use in summer

A few words are a bit more advanced or just more informal and a perfect way to describe certain summer feelings.

For example, the “monkey heat”, or Affenhitze, is a word German speakers use to describe those extremely hot days. So if you want to comment on what a scorcher of a day it is, you should say, “Heute ist eine Affenhitze”.

A similar expression is Sauheiß, literally translated to “pig hot”, for those unbearable heat days.

On the other hand, if the day is simply beautiful, sunny, with no clouds in the sky, Austrians will call it “Emperor weather”, or das Kaiserwetter. The urban legend goes that the idiom stems from Austrian history. Kaiser Franz Josef’s birthday, the August 18th, was often bright and cloudless.

And if you ever get caught in one of Austria’s Sommergewitter, the summer thunderstorm, you might hear someone say, jokingly: “Du siehst aus wie ein begossener Pudel!” it literally means “you look like a wet poodle” and, really, they won’t be wrong.

Heading to a public pool? This is what you should know

Sometimes, not speaking the local language can prevent people from trying activities involving talking with someone in German. While swimming in lakes or rivers won’t require any particular German vocabulary, if you want to enter the public pools (and you should, they are fantastic), you might need to know a few words.

Some public pools are “natural” ones, located by river banks. (Photo: PID / Christian Fürthner)

First, the open-air pools are called (singular) Freibad, an area by the river that is closed off and used as public natural pools would be a Strandbad (something like “beach pool”), a Hallenbad is indoors, Kombibad will have both indoor and outdoor pools, and a Familienbad is for families (adults are not allowed in without children).

Öffnungszeiten: opening times. The websites and signs will also state the “Kassaschluss”, which are closing times for buying an entry (usually you will see they are “eine halbe Stunde vor Badeschuss”, or half an hour before the pool closes).

READ ALSO: The best lakes and swimming spots in Austria

Eintrittspreise. These are the entry prices. There might be many different options here, including Kleinkinder (small children), Kinder (children), Jugendliche (young people), and Erwachsene (adults). If you feel young at heart and are confused about how much you must pay, don’t worry: there are usually birth years next to the prices. So, for example, adults are those born in 2003 and earlier.

Other entry options may include Familienkarte (family card, they will specify how many adults and children) and time-based cards, such as “Nachmittagskarte”, for example, for people who want to spend half a day or less.

You can also find season passes, but in general, the whole process of buying and entry is relatively straightforward. In Vienna, it is even possible to buy day tickets online. However, not every pool will have online sales for many weeks in advance or on weekends when demand is high.