Foreigners studying German find that it is a difficult language because of its large, complicated set of grammar, spelling and pronunciation rules, and lack of any apparent rules in some cases. It is alright for them to make mistakes; this in fact helps them pick up the language faster. A list of common mistakes that foreigners make when learning German is very useful to beginners.
Nouns have no gender in English, with the exception of people’s and animals’ names. There are two possible genders in Spanish, French and Italian, but German has three. This is intimidating for any novice, who often mixes up noun genders. Here are some loose rules to make things easier; days of the week and names of months and seasons are masculine (der), objects in the plant kingdom are feminine (die), and colors and places are neutral (das).
Foreigners tend to frame a sentence in their native language and then translate it into German one word at a time. Sentence structure and the ordering of words are quite different in both languages, such as verbs appearing at the end of spoken or written German sentences. People need to train their mind as early as possible to think in German; that’s the right way of becoming fluent in the language.
German prepositions can also be tricky. There are no generic rules; it is different in each case and must be committed to memory. Take the example of “nach” and “zu” used in relation with a house. Nach Hause means to the house, while zu Hause is used to refer to the house as a location. You need to keep your eyes and ears open at all times, so that correct preposition usage will start coming naturally.
Foreigners may initially find it strange that the Germans use a capital letter at the start of all their nouns. It is interesting to note that this is the only language in the world with such a rule. Further compounding the issue is the fact that adjectives reflecting nationality are not capitalized in German, unlike other languages.
English speakers have another problem when learning German. There are many words that look and sound the same in both languages, but whose meanings are worlds apart. These pairs are referred to as false friends and can often land you in trouble, until you learn their differences the hard way. The most amusing word, perhaps, is “der After,” which is the German word for the posterior opening of the body. Special characters like the pair of dots (umlaute) over the vowels “a”, “o” and “u” in written German can also change the pronunciation and meaning of the word.
You will find several institutes, books, audio CDs and online guides that share these common mistakes made by beginners to German. The important thing is to go through as many of these mistakes as possible, understand why they are wrong and then apply them correctly when you write or speak German.