Ich spreche kein Deutsch

    Hallo, Deutschlerner. Welcome to Lesson #5 in my Beginner German series. 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.” Having me stand at this podium all of the time is a bit dull, so 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 can also get the extra materials for this lesson about navigating a conversation in German when you don’t know much German including a worksheet with answer key and mp3 files along with the text guide to help you practice your pronunciation by clicking here.

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    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?

    Beginner German with Herr Antrim

    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.

    Switching 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?”

    When you 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.

    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.

    Thank you, Lingoda

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    That’s the end of our lesson for today. In the next video I’ll finally teach you the German alphabet and some situations when it might be helpful to know the alphabet. Bis zum nächsten Mal. Tschüss.

    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.