Tag Archive for: learning German

Tongue twisters that will make you love – or hate – German

Every language has its own array of tongue twisters that have no purpose beyond than to test our ability to pronounce correctly words that share a similar sound.

One of their defining features is their nonsense and impossibility to translate them in a different language, precisely due to the fact that the sound of the words counts more than their meaning. Also German, obviously, has several: tune into the tongue twisters rhythm and think of those wonderfully long German words packed with consonants and hard sounds.. Ready for the challenge?


In German tongue twisters are called Zungenbrecher, which literally means “tongue-breaker”, an ever more fitting term given that when attempting to pronounce them the feeling is more about not being capable of speaking anymore!
If you want to test your German pronunciation and impress you German course teacher, along with your patience, here are a few tongue twisters, selected by The Local, that we have elaborated with a few examples.

1. Fischers Fritz fischt frische Fische, frische Fische fischt Fischers Frizt.

This is amongst the most notorious German tongue-twisters: protagonist is Fritz, son of a fisherman, who fishes fresh fish. Although seemingly logical, try to read it quickly in German..

2. Blaukraut bleibt Blaukraut und Brautkleid bleibt Brautkleid.

Literally, this tongue twisters says that red cabbage remains red cabbage, and the dress of the bride remains the dress of the bride. Beyond the meaning, the language play is based on the consonance amid Blautkraut and Brautkleid.

3. Am zehnten zehnten um zehn Uhr zehn zogen zehn zahme Ziegen zehn Zentner Zucker zum Zoo.

This time around we are talking about 10 tamed sheeps whom on the 10th October at 10 o’clock transport 10 quintals of sugar to the zoo. Although the sheeps aren’t being eaten by the sixth sick sheikh, as in the notorious English tongue twister, they still remain protagonists of one of the toughest German ones.

4. Wenn Fliegen hinter Fliegen fliegen, fliegen Fliegen hinter Fliegen her.

If the flies fly behind the flies, then the flies fly after the flies. The sentence has no sense, but might be useful when revisiting the construction of the conditional period in German.

5. Zwischen zwei Zwetschgenzweigen sitzen zwei zechenschwarze tschechisch zwitschernde Zwergschwalben.

This sequence will challenge you, not only for the length of the sentence but also for its absurd meaning “two coal-black Czech-twittering pigmy swallows are sitting between two plum-tree branches” (or something like that…)

6. Lang schwang der Klang am Hang entlang.

The sound vibrates slowly along the slope. Might seem easy at first, but try to repeat this poetic sentence a few times in a row.

7. Gudruns Truthuhn tut gut ruhn.

Gudrun’s turkey is resting well. Blending both common expressions and a good dose of imagination, this is a particularly useful tongue twister.

8. Schnecken erschrecken, wenn sie an Schnecken schlecken, weil zum Schrecken vieler Schnecken Schnecken nicht schmecken.

Snails are horrified when snails lick snail, because to the horror of many snails, snails don’t like snails.


Cover photo  © Cdn.familie.de

Those foods and dishes that in Germany change name, region by region

Have you studied German, or wish to do so,  and think to have reached the finish line with a B2 or C1 level? Think again. Although your efforts will surely pay off, it will be enough to talk with a native speaker to realize the difference between the language you studied on books, and the spoken one.

One of the first things that you will become aware of when conversing with native speakers is the strong regional dimension of the German language. In Germany there are several terms used to describe the same thing: these vary on the linguistic register on the one hand, and on the region (Bundesland) and its dialect on the other. Some regional terms derive in fact from French, whose influence is very much present also in several German words. Other regionalisms are instead heirs to antique dialects, for instance the German spoken in the south-western regions, today’s Baden-Württemberg, confining Switzerland and Alsace, have a lot of local expressions that are incomprehensible for Germans from other regions. The terms used are thus reflective of the German region of origin. The newspaper Spiegel Online published a study with an interactive map through which it is possible to locate the origins of 24 German regional expressions.


Even the purchase of a simple white-flour bread, Brötchen in everyday German, may become a complicated matter if one is not aware of the term in use in the region in question. Who lives in Friburg in Brisgovia (Baden-Württemberg) calls it Weckle. Imagine someone from Freiburg walking into a Bäckerei in Berlin asking for a Weckle. The most likely reply would be Wat denn? Eine Schrippe meenen See? (What? Would you mean a Schrippe? in berlin-german). From south-west to north-east something as simple as a white-flour bread has in fact different terms,  Weckle or  Schrippe. Going north, at about 300km from Berlin, the same contested, white-flour bread will be referred to in a different way: in Hamburg you will have to order a Rundstück.
The situation is further complicated if one wishes to refer to a sandwich: officially in German it would be a Butterbrot, but in Freiburg in Brisgovia it would be a Vesperbrot, in Berlin a Stulle and in Hamburg a Schnitte. To further complicate the matter, concurring to the word employed the gender will change.


A trip at the supermarket will be enough to find out that there are different words used to refer to potatoes, commonly known as Kartoffel. The german Kartoffel derives from the Italian word tartufo (truffle). Potatoes in fact arrived in Germany from Italy passing through Switzerland. Having however similar shapes, and being both two tubers, potatoes and truffles were initially confused : that is how Kartoffel spread around Germany to refer to potatoes.
The term Erdapfel has instead different roots and indicates “a fruit from the soil” (Erde= land, Apfel= apple). The origins of Erdapfel can be traced to the French language, which similarly refer to pommes de terre (apples from the soil). This word is employed more commonly in the south of Germany, in Austria and Switzerland. The denomination Grundbirne (or Grumbeere, Grumbire, Gromper) derives instead from the similarity of potatoes with a tuber that arrived in Germany in the same period, the topinambur: when referring to potatoes, it is commonly employed in Renania-Palatinato in the regional dialects.

Krapfen and omelette

In standard German, by Krapfen it is meant a particular austro-german dessert. If however you are in Freiburg and wish to order it, you will have to call it Berliner. On the other hand in Berlin you will have to ask for a Pfannkuchen. The same Pfannkuchen in Freiburg would instead mean an omelette, which in Berlin is instead called Eierkuchen. So to avoid unpleasant surprises, it would be thus advised to study the local jargon! Or, to be safe, you could order a nice, universally known in Germany, Schnitzel (escalope).

Jelly meat and tripe

Sülze or Sulz is a cold dish, usually prepared with boiled meats and vegetables, finely cut in small cubes and incorporated with jelly, also known as aspic (Aspik in german). The term Sülze derives from an antique term used to define brine. However in south-western Germany, more precisely in the Baden region, you would have to specify what you mean if you don’t want to risk to find yourself facing a smoking place of tripe. The dish derived from a bovine’s stomach is in fact called Sulz in this region, whereas in the rest of Germany it is commonly known as Kutteln (in Saxony it has a different name: Piepen).


Cover photo: Kartoffeln / Potatoes © Marco Verch CC BY 2.0


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10 German words known and used worldwide

German: not such a foreign language after all.

As everyone is aware of, German is not an easy language to learn. Whoever wishes to embark on such an adventure faces a complex grammar, three different genres of gender (masculine, feminine and neutral), along with lengthy words and unfamiliar sounds. To facilitate the learning the process it might be useful to remember that in all the world there are words that have German origins and that belong to everyday language. Examples include Müsli, Strudel, Kitsch, Bunker or Realpolitik. The teutonic influence can be found in the food sector as much as in the cultural, military or political setting.
Let’s look in detail at some of the most common and widespread German words and their usage in the world.


Literally, “the land behind”, it is a word used in english, french, spanish and italian. By Hinterland it is meant the circumscribing territory of a big city, or more broadly a space situated inland from a coast, and it reflects the economic, social and cultural particularities of the place. In Italy, for example, we talk about the milanese hinterland.


A word commonly employed in english to express joy or satisfaction for other’s misfortunes. In italian the literal translation would be “malignous joy”.


Literally the “children’s garden”, it is a word common to english language when referring to nursery school.


Zeitgest, or the spirit of time, is a term known worldwide. The expression derives from the field of philosophy to indicate the intellectual, cultural and moral characteristics of a certain time.


Literally, “itchy feet” it is a word common to english to express the desire to travel.


Familiar to languages across the world, leitmotiv, literally to “lead a motive”, indicates a dominant theme or aspect of a work of literature and music, as much as a dominant attitude or idea in a person’s life. From the musical field, in everyday language its meaning has expanded to other fields.


Literally “a child wonder”, it is a word employed in english as well when referring to a child prodigy.


Term used in english as well to indicate a counterpart, a lookalike or duplicate of one person.


Whereas Spiel means “game” in German, it is used informally in english to refer to a well-prepared speech intended to praise and/or received as lengthy and monotonous.


Abbreviated to Deli in english, Delicatessen refers to a shop specialized in gastronomic specialties, such as cheese and cold meats. The german word Delikatesse, which refers to a delicacy, in turn derives from the French word délicatesse.


Cover photo: Public domain

Peculiar words that made it into Duden’s 27th edition, the major reference dictionary of German language

The renowned dictionary for German language Duden, published for the first time in 1880 by Konrand Duden, recently printed its 27th edition.

This new publication covers and analyses extensively all the aspects of the German lexicon, including but not only, the grammar, spelling and synonyms. The peculiarity of the new publication stands in its introduction of 5000 new words that previously didn’t exist, building up a comprehensive dictionary of 1264 pages which reflect the influences that are shaping German language today.

The novelty: denglish and anglicisms

Gran part of the new terms included in the revised version of the dictionary emerge out of the social and political developments of this new century, defined in gran part by the entrance of social media and its impact on global communication. Peculiar is the blending of English and German, common to any english student in a German classroom, giving rise to a new language, commonly referred to as Denglish. Amongst the Denglish words that have made it in the Duden dictionary there are facebooken (to be on facebook), liken (to ‘put a like’) and emoji. Postfaktish is another interesting term which stems out of the contemporary fake news debate and the need to certify the validity and truth of a news. Other terms have instead remained in their english version, such as veggie, tablet, selfie, darknet, hashtag and Brexit.

The debate

The influence of English on the German language is a growing phenomenon, reflecting the developments of the German societal fabric. It is in fact in English that new words and terms have been coined to express global developments. Furthermore, regardless of the Brexit, it remains a commonly spoken language in Europe. Verein Deutsche Sprache, an organizations whose aim is to defend the purity of German language, had already expressed itself against the previous revised version of the Duden, which already in 2013 included different English-derived, or Denglish, words. The influence of English in German isn’t however a new phenomenon: already in 1880 Duden included 27 000 spoiled words and terms. Today, amid anglicisms and neologisms, the count has reached 145 000.

German neologisms

Amongst the new terms that have found their way in the dictionary are also German neologisms previously sought to as informal expressions, which now have been officially recognized and validated. To cite a few, Cyberkreig (virtual /online war) and Hasskriminalität (hate crime) are now new German words. Kopfkino (to daydream, or to be exact, to have an inner/mental cinema), Kopftuchstreit (the debate on the headscarf), Nachtshopping (to shop late at night) and Wildpinkler (one who likes to urinate in an outdoor setting) are other interesting terms. Also, Schmähgedicht (blasphemous or insulting poem), is a new term, coined by the comedian Jan Böhmermann in his recent ode to Turkey’s president Erdogan.
Furthermore, certain terms have received a grammatical revision. Amongst these, three English words influenced by German have been reintroduced in the dictionary in their original format. Majonäse returned to be Mayonnaise, as so has Ketschup, now Ketchup, and Anschovis, now Anchovies. With regards to the spelling, the most relevant changes consist of the introduction of dashes in words like Co-Trainer and Ex-Kanzler, and the introduction of the capital version of ß.

Cover photo  © CC0 Creative Commons


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Being 20 years old: 7 German words that will describe your life

The German language is often seen as obscure, tough and hard to cope with. It’s true, a lifetime might simply not be enough for learning such a language, but what’s undeniable is the fact that German owns some words which perfectly depicts certain states of mind and feelings. That’s the reason why using those complicated-yet efficient terms will make you feel highly satisfied once you get to master the language.

Romanticism led many writers to look for the right words that could fully express their feelings for a society which was leading those young writers to the adulthood.

Schnapsidee. The Schnapsidee are ideas that usually come at night or in the early hours of the morning when you are in the company of other friends who are struggling to go home due to too much alcohol. The Schnapsidee just light up, are genial and often hidden by the desire to immortalize a particular state of exhilaration and carelessness during a successful night. When you have one, you end up bringing home a road sign , or a glass from the bar, a neon sign or whatever a drunk could wish for.

Mutterseelenallein.  Literally the word means “alone like a mother’s soul” and refers to a sense of discouragement and loneliness that even a mother’s proximity could not alleviate.

Hotel Mama. This expression is clear by itself. You are more 25 y.o. and still live with mom and dad, your desire is to become independent but, since you haven’t reached your autonomy yet, you need to accept some hard compromises and restrictions about your privacy. Another term used to indicate who lives with parents is Nesthocker: the abusive roommate of the mother’s nest.

Torschlusspanik.It is literally the “panic of the closed door”, that sensation felt when people around us reach relevant work positions, marry, create a family and we live our lives as we are twenty, afraid to engage ourselves in  demanding relationships which could have massive impacts  and consequences on our lives. It encapsulates, in short, all the anxieties and regrets for some chances we haven’t caught.

Lebensabschnittgefährte. It is the sentimental condition of those who do not want to or just fear to engage too much in a relationship and not be able to go back. The word literally means “the companion of a part of life,” perhaps not very romantic as a concept but many relationships are only suited to a certain time of life, the one in which everything is still uncertain, such as the city in which you live,  study, work. Moreover, if part-time jobs or fixed-term jobs both exist, why should love be meant to last forever?

Zukunftsangst. Being afraid of the future is something that we all share, but when you are 20 or almost 30 years old, you are overwhelmed by this kind of feeling. The world reveals itself to you with all its shades, its streets, as you remain motionless, uncertain about the path to follow, because at this point of your life you realize that dreams and projects you had when you were younger cannot be fulfilled or are too expensive to become real.

Lebenskunst. The Art of living. Overwhelmed by doubts, uncertainties, hopes, desire of satisfaction , young people  have realized that life should be appreciated for a whole set of small things that make it more enjoyable and less bitter, almost a true work of art. That’s why many young people want to explore new places, always looking for low-cost solutions, having fun during the week-ends with some friends until night, things you just cannot do anymore once you become a responsible adult.


Translation edited by Maria Cristina Odierna 

Italian version here.

Six concepts that German language can express in only one word

German as a language is well-known for the incredibly vast range of terms along with the great accuracy of its terminology, which often consists of many and difficult compound words; German-speaking people in fact are able to express structured concepts with only one word.

Using precise terms which perfectly express moods, feelings and sensations Germans and German vocabulary are famous for being both synthetic and efficient. Elsewhere we have already talked about beautiful words like Vorfreude, the joy of waiting, or Fernweh, the nostalgia of the other, of the far. This time we want to concentrate on six exceptional words – some fun, others more romantic and thoughtful – that once again show how German is a language that is also attentive to the smallest shades of the inner world of man.

Futterneid. Literally “food envy”, a feeling that we all have tried, at least once, at the restaurant (but metaphorically also in other contexts) when, after ordering a dish, we immediately realize that what our diner companion has ordered looks more appetizing and inviting.

Fremdschämen. A common feeling, experienced especially by the more empathetic ones. The verb and its noun refer to the sense of shame caused by somebody’s attitude, not ours. So when you’re brother will embarrass you, engaging himself in an awkward karaoke session while he’s drunk…well, German language has the perfect word for that situation.

Ruinenlust. This is definitely the most romantic word of the list, also from a historical point of you. The term refers to the pleasure felt while admiring ruined and crumbling old castles, relicts from the past which remind us of the ruthless flow of time.

Kummerspeck. Back to ordinary matters, this noun is related to the act of eating in order to find solace and consolation when we are worried, miserable or unfulfilled. When you’re gripped by negativity and you wish to plunder the fridge, well, think about this German word: Kummerspeck!

Sitzfleisch. Even the Germans do not let themselves be discouraged by long-term efforts, long boring activities, they rely on their perseverance to carry out large intellectual businesses. This term has something  to do with the slow constancy of the study, as shown by its literal translation: “sitting meat”. In short, whether you use glue or chains you need to stay “glued” to the chair for hours and hours in order to get good results.

Frühjarsmüdigkeit. Spring is, for many, the season of renewal, of nature and spirit. But sometimes, especially when the mind fails to support these changes or the body abandons the slumbers of April, it is easy to get caught by the Frühjarsmüdigkeit, the well-known spring fatigue  which pushes the lazy ones to wish for some sleep.



Translation edited by Maria Cristina Odierna 

Italian version here.