How to Say You Don’t Speak German

Hallo, Deutschlerner. Today I’m going to teach you what to do if you don’t speak enough German to survive a conversation with a German. This lesson will go well beyond the basic phrase “Ich spreche kein Deutsch.” Let’s switch things up a bit and go meet some people on the street and see how we can navigate a conversation with very little knowledge of the German language.

This lesson is a part of Herr Antrim’s new e-book “Beginner German with Herr Antrim“. Within the e-book, this lesson includes a worksheet and answer key to practice the skills you are about to learn. You will also get access to online flashcards and a whole lot more. Find out more about the e-book here.

Ich spreche kein Deutsch. – Scene 1

Fremder: Entschuldigen Sie. Können Sie mir helfen? Mein Sohn ist im Krankenhaus und ich habe nicht genug Geld für den Bus dabei. Ich bitte Sie um etwas Kleingeld. Können Sie etwas Geld erübrigen?
Stranger: Excuse me. Can you help me? My son is in the hospital and I don’t have enough money with me for the bus. I am asking you for some change. Could you spare some money?

Herr Antrim: Ich verstehe nicht. Ich spreche kein Deutsch.
Herr Antrim: I don’t understand. I don’t speak any German.

Fremder: Mein Sohn ist im Krankenhaus. Ich brauche Geld. Haben Sie Geld?
Stranger: My son is in the hospital. I need money. Do you have money?

Herr Antrim: Es tut mir leid. Ich spreche nur ein bisschen Deutsch. Ich kann Sie nicht verstehen.
Herr Antrim: I’m sorry. I only speak a little German. I can’t understand you.

Ich spreche kein Deutsch. – Scene 2

Fremder: Yes. I speak a little English.
Stranger: Ja. Ich spreche ein bisschen Englisch.

Herr Antrim: Oh. Thank goodness. Could you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?
Herr Antrim: Oh. Gott sei Dank. Können Sie mir sagen, wie ich zur Sesamstraße komme?

Stranger: Es tut mir leid. Ich bin nur zu Besuch hier. Ich weiß auch nicht.
Fremder: I’m sorry. I’m just visiting. I don’t know either.

Ich spreche kein Deutsch. – Scene 3

Polizist: Meine Damen und Herren. Bleiben Sie bitte zurück. Sie können hier nicht durch. Bitte benutzen Sie die Nebenstraßen, solange wir diese Straße gesperrt haben.
Policeman: Ladies and gentlemen. Please stay back. You can’t come through here. Please use the side streets as long as we have this street blocked.

Herr Antrim: Ich verstehe nicht. Können Sie das wiederholen? Können Sie langsamer sprechen?
Herr Antrim: I don’t understand. Can you repeat that? Can you speak slower?

Polizist: Sie dürfen hier nicht durch. Sie müssen die Sperrung umgehen.
Policeman: You can’t come through here. You have to go around the closure.

Herr Antrim: Können Sie das ins Englische übersetzen?
Herr Antrim: Can you translate that into English?

Polizist: Go around!
Policeman: Gehen Sie die Sperrung um.

How to tell someone you don’t speak German

As you can see, there are several phrases you can use to get the point across that you don’t know what someone is saying and you need a bit of help. Let’s go back through the list and break it down for you. I’ll also show you some alternative versions of sentences I used just now.

Switch to English

If you simply want to switch to English, so you can ask a question or so you can make sure you understand everything, you can say “Sprechen Sie Englisch?”. This isn’t directly asking them to speak English, it is simply asking if they do speak English. If you want to ask them directly to speak English, you can say “Können Sie mit mir Englisch sprechen?”or “Können wir Englisch sprechen?” You could also say “Können Sie das übersetzen?” If you want to specifically ask them to translate to English, you could say “Können Sie das ins Englische übersetzen?”

I don’t understand.

If you simply want to explain that you don’t understand what they said, you can say “Ich verstehe nicht.” If you want to go into a bit more detail about why you don’t understand, you could say “Ich spreche nur ein bisschen Deutsch.” Alternatively, you can say “Ich spreche nur ein wenig Deutsch.” or “Ich spreche nur ein paar Wörter Deutsch.” Another version would be “Mein Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut.” If you really speak no German or you aren’t confident in your German skills, you could also say “Ich spreche kein Deutsch.” or “Ich kann kein Deutsch sprechen.”

Repeat and Speak Slowly

If you kind of understood them, but you want to make sure, you could ask them to repeat what they said by saying, “Können Sie das wiederholen?” If the speed of the conversation is the issue, you could say “Können Sie das langsamer wiederholen?” or “Können Sie langsamer sprechen?” There is also the command version of this request “Sprechen Sie bitte langsamer.” You could also be more direct and just say “Langsam, bitte”.

Reminder about the “Sie” form

Don’t forget, you need to use “Sie” in these phrases, as I mentioned in my last video. You don’t know these people well enough to use the familiar forms. If you need a full lesson on the differences between du, ihr and Sie, click here.

Now you know how to navigate a German conversation without really knowing all that much German. Just a few quick phrases can get you out of a sticky situation.

Beginner German with Herr Antrim

Herr Antrim’s new e-book “Beginner German with Herr Antrim“ is your guide to having your first conversation in German. Within the e-book, each lesson includes a worksheet and answer key to practice the skills in that lesson. You will also get access to online flashcards and a whole lot more. Find out more about the e-book here.

Lessons within “Beginner German with Herr Antrim”

Herr Antrim
Herr Antrim is a German teacher with over 10 years of teaching experience. In 2011 he started his successful YouTube Channel "Learn German with Herr Antrim". In 2015 he created this website to enhance the German language lessons he was providing on YouTube. He is now the author of his own e-book, "Beginner German with Herr Antrim". He has also been featured on numerous blogs and other sites. *This site uses a variety of affiliate links. If there is a link that leads to an outside site from which you could potentially make a purchase, it is very likely an affiliate link for which Herr Antrim will receive a small portion of your purchase. This does not cost you any extra, but it does help keep this website going. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. If you would like more information about the affiliate programs this site uses, click here.