Learning a new language also means learning to think in new ways and looking at things from a different perspective.
Here are five typical mistakes that German speakers make due to differences between the uses of tenses in each language.
1. “I wait for the bus at the moment.” instead of “I’m waiting for the bus at the moment.”
Because German has no continuous tenses, German speakers instinctively try to use the present simple tense (e.g. I wait) in this situation.
Tip: Look out for expressions such as now and at the moment. In German, words like gerade, jetzt and momentan can be used to say that an action is in progress.
2. “I’m sometimes watching television.” instead of “I sometimes watch television.”
Another problem caused by the continuous tenses. German speakers often overcompensate by using the present continuous tense (e.g. I’m watching) when they should be using the present simple tense (e.g. I watch)
Tip: Words that express frequency are typically used with the present simple tense. Some examples are always (immer), usually (meistens), often (oft), sometimes (manchmal), rarely (selten) and never (nie).
3. “I bring you a glass of water!” instead of “I’ll bring you a glass of water!”
In German, the present tense is often used to talk about the future, but this is a typical problem when the future is so close to the present. To an English speaker, a few seconds in the future is still the future, so a future tense is needed here.
Tip: Use “I’ll…” for spontaneous offers (e.g. I’ll do it, I’ll call you back).
4. “I have seen him yesterday.” instead of “I saw him yesterday.”
German is a lot more relaxed about the way the past tenses can be used, especially in spoken German, and the present perfect tense is often preferred by German speakers.
In English, however, the rules are more strict. The present perfect tense can’t be used if a completed time period is mentioned in a sentence (or included in the context). Completed time periods include: yesterday, last week, last year and phrases which include ago (e.g. ten minutes ago).
Tip: Always use the past simple tense when you’re telling a story. A story typically has a beginning and an end, which means everything happens within a completed time period.
5. “I am here since yesterday.” instead of “I’ve been here since yesterday.”
The German language takes a present action and uses the preposition seit to introduce information about when the action started. English, on the other hand, has the perspective that we’re talking about a time period in the past that continues until now and that a past tense is therefore needed.
Tip: This is important not only with the word ‘since’, but also with the word ‘for’. You can find out more in my blog post about ‘since’ here.
Do you make any of these mistakes?