So, you are a student of German language and a newbie looking to master the same as a foreigner.
And that brings us to a rather interesting proposition-German proverbs. Witty, wise and at the same time thought provoking, German proverbs offer an insight into the rich culture of the German community and offer a fresh perspective of how native German is spoken in regular day to day conversations.
Thus, by mastering German proverbs, there’s no doubt that you can gain fluency in speaking German within a very short span of time. Yes, it might be a tad bit difficult to pick on some hard boiled phrases as a beginner, but when you get into the habit of sleeping these proverbs right between your conversation, you will soon get the hang of it.
Here’s a handful of German proverbs (with their English meaning of course) to give you a better idea.
But before we take a look at some of the most popular German proverbs it is important to understand a few underlying reasons why proverbs are an essential tool towards mastering German as a foreign language.
Here are few reasons to consider :
- Proverbs offer an insight into what is so German, and what is so native – That’s right! You see, when you are learning proverbs, you are not just picking on colloquial German stuff but also it opens before you a window to peep into what is so German, i.e, the raw, unpolished, regular slips ins between messages and conversations. This comes handy when you are aspiring to be a native German speaker and perhaps spending time with fellow German speakers and friends alike will give you the right direction to master the language.
- It aids in your fluency– When you are starting out with German as a foreign language, or for that matter any new language, learning proverbs will definitely help you gain command over the language. As you pick on the most used proverbs and imbibe the habit of using the same verbal or in writing, you automatically register them to your mind and thus make way for repeated usage.
- Because it’s fun and full of wisdom– Some of the German proverbs when translated in English can be really funny and you might be able to find a similarly meaningful phrase in English as well. However, besides the fun part, German proverbs, quite similar to English proverbs, pack in great wisdom that you can use to encourage or inspire someone.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the most widely used German proverbs and how they translate into English.
1. Du siehst den Wald lauter Bäumen nicht
English translation : You don’t see the forest for all the trees.
It’s quite a metaphor that acts as a solid reminder to not just consider the details but consider the whole picture. In essence, it puts stress on the totality of a subject.
Hence, it will always act as a great reminder to not just be concerned about the entails as certain successes or failures in life but focus on what one has achieved over the years as a whole.
2. Erst denken, dann handeln
English translation: First think, then act.
You must be aware of English proverbs like ‘think before you speak,’ or ‘look before you leap.’ Well, this German proverb is quite close to those and it stresses on the importance of considering the consequences first before making a move.
3. Kümmere dich nicht um ungelegte Eier
English translation: Don’t worry about the unlaid eggs
This proverb is pretty similar to the old English proverb, ‘ Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.’
In essence, it means one should always rely on whatever means he or she has and not worry much about things that are about to happen. This is a pretty good choice of proverb to slip into conversations and messages where someone is too apprehensive about impending stuff.
4. Wer ernten will, muss säen
English translation: Whoever wants to harvest will sow
It bears a direct resemblance to one of the most popular and colloquial English proverb which is ‘you reap what you sow. Also, it can be a good German alternative to another famous English saying, ‘what goes around comes around,’ good or bad.
Here’s an instance of a typical conversation where using such proverbs makes sense.
Ich fiel mein Prüfung aus! (I failed my test!)
Wer ernten will, muss säen. Du hättest studieren sollen. (You reap what you sow. You should’ve studied)
5. Das Auge isst mit
English translation: The eye eats too
When translated in English, this German proverb reads as ‘eat with your eyes.” As such, this is one of the most quoted among all proverbs and made popular among cookbooks where several chefs have resorted to the same.
When we talk about German proverbs, there are a few handful that pertain to the theme of learning. Here are some examples of similar kind:
6. Anfangen ist leicht, Beharren ist Kunst
English translation:: To start is easy, to persist is art.
This particular proverb is quite an encouraging one and applies to situations where one has started on to something but deters from holding on to it due to lack of courage or confidence. It’s a good proverb to quote in a message while writing to someone or sliping one between conversations where you are bent on encouraging someone to stay on track and pursue things to the very end for a fruitful outcome.
7. Aus Schaden wird man klug
English translation: It is through detriment that one becomes smart.
Quite a fitting metaphoric English translation of this proverb would be ‘failure makes one smart.’ and thus, this is one proverb that applies to perfectionists. Also, it’s quite a reminder to people that we don’t have to be perfect at everything that we do and the fact that failure doesn’t necessarily end up bad but on the other hand can shape individuals to be better.
8. Übung macht den Meister
English translation:: Practice makes one the master.
It almost goes without saying how this German proverb reminds us of the famous English proverb, ‘Practice makes one perfect,’. The essence of this proverb is on being perfect rather than being master in one’s act.In other words, even though someone is naturally good at something , he/she will never become a master unless he devotes to practicing the same.
Here’s an instance of a typical conversation where such a proverb makes sense:
Komm schon. Du spielst immer Geige, kommst an den Strand. (Come on. You always play the violin, come to the beach)
Vielleicht später. Übung macht den Meister. (Maybe later. Practice makes perfect)
9. Was Hänschen nicht lernt, lernt Hans nimmermehr
English translation:: What Hansy/little Hans doesn’t learn, Hans will never learn.
This German proverb is synonymous with a colloquial English proverb that says ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ What it means in essence is that if you are not up towards learning new things when you are young, chances are you will never learn the same stuff at all in your life. It’s only evident how one tends to grow old and loses the same level of intellect to pick up new skills and hence this proverb holds a great piece of wisdom.
10. Jeder sollte vor seiner eigenen Tür kehren
English translation: Everyone should sweep their own door.
It’s quite a metaphor, how this popular German proverb sounds pretty similar to its meaning in English where it says, “‘Clean your own house first”.
What it means in essence, is that before one makes a move to judge or pass a comment on others, they should indulge in self judging and take control of their own issues. As a newbie German learner, you might want to take caution and use this proverb in friendly environs as this can have a negative or threatening effect on people if used in the wrong manner. So as to say, if you ever choose to pick up a fight over an intellectual discourse, refrain from using this one and never do so in a derogatory way.
11.Wer A sagt, muss auch B sagen
English translation: Who(ever) says A must also say B
This particular German proverb suggests that if one should commit to do something, they must commit totally and not in parts. This is a very well known and widely used proverb and is often used when encouraging a loved one who has taken up an important task. In essence, it acts as a great piece of reminder to stay true and deliver on what one has promised.
So, there you go with the most popular list of German proverbs that you might come across during your learning.
By mastering these proverbs and putting them into practice, you will surely see yourself impressing fellow German natives within a very short span of time and also gain insight into rich German culture.