Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Bridging Language Gaps

Three words every English speaker must know when meeting with German colleagues.

CSL Behring colleagues during a walking tour in Bern, Switzerland.
A group of CSL Behring employees, including the author (third from left), pause for a photo during a walking tour of Bern, Switzerland. As a global biotech leader with manufacturing sites in Germany and Switzerland, CSL Behring has workers that call a number of languages their native tongue, including German.

Do you have colleagues who speak German? If so, I’m going to share three words you need to know. Spoiler alert: It’s not hello, goodbye or thank you.

Our CSL Behring colleagues in Germany and Switzerland primarily speak German, but they also speak English very well. It always amazes me that they can do their jobs in multiple languages. They write emails and compose social media posts that don’t just make sense in English; they’re well expressed thoughts. When they occasionally pause to reach for an English word, it’s never something obvious. The last one I can recall was “scuttlebutt.”

Sadly, not I. I did not immerse myself in another language at a young age and work on it to the point of fluency. I know almost no German. And the foreign language I do know – a soupçon of French - only goes so far. In Paris, I’m equipped to read signs and mildly irritate the wait staff when I order at a restaurant. “Non, madame. You can’t have sparkling water in a carafe.”

So a recent work trip to Bern, Switzerland was an education. Don’t expect to get away with “guten Tag” for good morning, there along the postcard-worthy banks of the Aare River. It’s “Grüezi.” That’s not German; it’s Swiss German, a German you might not even have known existed.

But back to the words you must know if you want to at least muddle through with your German-speaking coworkers: There will come a day when you invite one or more of them to a meeting. Almost instantly, you’ll start receiving all sorts of confusing responses, such as:

Zugesagt

Abgelehnt

Mit Vorbehalt

Have you already guessed that these are the standard Outlook responses to accept and decline meetings? But which is which? I thought Abgelehnt might be “Accept” what with the letter “A” and all, but no. Here are the translations:

Zugesagt=Accept

Abgelehnt=Decline

Mit Vorbehalt=Tentative

And on the flip side, what do you do when your German-speaking friend sends you an email that says An Skype-Besprechung teilnehmen? 

Relax, it simply means: attend a Skype meeting.“ So go ahead and Zugesagt.