6 typical traps in Business English


When it comes to doing business, it is always good to be as prepared as possible. If you are doing business in English, but your mother tongue is German, then you need to be prepared for some traps that the English language holds for the unexpecting:

1) Same or similar word but a different meaning

Take the German word Mappe. ‘Map’ is an English word but, while you are talking about something to put papers in, your English speaking business contact thinks you are referring to a large piece of paper with roads and towns on it (Landkarte). The correct English word for Mappe is ‘folder’. Some other examples are Gift/gift, Kredit/credit, Fabrik/fabric.

2) Same or similar word and a similar meaning

These are words that mean roughly the same thing, but it depends on the context. A typical example is extra and Extra. If you say in German „Ich habe es extra so hingestellt, damit du es sofort siehst“, you would need to say in English “I put it there deliberately so that you’d see it”. If you are in a restaurant, though, and want to order eine Extraportion Gemüse, you can ask for “an extra portion of vegetables”. There is one verb which deserves special mention here, as it is probably the most frequently made mistake, which is machen/make. We make mistakes, we make coffee and we make a fuss, but we do sports, we courses and accounts.

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3) Via direct translation

You probably already know not to describe an Unternehmer as an undertaker, unless of course that particular entrepreneur or business owner really is an undertaker (Leichenbestatter). Similarly, it is widely known that a Hochschule is not the same thing as a high school.

4) Pseudo-anglicisms

These are English words that have found their way into everyday German usage but mean something completely different from the original English word, such as handy, peeling and body. Others, such as Neckholder do not even exist in English. Misuse of some words like this could shock your audience or just make them laugh, although you were intending to be serious. Take public viewing, for instance, which could mean öffentliche Aufbahrung einer Leiche! It is better to talk about a “live transmission on a big screen” Who knows, perhaps these terms might gradually find their way into everyday English.

5) Non-existent English words

There is a strange phenomenon which occurs with just a few German words. They are often translated by German speakers into words that do not exist in English. One trap of this type is ‘reservieren‘, which many express as ‘reservate’. ‘Reservate’ does not exist, but it is easily said automatically by people due to what they have understood so far of the English language.

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6) Only a trap in certain contexts

Take the German word isoliert. If the context is a location in the middle of nowhere, then the translation is indeed ‘isolated’. However, it becomes a trap when talking about buildings and stopping the heat escaping from them. In that context you need to speak of ‘insulation’. Making presentations can be a delight for natural performers, as these give them an added chance to shine. However, for the less confident among us − especially where English is concerned – this can be a challenging situation. See what effects these typical traps can have.

Some better phrases for presentations

Avoid saying:
Good morning, everyone. I want to say how lucky I am to be here today.

…was ich für ein Glück habe, heute hier zu sein.

Say this instead:
Good morning, everyone. It’s great to be here talking to you today.

…wie glücklich ich bin, heute hier zu sein.


Avoid saying:
The theme of my presentation is…

Die Titelmelodie/ Das Motiv meiner Präsentation ist…

Say this instead:
The title of my presentation is…

Das Thema meiner Präsentation ist…


Avoid saying:
First, I will talk about…; next I will tell you about…; and lastly I will give you some stuff to think about.

Zuerst will ich über …sprechen und als nächstes will ich Ihnen über…erzählen. Zum Schluss will ich Ihnen etwas Zeug zum Nachdenken geben.

Say this instead:
Firstly, I’m going to talk about…; then I’ll go on to tell you about…; and finally I’d like to give you some thoughts for further reflection.

Ich will and ‚I will‘ are often used as if they are identical, but of course they are not. I’d like to has a better ring to it – it shows that you are taking your audience into consideration.

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Über den:die Autor:in

Dr. Nigel Paterson

Trainer for intercultural business and business English. Additional qualifications: train the trainer and business cultural trainer. Area of expertise: English communication, conversation and cross-cultural awareness.

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