English language teaching in German primary schools

Do you speak English? - ©iStockphoto.com/atakanWhen my daughter started school in Germany, I wondered how long it would be before she learnt something in her English lessons, that I did not agree with.  A piece of grammar maybe, or a translation.

Regular readers of this site may recall that she is being taught “school English”, which was defined as spelling “colour” with a “u”.  Whilst not exactly the words “British English” that I would like it to be defined as, I am at least happy that I do not yet have to explain that other countries leave that “u” out and in some cases even use other words for the same things.

It was whilst I was helping her revise for a vocabulary test a few days ago, that I suspected the time may already have come, and further inspection of her vocabulary book confirmed my suspicion.  In some cases, I found the translations to be unusual, but in some to be down right wrong.

And since there were some entries from her teacher in the book, I am assuming that she has seen the offending words and that this is not just a mistake that took place copying them from the blackboard.

1. feet, foot = Fußzehen; the “Zehen” are actually the toes, not the feet.  Since “Zehen” is in the plural, foot would be wrong anyway.

2. gloves = Fingerhandschuhe; I have never heard of this definition before, for me a glove is just a Handschuh and has places for the fingers.  Anything else is a mitten (“Fäustling” or “fingerloser Handschuh”).  But to be fair, I have since found the word “Fingerhandschuh” in a children’s dictionary.

4. boot = Wanderschuh; a boot is a “Stiefel”, the “wander-” prefix implies that the shoes or boots are for hiking.  But if it’s a hike boot, then I would use “Wanderstiefel”, and ohne “Wanderschuh” if it’s not got the high sides, ie. it’s a shoe.

5. pullover = Pullover; here I just pointed out that it can also be called a “jumper”.

6. hat = Hut, Mütze; “Mütze” for me is a cap, or a small child’s bonnet.  I guess you might say “hat” to some things in English that you say “Mütze” to in German, but these are surely the exception.

7. cap = Kappe; this is not strictly speaking wrong, but again, I would use “Mütze” to translate “cap” most of the time.

8. shirt = Hemd, Bluse; “Hemd” is correct, but “Bluse” is a blouse, and I have not been able to find a dictionary in my collection yet that says anything else.

9. vest = Weste; is this the first sign of American English creeping in?  Then it would be correct. And a “life vest” (life jacket) is a “Rettungsweste”.  A bullet proof vest is a “kugelsichere Weste”.  BUT the British underwear garment called a “vest” is an “Unterhemd”, and a “Weste” is a waistcoat.

10. I feel bad – Mir geht’s schlecht; in this form (unabbreviated it is “Mir geht es schlecht”), I am saying that I don’t feel very well, or that I feel ill, or that I don’t feel very good.  If I feel bad (eg. guilty about something, or sympathy with someone else’s problem), then it would be a completely different sentence.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone who either agrees or disagrees with my points here.  Please leave a comment below the post and let me know your thoughts.


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About Graham

Graham Tappenden is a British ex-pat who first came to Germany as a placement student in 1993, returning in 1995 to live there permanently. He has been writing for AllThingsGerman.net since 2006. When not writing blog posts or freelancing for the Oberurseler Woche and other publications he works as a self-employed IT consultant solving computer problems and designing websites. In 2016 he gained German citizenship.


  1. This has been a so-called “Dorn im Auge” for some time with me. I used to tutor kids in English, and I work as technical translator. I noticed the very same things you did, in addition to a number of other things such as “Budgie” being used as the proper word a species of bird known as “Melopsittacus
    undulatus”. At some point the class teacher contacted me and read me the riot act, as more than one of her pupils went back to class and said, “But Mrs X from America said that’s wrong”. 
    I got this “Who do you presume to be?” speech from a German grade school teacher in English, who also taught math, that as an American, I obviously had no idea what I was talking about, because “everybody” knows that “Amerikanisch” is a “completely different language” than English. (I hereby apologise to British citizens reading of this comment who could not possibly decipher this message without the aid of Google Translator).
    I said to her, “The proper name of the animal is a Budgerigar Parrot. The English SLANG word is’budgie’ and the Americans prefer to call them ‘parakeets’. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as the number of errors in your textbooks, and you are welcome to cross-reference them all in Langenscheidts if you don’t believe me. Your textbooks are full of errors!” 
    She still gave me her “You’re wrong, because Americans are so ignorant” blah-blah-blah, which I ignored. There is little chance of convincing some German teachers otherwise. Once it the text is approved by whatever authority approves it and makes into print, you couldn’t convince those particular German school teachers that it really gets dark at night, if their textbooks stipulate otherwise.

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