Spoken German: 10 Things to Understand Spoken German Language

Spoken German is a whole lot different than written German language. If you want to fully learn a foreign language, you have to have the knowledge to speak and write in your target language.

German native speakers talk at different speaking speeds. Spring German (a project I co-founded) made a video on how to understand these different speaking speeds in spoken German. Take a look!

This blog post will examine 10 things you have to know about spoken German.

1. Spoken German Sentence Structure

One of the biggest differences between written German and spoken German is the sentence structure.

In written German, mainly in formal texts or textbooks, sentences are longer and complex: with multiple clauses and a sticking strictly to grammar rules.

spoken german vs written german illustrated on keyboard

In spoken German, sentences are often shorter and simpler. That’s because it’s more spontaneous.

Written GermanSpoken German
Nachdem sie ihre Hausaufgaben gemacht hatte, ging sie in den Park, um mit ihren Freunden zu spielen. (After doing her homework, she went to the park to play with her friends.)Sie hat ihre Hausaufgaben gemacht und ist dann in den Park gegangen, um mit Freunden zu spielen. (She did her homework and then went to the park to play with friends.)

As you can see, the spoken version uses a simple structure with fewer clauses. It makes it easier to follow in a real-life conversational conversational context.

2. Word Order – Don’t Panic on German Grammar

While the standard German word order rules still apply in spoken language, there is more flexibility when it comes to word order in conversational contexts.

You can rearrange words or phrases for emphasis or to create a natural flow.

Some word order variations might be technically incorrect in written German, but are common in spoken German.

Similarly, you can choose to place the verb at the beginning of the sentence for emphasis or to introduce a new topic:

Written GermanSpoken German
Hast du eine gute Reise gehabt? (Did you have a good trip?)Ging es dir gut auf deiner Reise? (Did you have a good time on your trip?)

This flexibility in word order is a hallmark of spoken German.

3. Common contractions in German

Contractions and elisions are part of the spoken German language and are very common in everyday conversations. These are all about combining or shortening words to make the speech flow smoother.

Some of the most common contractions in German include:

ContractionMeaning
was’swas es
hat’shat es
ist’sist es
hab’shabe es
kann’skann es
war’swar es
werd’swerde es
gibt’sgibt es

4. Filler Words in German

Just like in English, German has filler words that are used in spontaneous speech to fill pauses or buy time when formulating thoughts – just think about it, it’s natural in your native language, too.

spoken german uses filler words illustrated with these cubes
Filler WordMeaning
ähmum, well
alsoso, well
sozusagenso to speak
quasisort of, like
haltwell, just
irgendwiesomehow, kind of
praktischpractically, essentially

These filler words can make you sound natural an conversational. The filler words are placeholders: their purpose is to maintain the flow of the conversation.

5. Regionalisms and German Dialects

Spoken German has a range of regionalisms, dialects, and local idioms compared to formal written German.

This is written German follows a standardized form known as High German (Hochdeutsch), while spoken German is influenced by regional variations and dialects.

In Bavaria, you can hear expressions like “Gemma Essen?” (Shall we go eat?), while in Northern Germany, someone might say “Ich geh mal Aldi” (I’m going to Aldi).

In other German-speaking countries, like Austria, you can hear phrases like the greeting “Habedere?” (How are you?), and in Berlin, the always-present “Alles klar?” (Is everything alright?) is a common way to check in with someone.

6. Intonation and Stress on Vowels and Consonants

Proper intonation, pitch changes, and stress patterns are also important to express emotions in spoken German.

Spoken German can highlight some hidden meanings.

For example, the word “Wieder” (again) can be pronounced with different stress patterns:

  • WIEder” (with stress on the first syllable) means “again.”
  • wieDER” (with stress on the second syllable) means “in return.”

The placement of stress on certain syllables can change the meaning of a word entirely. The word “UMfahren” (to drive around) takes on a very different meaning when the stress is shifted to the second syllable: “umFAHren” (to run over).

7. Repetitions and Reformulations

In spontaneous spoken German, it is common to repeat or rephrase parts of their speech.

This is a quite natural in conversations. It can be to:

  1. Clarify a point or providing additional context.
  2. Buy time to formulate the next part of the sentence.
  3. Emphasize a particular idea or concept.
  4. Reinforce the message for better understanding.

8. Discourse Markers to Fill Your German Sentences

Discourse markers in spoken German connect ideas, engage the listener, and signal changes in thought or topic.

spoken german uses discourse markers just like it is illustrated with small cubes

These small words are bridges between different parts of a conversation.

Some common discourse markers in German:

Discourse MarkerMeaning
alsoso, well
dannthen
aberbut
dochthough, however
weißt duyou know
oderor
nicht wahrisn’t it, right
sozusagenso to speak

For example, you can use “also” to introduce a new point :

  • Also, was machen wir heute Abend? (So what are we doing tonight?)

Aber” can be used to contrast ideas or introduce a counterargument:

  • Ich würde gerne ins Kino gehen, aber es regnet draußen. (I’d like to go to the movies, but it’s raining outside.)

Weißt du” and “nicht wahr” are often used to engage the listener:

  • Das war ein toller Film, weißt du? Nicht wahr? (That was a great movie, you know? Wasn’t it?)

9. Colloquialisms and German Slang

Informal colloquial expressions, slang, and idiomatic phrases are used in everyday spoken language but are avoided in formal written language.

Here are some examples of German slangs:

German slangEnglish
AlterDude, man
Mega coolSuper cool
Ich check’s nichtI don’t get it
Schau malLook, check this out
Lass steckenLet it go, forget it

Most of these German slangs aren’t appropriate in formal settings, so pay attention to where you use these!

10. Incomplete Sentences vs. Written German

In a conversational context, speakers often omit words. Instead, you can rely on shared context or non-verbal communication.

For example, a speaker might say:

  • Warst du schon im neuen Kino?” (Have you been to the new cinema?)
  • Ja, letzte Woche.” (Yes, last week.)

In this exchange, the second speaker’s response is an incomplete sentence, but the meaning is clear from the context of the conversation.

While this kind of language use may seem incorrect from the perspective of written German, it is a perfectly acceptable part of spoken language.

Any learner can be fluent in German with Conversation Based Chunking

One powerful method that can help you in being fluent in spoken German is Conversation Based Chunking. This method is all about breaking down conversations into meaningful “chunks”, and studying how words are combined in context.

If you internalize these natural language chunks, you can start to speak fluidly, using these natural building blocks in the language.

In the end, we have to say: the goal of learning a language is communication.

You have to understand these characteristics of spoken German and then you’ll be better in comprehending native speakers.

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