Brita is back, this time she’s here to help us put those cringe situations into perspective!
How to get out of cringe situations in German
We all know it, when we learn a new language. We are proud of our efforts and newly learned skills. We want to show them to the world and have already in mind how perfectly it will turn out.
What often happens is that we get totally lost in what we think we know. Instead of using the right Partizip, cases or verbs, we just stumble over our own words and nervousness. We might say something that embarrasses not only us but also the people we speak to.
My experiences of cringe comments
I just recently came across this phenomenon while learning Hindi. Pumped with newly gained confidence I walked up to our staff in our jungle home, proud that I could finally tell them that I would like to eat lunch with them. After finishing my little speech they looked at me with question marks in their eyes, saying “yes, ok ma’am” and wandered off. We did not eat together. Later on they asked my partner if everything is ok with me, because I had just asked them if I was allowed to eat THEM.
So, this happens in any language. Not just in German.
Awkward conversations in German
Germans tend to switch into English as soon as they figure out that you are learning German. Even if you talk to them in German they might respond in English. Mostly this happens because Germans are trying to be polite towards you as they do not want you to feel hassled or uncomfortable.
Tip: Germans never feel too comfortable talking about their salaries. To avoid any awkward moments, you may leave the salary conversations with friends until you are more proficient in German.
Important: We all make mistakes in our progress to learn a new language and in fact, mistakes help our brain to memorise. So don’t let it affect your self esteem, it is totally normal. In fact, you can use these situations and turn them into fun. You will never forget how you got yourself out of an embarrassing moment, after all!
Laughing off our own failures will brighten your day and the day of your conversational partner.
Here are some useful phrases and tips to help you get yourself out of cringe situations in German
If you can’t understand what was said, but you are supposed to respond
Obviously every situation is different but these little expressions will help you to get past it.
Könnten Sie das bitte wiederholen? (formal) – Can you please repeat that?
Könntest du das bitte wiederholen? (informal) – Can you please repeat that?
Könnten Sie bitte langsamer sprechen? (formal) – Can you please speak slowly?
Kannst du bitte langsamer sprechen? (informal) – Can you please speak slowly?
Sorry, ich verstehe das nicht. (informal) – Sorry, I don’t understand that.
Entschuldigen Sie bitte, mein Deutsch ist noch nicht so gut. (formal) – Excuse me, my German is not so good.
If you are not sure if what you said or understood is correct
In these situations it always helps if you tell the person you talk to what you initially understood, it helps you to laugh it off and amuse your conversational partner too. Plus you do not carry the embarrassment further on with you 😉
Entschuldigung, das habe ich falsch verstanden. (formal) – Sorry I misunderstood.
Ich habe etwas ganz anderes verstanden, sorry! (Informal) – I understood something completely different.
If you use slang idioms and people start laughing at you
This might have nothing to do with you using the wrong expression but with us being irritated that you used it.
We might not expect you to know the slang terms but they are great ice-breakers in informal social situations. The good thing about all weird moments in learning a language is that they can create a lot of fun if you switch your perception.
Please ask locals to talk German with you – Bitte sprechen Sie Deutsch mit mir.
Go out there and trust that your language feeling will guide you.