5 Useful German Phrases You (Probably) Won’t Find in Your Textbook

Bekah Lindsay headshot
Bekah Lindsay
December 4, 2023
Group of students sitting around red picnic table at a Biergarten

Coming to Freiburg, I had a single semester of German — albeit an ultra intensive Turbodeutsch class  — under my belt and was a bit nervous about being in a foreign country unable to adequately communicate. As it turns out that wasn’t a problem at all. And technically, the Environmental and Sustainability Studies (ESS) requires no prior German knowledge, but cultural and language immersion was one of my primary reasons for choosing this program. 

Now that I’m here, I do speak German, in some capacity, every day. While all the grammar and vocabulary my classes, podcasts, and movies taught me have served me well, there are some things you simply can’t learn from the textbook. Being here in Germany, I’ve learned new colloquial slang from my flatmates, classmates, German professors, and just reading signs on the street.

Anyways, that’s all to say that if you’re enroute to Freiburg with limited language experience and looking for helpful words/phrases to learn, perhaps you’ll find these as useful as I did!


  1. Könnte ich bitte internationale Briefmarken kaufen? (Could I please buy international stamps please?)

    I start most days with an oat milk latte, so we’re starting this list off as strong as my morning coffee. Personally, I am a nondairy milk fan (very environmental studies major of me, I know). The tummy aches may be mostly psychological but regardless I am committed to my milk substitutes. Hafermilch in particular is close to my heart not only because it’s my go to alternative but also because it’s the first new German word I learned in Freiburg. I can’t speak for all of Germany, but in Freiburg at least, milk alternatives are available in most cafés and grocery stores. You can swap the Hafermilch for Mandel (almond) or Soja (soy) as you fancy.

  2. Könnte ich bitte Bargeld abheben? (Could I withdraw cash please?)

    Coming to Freiburg, I exchanged some money for euros with my bank before arriving but knew I’d probably run out somewhere along the way. Using cash rather than card is still fairly common in many parts of Germany (especially small town markets), so you’ll want to carry some on hand. However, where I use this phrase most surprisingly isn’t in a bank. Banks and ATMs often have high transaction fees and poor conversion rates. But, Aldi — a ubiquitously German grocery store — offers cash back. Basically, you can pay for your groceries with your credit card and then request to pay an additional amount that they’ll return to you in cash with no fees. Note that the direct translation of the English ‘cash back’ means something different so try this one instead! (Also, this isn’t financial advice just my own experience; I’d recommend your own research).

  3. Informationen zu [train number] nach [Final Station] über [other stations on the route] Abfahrt XX:XX heute von Gleis X. (Information on [train number] to [Final Station] via [other stations on the route] departure XX:XX today from platform X.)

    Admittedly, this phrase is a bit longer, but you don’t have to be able to say it, just listen for it. If you find yourself at the Freiburg Hauptbahnhof station awaiting your train and hear this phrase about your train, stop what you’re doing and find the new platform. The Deutsche Bahn and I have a love-hate (mostly love) relationship, but one thing myself and most real Germans can attest to is that the DB is not particularly reliable. In addition to last minute track changes, I’ve found myself stranded at random stations due to delays and cancelations. I highly recommend downloading and checking the DB app religiously during your German train travels.

  4. Könnte ich bitte internationale Briefmarken kaufen? (Could I please buy international stamps please?)

    Snail mail may be a relic of the past, but I personally love sending and receiving postcards. Every month I find myself at the post office with a giant stack of letters to mail. Notably, if you’re sending them out of Germany the stamp is slightly different (and costs a bit more) so make sure you get the right one. I’d also recommend making sure they’re sent by airmail (otherwise it takes a lot longer). And don’t forget to bring cash with you as most of the post offices (at least the ones I’ve been to) are cash only!

  5. Entschuldigung! (Excuse me/ sorry!)

    Okay, okay! I know I said you probably  wouldn’t find these phrases in a text book. Lo and behold, Entschuldigung! Is probably one of the first phrases you learn on Duolingo. However, it’s polite and versatile so I wanted to include it in the list. For example, you’re in the tram and want to squeeze by someone on the way out… Entschuldigung! Or you want to grab someone’s attention… Entschuldigung! Or oh no you stepped on someone’s toe… Entschuldigung! Someone starts asking you for directions in German and you can’t keep up… Entschuldigung ich spreche nicht gut Deutsch!


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Bekah Lindsay headshot

Bekah Lindsay

Hi y'all! My name is Bekah. I'm a junior at Williams College; inside and outside the classroom I'm interested in all things food justice. You'll also often find me on mini-adventures collecting flowers, ticket stubs, and stickers for my scrapbook!

2023 Fall
Home University:
Williams College
Environmental Studies
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