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4 Common Mistakes Made by German Speakers in English

English is by far the most commonly learned foreign language by people all over the world. Even knowing the basics allows you to communicate with others, and native speakers will most likely grasp what you’re trying to say even if your grammar isn’t correct.

But mastering English, like any other language, is a challenge.

My native language is German, and I have noticed that German speakers tend to make certain mistakes when speaking or writing in English. That’s why I would like to share with you the 4 most common mistakes I observe and how you can avoid them.

I last updated this article on April 6, 2023.

Mistake #1: Using the wrong tense when talking about current activities

As a German speaker, you know we don’t have the Present Continous tense. In fact, we don’t have any Continuous tenses.
We like to use the Present Simple because that’s how we do it in our mother tongue. But if you talk about things happening right now, you must use the Present Continous in English!

Wrong: At the moment, I work on my PHP application.
Right: At the moment, I am working on my PHP application.

Both sentences in German:
Momentan arbeite ich an meiner PHP Applikation.

Because many of us know about our affinity towards this error, we tend to overuse the Present Continuous. And to make everything even worse, we mix incorrect Gerunds into our sentences as well—I will explain this later in this article.

Theoretically, it’s not hard to know when to use Present Simple or Continuous. Learn a few rules, and keep practicing! But don’t worry if you struggle: I believe this is one of the most common mistakes made by German speakers in English!

Mistake #2: Using ‘make’ instead of ‘do’

We sure love the word ‘make’ in German and use it more often than ‘do.’ But that’s not how it works in English, and sometimes we don’t know whether to use ‘make’ or ‘do’ in a sentence.

Wrong: I make my homework.
Correct: I do my homework.

In German we say ‘make’:
Ich mache meine Hausübungen.

Generally, use ‘make’ when you talk about creating or constructing something like cake, tea, or sculptures.

‘Do’ gets used for general activities and is often used with words like:

  • anything
  • everything
  • something

Unluckily, there are exceptions to the rules above, and all you can do is learn the correct usage by heart or look it up if you’re unsure. You can find a list here.

Similar read: Do you aim to improve your writing as a non-native speaker? Then check out my blog post Improve your writing skills as a non-native speaker to get started.

Mistake #3: Using the wrong tense when writing about the past

Believe it or not, German-speaking folks are more relaxed using Past tenses than our English friends. This is a nice contrast to the general belief that German is so strict!
We prefer to use the Present Perfect tense when discussing past activities, whether they’re finished or still going.

Wrong: I’ve finished the whole project last weekend.
Correct: I finished the whole project last weekend.

In German we like to use the Present Perfect:
Ich habe das Projekt letztes Wochenende fertiggestellt.

You can’t use the Present Perfect in English when discussing something that happened in the past with a completed time period. Instead, you use it when you write or speak about an action/event that occurred in the past but also has a connection to the present.

But sometimes, knowing which tense to use can get extremely tricky!
Here’s a great video that explains this topic very well:

Mistake #4: Getting confused with Gerunds and and the Present Continous

First, what the heck is a Gerund?
It’s the fancy word for a verb that gets used as a noun. To turn a verb into a noun, we add -ing at the end of it.

I believe in the art of writing good tutorials.
Poking your co-worker with a stick gets you sent to HR!

In German, this would be ‘das Schreiben’ and ‘das Pieksen.’

Remember the first section in this article about the Present Simple and Present Continuous? Well, here we go again!
Gerunds and verbs in Present Continous end with -ing, making it troublesome to distinguish between them. As a result, we form more sentences with a verb plus -ing in them, although it’s most likely wrong. But now we know when to use the Present Continous, so let’s learn how to use Gerunds:

  • You can find the rules on when to use Gerunds with useful examples here.
  • You can find a list of verbs and phrases that must be followed by a Gerund here.

Unfortunately, this is also something you have to learn by heart—there are no specific rules to follow!

Similar read: Writing is one way to practice English regularly. Do you want to start blogging? Then go ahead and ask yourself these 5 questions before you start!


I’m sure you can now see what I meant when I wrote that it’s easy to learn but hard to master English. Some concepts can be challenging for German speakers, and some rules are way more complicated in English than in German!
But practice makes perfect. We all make mistakes—even native speakers—so don’t worry too much about it. We also use incorrect grammar in German all the time, and it’s usually no big deal, right?

Which mistakes have you noticed that you regularly make as a German speaker in English?

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3 Responses

  1. Speak versus talk is a bit more complex than that. Consider the common expressions “talk the talk”, or phrases like ‘Can you talk?’, ‘Please talk more slowly.’, ‘Can she talk in English?’, ‘English talk show hosts’ or “the talk of the town”. Some feel more natural with ‘talk’, while others would be just as natural with ‘speak’.
    Generally speaking, talk is less formal, and often implies a conversation, while speak is focused on the one uttering words, as in the beginning of this sentence. You are also more likely to see non-audible interactions using words (text chat, etc. described using talk than using speak or speech, at least in North American contexts.)

  2. This is a really useful article for German speakers wanting to improve their English – kudos! Just a friendly note from a native speaker and English teacher: One does not “talk” English, one “speaks” English. Also, one does not “apprehend” a concept, one “comprehends” it.

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I’m Sarah, technical content writer and former web developer. On my blog, I share share my writing and marketing knowledge with developers like you and hopefully help. Want me to do the writing instead? Shoot me a note 🙂

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