Our favourite German words & expressions

To kick this off, this week she has been looking into some favourite, funny and quirky German words and expressions. The list was long, so here a selection of Clara’s favourites as collated by Cactus staff, family and friends.


Discussing Pfannkuchen (pancakes) in Germany can be rather controversial because it depends upon the area you are in, as to what pancakes are called. Terms vary from Pfannkuchen to Eierkuchen to Palatschinken, to Flädle to Plinsen… and Austrians just rip the pancake apart and call it Kaiserschmarrn!

And as if that was not confusing enough, there is another type of pastry people call Pfannkuchen in Berlin, but everyone else calls it Berliner (the pastry, not the people!) or Krapfen, or something completely different.

It is almost impossible for non-German natives to understand this complicated system of designations. In fact, most Germans struggle with it, too!

Play it safe and just call them Pfannkuchenspezialitäten! (pancake delicacies)

Wunderschön – Adjective

Wunderschön is usually translated as very beautiful or gorgeous. It doesn’t only refer to people, but can describe actions or simply express delight. Everything can be wunderschön!

Foul, Elfmeter, Tor!

Football plays an important part in the German culture. Watching a football game in Germany can be a unique experience, especially when you know the most important vocab.

A Foul (nice and simple) in the Strafraum (penalty box) is usually followed by an Elfmeter (penalty kick), which should be closely followed by a Tor! (goal)

“Dickbauchig“ or “Knollig“- Adjective

Dickbauchig (literally: fat-bellied) or knollig is usually translated as bulbous and used to describe the shape of items like bottles, vases or jars. In some cases dickbauchig may also refer to other people (also see “Fettsack” below).

“Fetter Sack“ or “Fettsack”

While dickbauchig and knollig can be used in a factual, non-offensive way, describing someone as Fettsack (literally fat sack) or fetter Sack is neither polite nor very nice!

Ossi & Wessi

Germans don’t only have nicknames for people from other countries, they also have nicknames for each other. Someone from former East Germany is called an Ossi and someone from the West is called a Wessi. Neither term may endear you to the person described as such.

“Besser als in die hohle Hand geschissen”

You won’t hear this phrase very often, but we like it because of its vividness. The English equivelant would be “Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick”.

You would use this phrase to emphasize that what you’ve got is still better than having nothing at all…or having someone’s poo in your hand.

Pulverschnüffler = Powderhound

Pulverschnüffler is the German expression for powderhound – a skier who insatiably seeks the best powder snow. Sick!


One of the great things about the German language is that you can make everything smaller or cuter by putting a “chen” at the end of the word – e.g. the world-famous German Wurst (sausage) becomes a Würstchen (cocktail sausage).

While armes Würstchen (“poor little sausage”) is a tenderly pitying expression for someone unlucky, referring to a gentleman’s pride as Würstchen is generally not considered tender, or well received.

In some southern parts of Germany “chen” is substituted for “le” in this case a Würstle, and in Switzerland it is “li”, so a Würstli.


Literally translated, Glocke means “bell” as in “church bell”. But the word Glocke has a number of meanings: It can refer to a cowbell, cloche or doorbell.

The plural Glocken also describes certain female and male body parts or in some cases the blossom of a flower, e.g. Osterglocken (literally: Easter bells or Daffodills).

Jemandem auf die Glocken gehen (“walk on someone’s bells”) means annoying someone.

Kompletter Unsinn/Blödsinn!!

A great way to end (or start) an argument is telling your opponent that what he/she is saying is kompletter Unsinn or Blödsinn. It means something is complete nonsense or bullsh*t.

Dicke Wandersocken

Germany is world-renowned as an engineering nation, and this talent is not limited to the automobile industry. Germans like to apply their engineering prowess and enthusiasm to all areas of life, producing a multitude of more or less useful gadgets to solve some real (and imaginary) problems. One such invention includes dicke Wandersocken or dicke Skisocken – thick socks that apparently are specially engineered for Wandern (hiking) or skiing.

Nacktschnecke and Schildkröte

One of the great qualities of the German language is its vivid descriptiveness. Germans like to be precise and factual, so they describe things and objects exactly as they see them.

Nacktschnecke (slug) for example is literally a nackte (naked) Schnecke (snails), due to its lack of a shell.

Another good example is the German word for tortoise or turtle Schildkröte, literally a “shield toad”, i.e. a Kröte (toad) carrying a Schild (shield).

Nicht kleckern, klotzen!

Translating this phrase is pretty difficult. An English equivalent would be “doing things in a big way” or “not taking half-measures”. Kleckern literally is to dribble or make a mess, while klotzen is a colloquial term for showing off.

Be careful to pronounce the “L” in klotzen though, and not to say kotzen (to vomit) instead. That would give the sentence a completely different meaning!

“Genau” and “Genau!”

The adjective genau describes something or someone as very exact and precise. It can also be used as an expression Genau! – meaning you are in agreement with someone.

“Diese Beschreibung ist sehr genau.“ “Genau!“

(These descriptions are very precise. Exactly!)

We hope you have enjoyed our journey into the intriguing and humorous nature of the German language (who would have thought?!).

Join us again next time for more of our favourite foreign words and expressions!

Next up: English

The Academic Credentials of the Cactus Language’s Academic Team

Our Academic Department consists of two highly qualified individuals, who are experts in teaching, and experienced in language learning. They are responsible for helping develop our language courses and resources enabling them to offer ongoing support and training to our vast network of tutors and trainers, and of course, they are always on-hand to answer your queries.

Meet the Team

Our Director of Studies in the UK, has a BA (French, Indonesian; James Cook University), a PostGrad DipEd (ESL/EFL/French; University of Queensland), and a Masters in Linguistics (JCU).  Rod has close to 30 years of TEFL experience, Cambridge Speaking examining, linguistic research at UQ, JCU and Oxford, Torres Strait music research, computer networking,
CALL and database development/management.

image – Our Assistant Director of Studies in the UK,
has a BA Hons in Hispanic Studies and Politics from the
University of Liverpool, a certTESOL from Trinity College London
and a post graduate Diploma in English Language Teaching
Management from Trinity / English UK. She has worked
extensively as a languages teacher, teacher trainer and
educational manager in the UK, Spain and Mexico.

Here at Cactus Language we offer free language level tests for anyone who is unsure of their language level.  However, should you have any academic inquiries then please do not hesitate to contact one of our team either by email or by calling: 0845 1304775 (UK) or 1-888-577-8451 (US) and selecting option 5.

Cactus Language offer a variety of language courses in the UK, New York and worldwide.

Russian Evening Course: Staff Review

“As I have not learnt a language since my school days, I was very apprehensive about entering back into a language learning environment; particularly as I had struggled with learning French and German at secondary school. I was up for a challenge though and quite excited about learning such a different language and new alphabet. I had also read about how being bilingual could delay Alzheimer’s and boost brain power (an added bonus); not to mention increase confidence and add to my current skill set.

I was extremely happy to learn that our Russian teacher was a native speaker, as we could learn so much more first-hand about Russian culture and customs. He had also learnt a repertoire of languages including Mandarin, so he was able to compare other languages to Russian and was aware of which sounds and letters we might struggle to pronounce.

Our lessons compromised of listening, reading and speaking, which was interactive and engaging and helped our teacher correct any words we weren’t pronouncing correctly. The majority of the writing exercises were given as homework.

One of my main concerns was speaking aloud in class and getting things wrong; a fear that also dates back to my school days. But I found that after the first lesson I felt quite comfortable speaking Russian in front of the other students. My confidence grew quickly and I was not worried about making mistakes anymore.

I also found that my lessons were nothing like they were back in school, because I was surrounded by adults who were enthusiastic about learning. We were actively encouraged by the teacher and our fellow students to just get on with speaking Russian and not worry about whether it was correct or not. Generally when one student found a particular word or sentence difficult, the rest of us did as well, so there was nothing to be embarrassed about. 

I really enjoyed being in a classroom environment again and interacting with other students who all had an interest in learning Russian. I especially enjoyed when I pronounced a sentence correctly or my homework was correct, as I felt a great sense of achievement.

My class was small, which created the perfect leaning environment, and the school was centrally located just a five-minute walk away from my work – no excuse not to go.

I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience of learning a language, and particularly one that was so different to my own. I was surprised at the progress I made in only 10 weeks. 

I would definitely recommend learning a language to anyone who wants to be able to interact with the locals of a particular country and wants to learn more about a country’s culture. “

Spasibo Lucy, for sharing your experience!

To follow in Lucy’s footsteps and get to grips with Russian, check out Cactus’ Russian Courses in London & nationwide.

Why study English in New York?

In my case, although there are a lot of Koreans in New York, I chose to come here to learn English. I was studying English in Florida and Hawaii because I was worried that I would not have as many opportunities to practise my English in New York, due to the number of Koreans studying here. However, my opinion has changed since I moved to New York.  The number of Koreans did not make a difference for me and in my opinion, it is better to learn English in New York than any other city in the U.S.A. Read more

Cactus Reveals The Winner Of The 2013 Cactus to Conference IATEFL Scholarship

October 2012

Cactus is very pleased to announce that Louise Cranston is the lucky winner of the 2013 Cactus-to-Conference IATEFL Scholarship .  Louise’s scholarship entry was chosen as the winner out of the many entries submitted and she will be attending the conference in Liverpool next year, where she will receive free IATEFL membership and benefit her teaching career. Louise explains her future plans for development:

“Once I have gained 2 years experience of teaching I would like to do a DELTA or Trinity diploma followed by MEd Tesol with a view to progressing onto PHD level so I can contribute to the research field of TEFL. I am also interested in working at University level or in materials development.” Good luck, Louise!

The Cactus-to-Conference Scholarship was created in 2009 to enable one new EFL teacher the opportunity to become a member of IATEFL (the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language), and to attend the annual conference.  While all EFL teachers are eligible for IATEFL membership, in reality it’s not something that a newly qualified teacher can afford, so Cactus’ scholarship offers a unique opportunity to network and gain greater knowledge about the ELT profession.

Scholarship entrants this year were asked to draft a short article about their experiences of their best lesson.  Louise’s winning description of a particularly good class in a language school in the UK caught the judges’ attention and showed the hugely rewarding aspects of the job.

My Best Lesson

Cactus to Conference winning entry for 2013 conference

My most effective lesson was a skills lesson I delivered on speaking and skim and scan reading on the topic of travel and tours in the UK. The learning objective was for students to have practised skim and scan reading and have presented a pitch to advertise a 3-5 day tour in a country of their choice, incorporating recycled adjectives.

I believe the lesson was successful as it was both interesting and useful to for the students. I began by engaging the students by showing them pictures of landmarks in the UK and asked them to stand next to the picture of the place they would most like to visit. This provoked interesting discussion on a topic that was directly relevant as a number of the students were considering where they might wish to travel whilst in England. I then introduced a jigsaw skim and scan reading activity on the topic of tours in England, namely two similar flower shows. I produced question sheets for each text which encouraged the students to effectively scan read the article and analyse it accordingly to find the information they required. I then introduced a ‘comparisons’ question sheet and the students worked with a partner who had read an alternative article to compare, contrast and evaluate the tours to decide which was the best. This encouraged oral fluency with peer support and ensured the students used the texts fully. This worked well because a number of students were considering using organised tours to visit London so it gave them the opportunity to practise with an authentic text that was directly applicable to situations they would encounter outside of the classroom. The students then used the articles to find 5 adjectives and then came up with 3 of their own that they would use to sell a holiday or tour.

The students progressed onto using brochures to prepare a pitch for a tour of their own and used the adjectives they had found and listed. The students relished this opportunity because I provided an aim for the oral fluency activity by stating there would be a vote at the end for the best tour. This awakened their competitive nature and they enjoyed using the brochures to find good hotels and apply as many of the positive adjectives as they could. This led to very lively presentations which really demonstrated their ability and led to them asking questions about the tours’ content.

If you are interested in being considered for future Cactus-to-Conference Scholarships, please find more information here: https://www.iatefl.org/scholarships/

IATEFL  recently launched a trial of a new membership tier – Early Career Teacher Membership.  This new membership is a full individual membership, which includes a Special Interest Group and the opportunity to pay extra for discounted periodicals, but runs for two years.  It is open to teachers who are in the first two years of their ELT teaching career, who have never been a member of IATEFL before. As an Early Career Teacher member you will also be subscribed to an online Forum where you can seek advice from experienced members of the IATEFL community.  IATEFL hope that this will enable new teachers to grow and develop with other like-minded professionals, keep up to date with the latest developments and share their own new and exciting ideas. https://www.iatefl.org/membership-information/join-us

Tags: scholarship, iatefl, efl, course, cactus, learning, tefl, english

Please read about previous Cactus to Conference scholarship winners

Winner of the 2012 Cactus to Conference IATEFL Scholarship, Lizzie Pinard

Winner of the 2011 Cactus to Conference IATEFL Scholarship, Camila Heath

Winner of the 2010 Cactus to Conference IATEFL Scholarship, Fiona James

September 2012: New academic year, new things to learn…

European Day of Languages on 26th September is the perfect incentive for those of us who see the new academic year as time to put our minds to something new. Aimed at showing people how important languages are – there are, after all, over 6,000 of them – and how much fun can be had learning them, we’re hoping to play our part by bringing you inspiring language learning ideas, no matter how old you are.

Click here to read the newsletter

Pen friendship – A fun way to practice your language and make the world a friendlier place

Malcolm was a student who took one of our Spanish courses in Valencia, Spain. Malcolm is part of the International Friendship League (IFL) which is a voluntary organisation that encourages people from around the world to get to know one another through a range of activities including pen-friendship, email, travel, hospitality and social activities.

The IFL is an international group of people who are keen to make the world a friendlier place through encouraging friendships and understanding between people of all cultures. They believe that through cross-cultural communication and understanding we can promote peace and international friendship, whatever your country of origin or race.

The idea of international penfriendship matched perfectly the ideals of IFL and soon hundreds of people from many different countries have got to know each other through IFL: ‘Initially people start by writing letters to each other but often the friendship leads to e-mail exchange, telephone calls and visits. Some pen friends have even got married!’

We think it’s a wonderful idea, not only for its potential to promote peace and cross-cultural communication but as a fun way to help you improve your language skills and learn more about the culture behind the language. There are IFL groups in Britain, France, Sweden, Portugal, Uganda, Zambia, Kenya, Senegal and the Seychelles and new groups are starting up in several other countries. In many other countries worldwide there are individual IFL members.

To learn more about the International Friendship League and how you can get involved, please visit their website.

The Arabic Language: History, Usage & Difficulty of Arabic

Arabic is a Semitic language spoken by between 200 and 400 million native speakers, and a further 250 million non-native speakers, in nearly twenty countries in the Middle East and North Africa. There is a standard form of Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), which is based on the language of the Koran, Classical Arabic, and is used as the lingua franca among educated Arabic speakers from different regions, as well as the main language of the media and films. Read more

Is Vietnam the new Spain when it comes to TEFL?

It might finally be the case that fledgling Teflers are veering off the beaten track to Spain for a taste of English teaching further afield. Further east, to be precise.

In a survey by Cactus TEFL, about 45% of respondents about to embark on a TEFL course cited countries in Asia as their main region of interest.

Schools in Asia that have previously found it difficult to meet the demand for English with a steady supply of native-speaking, qualified teachers have been offering enticements for new teachers. Many now match the Jet scheme “standard” of providing flights, accommodation, and bonuses.

And the move seems to be paying off.

Private English teaching establishments in China, Vietnam and Thailand are expanding rapidly.

ILA Vietnam is currently on the lookout for some 150 qualified teachers of English. The company’s director, Tony Williams, estimates this figure will double within the year.

Williams says that new teachers now look beyond pay and conditions when making a decision about where to apply. “Newly-qualified teachers are armed with all the right questions these days,” he says. “Career pathways and evidence of solid academic management is as important as a decent rate of pay and working hours.”

In Thailand, another large school group, ECC, offers reimbursement of 50% of a teacher’s Celta course fees in return for a year’s teaching in one of their schools.

Other schools also offer to pay for the return flight home provided the teacher stays on for predetermined contract duration – typically one year.

The need to tie teachers in may raise an eyebrow amongst the more sceptical teachers and lead them to ask, “Why wouldn’t I want to stay a year anyway?” It may be that the requirement has something to do with contract conditions, course durations, and the regime in a school. But also, the wide cultural and climatic variance from life back home could lead would-be Teflers to consider Tefl in Asia as no more than a six-month job option.

The safest option when making a decision is to opt for a school that conducts its interviews in the United Kingdom, with a day’s proper orientation that includes presentations, interviews, a chance to chat to existing teachers, and plenty of opportunities to ask questions, without fear that this could scupper your chances of employment.

Cactus TEFL offer a wide range of TEFL courses at a variety of destinations around the world.

Winner of the Cactus 2011, Suzanne Furstner Foundation Scholarship, talks about her CELTA course.

Suzanne Furstner Scholarship 2011 – Winner’s Review

It was a Friday evening when I was sitting in the library with some of my colleagues, after having worked non-stop all week. We were researching for an assignment, furiously reading and taking notes, when from behind a tall stack of books a voice calmly stated that at that moment, the rest of the world was probably enjoying a cold beer and some well-deserved R & R. We barely entertained the idea, concluding that whilst it was attractive we had our work cut out for us, and so we dropped our eyes back to the books, saving our cervesas for another day. Such is the life of a CELTA trainee.

barcelonaIn February 2012, I attended the Cambridge CELTA course at International House Barcelona, one of the most reputable teacher training centres in the world. Made possible by the generosity of Cactus TEFL’s Suzanne Furstner Scholarship, the course was a rich and rewarding experience for me. Four-weeks of full-time training was made up of input sessions (a sort-of mix of workshops and lectures) and teaching practice, with the evening hours dedicated to lesson planning and completing written assignments. I received continuous support and direction from the course tutors, each of whom brought to the training room their years of teaching experience.

My class of 18 CELTA candidates was made up of individuals from the UK, the EU, the USA and Ireland, with me, the Australian, being the furthest from home. Some of my classmates were preparing to enter the workforce for the first time, whilst others were looking for a change in career and lifestyle. The training room was a fun learning environment from Day One, when an ongoing impromptu comedy routine was birthed due to an unusually high number of witty personalities in our group.

My expectations of the course had been set-up by a friend in London who had earlier completed his CELTA, and whose forewarning of long days and an intense transformation period proved to be true. I had experienced teaching English for a short stint before the course and was acutely aware of my need for quality training. I found the CELTA methodology to be both stretching and awakening, and unlike other candidates without prior experience I had to unlearn a few bad habits and replace them with ‘new and improved’ techniques.

An example of an area of learning for me was with regards to developing flexibility in the role of teacher. I devoted a lot of time to preparing my lessons, and sometimes the lessons didn’t go according to plan, either because of an aspect I had overlooked in my planning or because of a class dynamic which effected a change in direction. This experience taught me to ‘let go’ a bit as a teacher, to be guided by the students and to allow and encourage organic developments to occur. It taught me that being prepared for a lesson is equally as important as being ready to respond to its natural flow and momentum.

At the completion of the course, our group enjoyed dinner together at a restaurant to celebrate our success and hard work. A few of my classmates shared how they questioned if teaching English was the job for them, because in a course of such intensity you really have to work relentlessly from woe to go. However to live the CELTA as your every day life would be impossible; it’s an intensive training period crammed with all the content and practice you need to start working. The course is challenging but the end result is worthwhile; teaching is a rewarding and fun job that helps others, and having a CELTA opens up doors to employment in many countries around the world. As for me, I came to Barcelona exclusively to attain the CELTA, and five months later, I’m still here, nurturing my love of coffee and drinking in the beauty of this city. And when I’m not riding my bike or trying to improve my Spanish, I’m in the classroom, teaching English.

Cactus TEFL is an admissions and advice service for quality teacher training courses worldwide. Cactus works with well-known course providers to offer CELTA, TESOL, equivalent and online courses in over 90 locations across 36 countries. Cactus TEFL also offers free post-course careers advice and support, as well as access to our very own TEFL jobs board and job alerts. The next Suzanne Furstner Scholarship will be in 2016.