Do You Speak German? How to Ask & Answer This Common Question

When you first start learning German, one of the early questions you may hear, or want to ask is ‘do you speak German?’ In fact, it’s such a common question it’s worth learning how ask and answer this question as a set phrase.

One occasion I was waiting in a hotel lobby, when a local started talking to me in German. At that time I’d only just started learning German but had memorised the phrase ‘ich spreche kein Deutsch’ (I don’t speak German), which came in very handy and saved us both a lot of embarrassment!

After reading this post you’ll know:

  • How to ask & answer the question: ‘do you speak German?’
  • Some of the grammar we use to create these phrases
  • How these phrases sound with example sentences & audio

Do You Speak German?

There really are only 2 ways to ask ‘do you speak German?’ in German:

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?
Do you speak German? [formal]
Sprichst du Deutsch?
Do you speak German? [informal]

Let’s play spot the difference shall we? First thing to notice is that we have a formal and informal version of the question. Sie is the formal ‘you’ in German and du is the informal ‘you’. You can read all about formal and informal German here.

When we use the formal Sie, the verb for ‘to speak’, sprechen, doesn’t change from it’s dictionary form. All verbs in dictionary form end -en, and so does the conjugated form for the formal Sie.

In the informal phrase we’re using du, so sprechen needs to be conjugated accordingly. In this case it changes to sprichst.

When asking questions which require a simple yes or no answer, the conjugated verb always goes first, followed by the subject, with the rest of the information following on after. Translated literally it sounds like ‘speak you German?’ with the verb going first.

In terms of usage, you’re far more likely to use the formal version, since if you’re asking someone this question, you probably don’t know them at all so won’t be using informal German with them yet. The exception here would be if you were speaking to a child, where informal German is used.

How to Say ‘I Speak German’

Let’s imagine that someone comes up to you and wants to start a conversation. They ask you: sprechen Sie Deutsch?

Assuming you’re feeling confident enough to have a short conversation, you may be happy to answer ‘yes I speak German’. There are a few different ways to answer this question in the affirmative, depending on your level. Let’s take a look at a simple phrase:

Ja, ich spreche Deutsch.
Yes, I speak German.

The great thing about basic sentences like this in German are that they follow the same word order as English.

The verb sprechen is conjugated for the subject ich, so sprechen becomes spreche.

You can have a bit of fun answering this question in the affirmative by giving more detail:

Ich spreche ein bisschen Deutsch.
I speak a bit of German.
Ja, ich spreche gerne Deutsch.
Yes, I like speaking German.
Klar, ich muss mein Deutsch üben.
Sure, I need to practice my German.

How to Say ‘I Don’t Speak German

You might not be feeling confident enough to have a conversation in German just yet. So if someone asks you whether you speak German, or if they just start talking to you in German and you have no idea what they’re saying, what do you say to get out of the situation?

The simplest phrase would be:

Ich spreche kein Deutsch.
I don’t speak German.

We’re following the same pattern for the word order, except we now want to negate the sentence, so we put kein in front of Deutsch (I speak no German).

There are a few other ways to say that you don’t speak much or any German:

Mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut.
My German isn’t too good.
Mein Deutsch ist nicht gut genug.
My German isn’t good enough.
Ich kann kein Deutsch (sprechen).
I can’t (speak) German.

In the last example, we have 2 verbs in the sentence. But in German it’s possible to sometimes omit the last verb, in this case sprechen, if the meaning of the sentence is still obvious without it.

Literally translated it means ‘I can no German’ which sounds a bit odd to English speakers, but you understand that the phrase means ‘I can no German speak’. This is just German being super efficient and taking verbs out if they’re not needed.

You might want to follow up this phrase by asking if the person speaks English. In which case we go back to the very first phrase in this post, and change the language at the end:

Sprechen Sie Englisch?
Do you speak English?

And there we have it. Simple ways to ask ‘do you speak German?’ and some reply phrases you can learn in chunks. I highly recommend learning some of these phrases, they’ve definitely come in useful for me in the past.

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