Most Common Mistakes German Learners Make

typical mistakes in the German language

The most common mistakes new German learners make


The importance of making mistakes in language learning

To be honest, most of my first-time students are afraid of making mistakes and warn me that their German is not good, they haven’t spoken in such a long time, and that they make mistakes ALL THE TIME.

I want my students to remember that a lot of other students face the same problems and that mistakes happen to nearly everyone.

Understanding the most common errors can help you improve your German speaking and writing.  When you know which mistakes to look for, it’s easier to avoid them. I’ve put together a guide of the most common mistakes students make when learning German.

Language learning takes time. Be patient with yourself

In your learning process, there will be complicated grammar rules and vocabulary you are not going to remember right away. Mistakes are an important part of improving so you shouldn’t be afraid of making them. Do not give up if the succsses you hoped for does not come as you planned. Just keep on going.

All you can do is suround yourself with the language as much as possible. Read a lot, listen to music, and create a habit of speaking or writing the language you are learning.

1. Ich bin heiß vs. Mir ist heiß

mistake made by German learners

Incorrect (falsch): Ich bin heiß. Ich bin kalt.

Correct (richtig): Mir ist heiß. Mir ist kalt.

This is typical for English speakers who translate “I am hot” directly to “Ich bin heiß”. I am hot can have two meanings in German: to be hot is slang for being sexy or attractive (du bist heiß) and the second meaning of to be hot describes the feeling of being hot due to the weather, for example.

“Du bist heiß“can be used when you compliment a person’s appearance. Which means you think the person looks extremely good and attractive and has nothing to do with the person feeling too cold or too hot.

What you can use instead is “mir ist heiß”. We use “mir ist heiß oder kalt” when someone is feeling hot or cold because of the weather. In that sentence, the adjective requires the Dative pronoun mir.

2. Ich bin gut vs. Mir geht es gut

typical German mistake ich bin gut mir geht es gut

Incorrect (falsch): Ich bin gut.

Correct (richtig):  Mir geht es gut.

The same goes for “ich bin gut” vs “mir geht es gut”. To talk about your wellbeing you have to say “Mir geht es gut oder schlecht”.

When someone says “ich bin gut”, I always wonder in what field he or she is good at. Ich bin gut in Mathematik, for example, can be used to say you are good at the subject mathematics.

3. Ich bin 30 Jahre vs. Ich habe 30 Jahre

German mistakes

Incorrect (falsch): Ich habe 30 Jahre.

Correct (richtig):  Ich bin 30 Jahre.

“Ich habe 30 Jahre” is a perfectly logical translation for Spanish, Italian, or Portuguese speakers. However, in the German language, you can’t have 30 years, you are 30 years.  You need “sein” instead of the verb haben.

“Alt” can be omitted. You don’t necessarily need it. Both ways are fine: Ich bin 30 Jahre alt or Ich bin 30 Jahre.

4. Ich gehe nach Italien vs. Ich fahre nach Italien

Mistakes German learners make

Incorrect (falsch): Anna geht nach Italien.

Correct (richtig):  Anna fährt, reist nach Italien.

This one tends to confuse a lot of English speakers. The verb “to go” has many equivalents in German: gehen, fliegen, fahren, and reisen. Which one you have to use depends on how you move and where you are going.

The main meaning of “gehen” is to walk somewhere. Very often I hear my German students say “Ich gehe nach Italien”. The use of “gehen” is correct when you walk to Italy. WALK, but not drive.  In this sentence “fahren” or “reisen” is correct, when you go by car or travel to Italy.

The verb “gehen” doesn’t necessarily mean walking. You can also use it in the way you use “to go” in English like “I go to school”, meaning attending school. Here you can use “Ich gehe zur Schule”.

When you are a passenger, you can also “ride” a train, tram, or bike, whereas German uses “fahren“, for example, “Ich fahre mit dem Zug nach Berlin”, or “Anna fährt mit dem Rad in die Stadt”.

5. werden vs. bekommen

bekommen and werden

Incorrect (falsch): Ich bekomme 30 Jahre alt.

Correct (richtig):  Ich werde 30 Jahre alt.

Please, don’t confuse “bekommen” with to become. “Bekommen“is a false cognate, which you might also know as “false friends”. They have the same origin and are spelled in a similar way, but have a different meaning.

Bekommen” means to get, receive something. Funny thing. The verb “bekommen” is also used for describing that you had a baby.

  • Hast du viele Geschenke bekommen? (Did you get a lot of presents?)
  • Ich habe ein Baby bekommen. (I had a baby).

The German verb “werden” translates to become or sometimes get too, depending on the meaning.

  • Am Montag werde ich 30. (On Monday, I will become (turn) 30.)
  • Ich werde älter. (I’m getting older. )
  • Ich möchte Ärztin werden. (I want to become a doctor.)

etwas bekommen = to get something 

6. gefallen vs. schmecken

German grammar mistakes

Incorrect (falsch): Gefällt dir der Kuchen?

Correct (richtig):  Schmeckt dir der Kuchen?

Both verbs “gefallen” and “schmecken” are used for talking about things you like, your preferences, and both of them are Dative verbs.

Gefallen” is mainly used for things. You can judge the appearance of something with this verb (you like something or not).

  • Mir gefällt das Bild. (I like the picture.)
  • Dein neues Auto gefällt mir. (I like your new car.)
  • Gefällt dir mein neuer Haarschnitt? (Do you like my new haircut?)

When you use “schmecken“, you state that you like or dislike specific drinks or food.

  • Die Pizza schmeckt mir gut. (The pizza tastes good.)
  • Schmeckt dir der Smoothie? (Does your smoothie taste good?)

7. kennen vs. wissen

kennen and wissen

Incorrect (falsch): Ich weiß dich.

Correct (richtig):  Ich kenne dich.

The verbs “kennen” and “wissen” have caused a lot of troubles to my students. Over the years, I have perfected my explanation to make it easy to understand.

Kennen” is used if you know a person, place, or a thing. (Ich kenne Wien – I know Vienna). It requires Akkustativ (the direct object).

  • Ich kenne Anna. (I know Anna)
  • Kennst du den Film Black Panther? (Do you know the movie Black Panther?)
  • Kennt ihr euch schon? (Do you already know each other ?)
  • Nein, ich kenne Lukas nicht. (No, I don’t know him)
  • Ich kenne die Stadt Salzburg nicht. (I don’t know the city Salzburg)

Wissen“, on the other hand, always refers to some kind of knowledge. You can use the verb “wissen for knowing facts or general knowledge (I know how many inhabitants Austria has or I know where Anna lives).

  • Wissen Sie wo die Toilette ist? (Do you know where I can find the bathroom?)
  • Anna, weißt du die Antwort? (Do you know the answer?)
  • Weißt du wie viel das Buch kostet? (Do you know how much the price of the book is?)

8. können vs. kennen

kennen und können

Incorrect (falsch): Ich kenne ein bisschen Spanisch sprechen.

Correct (richtig):  Ich kann ein bisschen Spanisch sprechen.

When talking about skills and languages, we have to use the verb “können” (can).

  • Kannst du Deutsch sprechen? (Can you speak German?)
  • Können Sie Rad fahren?
  • Ja, klar! Ich kann dir helfen.  (Of, course! I can help you)

And here is a quick review of “kennen”. The verb is used when you know a person or thing. Check out point 7 for more examples.

  • Er kennt die Deutschlehrerin. (He knows the German teacher.)
  • Kennst du Lance Armstrong? Er ist Radfahrer. (Do you know Lance Armstrong? He is a cyclist.)
  • Linda, kennst du das neue Buch von Patrick Rothfuss? (Linda, do you know the new book of Patrick Rothfuss?)

Unsure about grammar?

  • Are you a German learner and need help with your grammar?
  • Do you feel that you make these typical mistakes when speaking or writing?
  • Do you know all the grammar rules but somehow you speak and don’t notice your mistakes?

If you answered “yes” to one of these questions, you are invited to take an online trial lesson with me (hello, I’m Carina if you don’t know me yet) to help you improve your speaking skills and eliminate grammar mistakes step by step.

Comments (4)

Could you please add lernen and studieren?

Wooohuuuu. Nice Quiz! Ich mag es sehr. Ich habe alle Antworten richtig gehabt ^^

Juhu Peter! Vielen Dank für die Antwort. Das freut mich, dass du alle Antworten richtig hattest.

I wouldn’t say that “ein Baby bekommen” is “funny”.
Simply, BEKOMMEN is always “leading” to HABEN ( = to have “ALREADY”)
Wir BEKOMMEN ein Baby —> dann HABEN wir ein Baby.
Er hat Grippe BEKOMMEN —> dann HATTE er Grippe.

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