German Advent Calendar 15 – Sounding better with Synonyms

ThyDiurnialGerman – Advent Time Table 

Sounding better with Synonyms

♥♥♥^♥♥+♥♥♥!

Hello everyone,

and welcome back to our epic Advent Calendar, day 15.
And today, I want to talk a little about

Sounding better with synonyms

Or more specifically, I want to give you some advice on how to use synonyms.
Are you ready? Here it comes:

.
.
.
.
.
.
v

.
.
.
.
.
.
v

Don’t use synonyms!

Well, okay… this is of course a little over the top, but I do want to make case against synonyms, and I have good reason for it.

You see, there has been this trend in the German learning Youtube-Sphere where people make videos with titles like “Nie wieder machen” or “Schluss mit ja” or “Better than danke“, in which they go over a bunch of alternative phrasings.
Which isn’t that big a deal by itself, but the videos also suggest these alternative phrasings are the better pick, sound more “German” and using the original word is boring.

These videos with these titles get a LOT of clicks and pull tens of thousands of views, and people go away from them thinking that they improved their German. And the problem is…

It is NOT TRUE!

First of all, because the large majority of the supposedly better alternatives are phrasings that only apply in a certain specific context.

But more importantly, because native speakers DO NOT use these synonyms in day to day life, contrary to what these channels would have you believe.
Of course native speakers KNOW all the synonyms and can use them in writing or when giving a speech. But in normal day to day life, people tend to use the default. And if they don’t… they will stand out.
Like… think of that person in school or at work who is like a walking thesaurus and always uses unnecessary synonyms… that’s you when you try to use the suggestions in these videos!
Only that you’ll do it with an accent and probably a couple of small grammar glitches, because you’re not a native speaker. Which makes it twice as awkward and unnatural.
Like… you’re putting a couple of Greek columns next to the entrance door of your run down fixer upper.

And this doesn’t really change even once you approach actual fluency.
Using synonyms will make your German sound WEIRD, not GOOD.

Like… there hasn’t been a single time where I was impressed by a learner using a synonym or a “cool” proverb they learned from a blog or video.
And there has also not been a single time, where I was like
“Gee, this person uses machen and ja and nein all the time and the sentences are so short.”
But there were also many times when I talked to someone or read an email and I was like “Oh man, this person is trying WAY too hard.”
And there have been many when I was impressed by someone just speaking normal idiomatic German. 

Synonyms have their place and if you need to write an essay, it’s good to know them.
But they’re not something you need to worry about in daily life, at all. Keep it simple, use basic words and short sentences and strive toward doing that properly. THAT’S what will make you sound native.
And THEN you can start carefully and sparsely sprinkling in synonyms. But be subtle about it.
And be very careful with these videos, some of the suggestions are good, others are straight up garbage and are only in there because the creator needed content.

So… that’s my little rant on synonyms and why you shouldn’t use them (and I’m probably a little strict on the matter).
And now I’m of course curious. Do you watch these videos and take notes? Do you try to use synonyms or make complex sentences because you think Germans do it?
Let me know all your thoughts in the comments, have a marvelous day and I’ll see you tomorrow.

4.7 29 votes
Article Rating

Newsletter for free?!

Sign up to my epic newsletter and get notified whenever I post something new :)
(roughly once per week)

No Spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Your Thoughts and Questions

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
82 Comments
Newest
Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Hugh Warren
Hugh Warren
7 months ago

I have noticed that the same words seem to be used all the time by native speakers.

pmccann
pmccann
7 months ago

Weirdly enough, but not entirely surprisingly, two of these beauties showed up on the front page of my youtube recommendations today, with the titles “Sag NIE wieder *HABEN*”, and “Sag nie wieder *MACHEN!*”, (original capitalisation) by different youtubers. Yeah, the titles are nothing but desperate clickbait, but FFS, give it a rest folks, and try to maintain a modicum of dignity! :-)

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
7 months ago
Reply to  pmccann

I had to check out the one on “haben” because what could you possibly use to replace it. At least I think it’s the same video, it was the first result when I plugged in the title. It would make for a good Verkomplizierungsspiel. You know, where you take a normal sentence and make it sound as pompous and convoluted as possible.

“Es herrscht Mangel an Milch” just lends itself to that. Same for “ich bin Eigentümer eines Porsches.”

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
7 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Boah, mein neues Fitnessprogramm beinhaltet so viele tolle Übungen! Just throw in a “diggah” or two and you got yourself a party. It’s like throwing on a suit jacket over your comfiest couch potato pants.

The thing that stood out to me about her video is it’s got some surface appeal. Pretty background, sound quality is pretty good, she talks extra slow and clear. Tons of positive comments. I can see that making it easier to think, ok, yeah, maybe I should start talking like this.

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
7 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

“How can a good plan have many applications?”

Easy. It was written by Wil E. Coyote and just says “CATCH ROADRUNNER” in wobbly letters. Scribbled on the back of a box from Acme Co.

Amerikanskan
Amerikanskan
7 months ago
Reply to  coleussanctus

Die Milch ist alle.

Or, what’s wrong with ”wir haben keine Milch.”?

pmccann
pmccann
7 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Having been fully vaccinated, it can only Bill Gates’ fault. Natürlich!

(( Shhhh, Paul…. They will come. ))

pmccann
pmccann
7 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Haha… and he has cloned himself. Well, recruited his beardless clone, which helps a little with the workload. Your insight about TikTok is just about spot on: in fact, a lot of this stuff on YouTube is now being repurposed directly *from* TikTok and/or Instagram, and even Telegram. I think that “spread yourself far and wide, and above all *thinly*: hey, just change the aspect ratio on the video and you instantly have content for multiple social media sites” is definitely part of the “how-to” package.

Amerikanskan
Amerikanskan
7 months ago
Reply to  pmccann

Just supports my theory that FaceBook. YouTube, WhatsApp etc are pernicious, are not discreet and should basically NOT be used.

Replace the ”you” (or ”m.you” on your phone) in the address box with ”Hook” to avoid ads and BEING TRACKED.

sierra
sierra
7 months ago

You sound just like Orwell: “What do you want to say, then just say it.” (might be paraphrasing). Spot on.

Seidel John
Seidel John
7 months ago

Danke für diese Botschaft! Ich habe diese Videos angeguckt und habe versucht, die neuen Wörte zu benutzen, wenn ich sie erinnern kann. Jetzt werde ich mich darauf nicht so stark verlassen!

Pedram
Pedram
7 months ago

Oh, Thank you Emanuel
Reading these lines was a real relief. I feel it would be much easier from now on.

And I’m going to unsubscribe all those channels and stop learning new words.

#FREEDOM

MIKE C
MIKE C
7 months ago

50 Years ago I read a book on Communication Called “Write Like You Talk”.
Naturally, It was a very thin book, having been written written by one who
specialized in communication and not law or education. Most people talk in
short declarative sentences, and so should they write. There is no need for
paragraph long sentences with lots of commas, colons, and semicolons,
unless your writing a Romance Novel.

Brilliant day 15 Emmanual

Scotty
Scotty
7 months ago

I agree with your synonym warning in principle. However, if one is aware of a synonym, I think one can first listen to hear native German speakers using it in real life (maybe more than one instance), take note of the context and how they used it, and then go ahead and subtly and selectively try to employ it oneself.

pmccann
pmccann
7 months ago

Amen to the theme of this blog: there seems to be a strong whiff of an echo chamber effect in the German YouTuber community, and the “STOP USING MACHEN ” sort of nonsense has become something of an ugly trend of late. At this point I’d really like to venture off into a general rant about dozens of folks following the same path to (vain)glory during the last year or so (declare yourself “ein/dein Aussprache Expert”, offer a “Ten Common Mistakes When Learning German” pdf for free (as long as you deliver up your email address for constant spamming about endless crappy online courses), announce that you now have an “Online Akademie”, to which lucky subscribers get to watch even more videos, and, I guess, in true Underpants Gnomes fashion… PROFIT!) but it’s already so, so late :-|

On the positive side of the ledger there are also some cool folks out there producing great content for free. I’d love to hear what/who other learners enjoy on YouTube. Off the top of my head, I’ve recently come to like “Sprakuko Deutsch” (Sprache/Kultur/Kommunikation). “Deutsch mit Benjamin” offers some material, such as videos about real world pronunciation (Reduzierung und so weiter, with examples from film/politics etc) that’s refreshingly different to most other offerings out there. I also really appreciate the old School Ma’am vibe of the “Rocking German Grammar” channel. Anyway, that’s enough to kick things off…

pmccann
pmccann
7 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thanks for the great tip: I shall start using zwei-geteilt-durch-zwei as a synonym for eins immediately. That’s some C-zwei-geteilt-durch-zwei Niveau shit right there!

And further thanks for the goss: I really love all these sort of hinter_den_Kulissen / hinter_den_Lächeln shenanigans(*). Factions and (in)fractions, frictions and fictions, sex and lies amid lots and lots of videotape. Deutsch mit Marija + Deutsch mit Benjamin in a head to head battle against Easy German+Seedlang, with the *other* Benjamin (Benjamin, der Deutschlehrer) as referee, and Janusz noodling on his guitar in the corner.

Back to the topic at hand, though: it’s almost like there’s a down-market franchise operation offering template-driven fame and riches as an online teacher of German. That said, I do really admire the hustle of Mathias and Simon, the “LearnGerman4Life” twins; they’re pouring in inordinate amount of effort into things at the moment, in the hope that the channel will catch on: how long they can keep it up is another question altogether, as burnout has to be a frequent companion in this realm. (Speaking of which, I have seen precious little of Anja, one of my favourite youtubers, lately: hope she’s doing OK, and just focused on other things.)

(*) Yo, junge Leute, wählt “shenanigans” zum Jugendwort des Jahres 2022. Heck, throw an extra “c” in there after the first “s” if it helps, or just write it as “chenanigans”, a kind of reverse diminutive, which must be something like an aggrandisement(?), I guess.

coleussanctus
coleussanctus
7 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Now there’s a fun crossover. There are lots of good channels out there, but Anja is pretty unique in her ability to make any topic approachable and be infectiously positive at the same time. I hate to say that, “positive,” because it can sound fake or forced and she’s the opposite of that, but that’s the best I can come up with.

The Russian Youtubers – do you mean like Dein Sprachcoach? I didn’t know there were others.

pmccann
pmccann
7 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Aah, great to hear that Anja’s going great guns with that project: now that you mention it, I do have vague memories of her last (some months ago now) video being a tour of the proposed set, and a brief description of how it was all going to work. Ich glaube aber nicht, dass sie über die beeindruckende Gästeliste verraten hat! ‘twould be a nice change if DW is involved in a series that is fun to watch for a change: I always cringe a little when people recommend “Nico’s Weg” or “Jojo sucht das Glück” to learners, both of which I find basically unwatchable. But I’m an old grump, so that may be part of the reason ;-)

I definitely know of some of the “Eastern Block” YouTubers with near-perfect German (well, let’s just say *perfect* when a plodding late-life learner like me hears it). It’s like some incredibly well performed magic trick, but if often feels somewhat soulless for some reason.

Shennies sounds like the way to go, then: hey, maybe Lingoni could spice things up a bit by changing their name back to “German with shennies”.

LCantoni
LCantoni
7 months ago

Thank you so much! I had not heard of these videos but now I know to steer clear of them. And, frankly, I struggle so much to express myself in spoken German that I don’t need a lot of extra words to break my brain. At least not yet. :D

michele
michele
7 months ago

This piece of advice makes me feel so much better about my ability to only make short sentences!!! Thank you. Also, that picture and metaphor of Greek columns on a shack is HYSTERICAL! Danke für meine LOL!

John
John
7 months ago

Isn’t it the art of language learning to wider one’s command of vocabulary ? And one way to increase one’s vocabulary is to learn synonyms. I can understand keeping language simple in speaking but in writing and reading?

John
John
7 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Okay , I understand the reasoning.

Pia
Pia
7 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Your comment got me curious. How many words do I know? So I tried this online test. It doesn’t take too long and you don’t need to give them your email.
https://www.17-minute-languages.com/en/German-placement-test/
As for me: Hmmm not as many as I thought. About 2600

Inge Aiken
7 months ago

That’s so encouraging and so true!! Thanks!

Alan
Alan
7 months ago

There’s a good sprinkling of Jas in a lot of text books exercises so the guys writing them need to see your calendar. I never really know where they should go because it wouldn’t work in English!

Padraig
Padraig
8 months ago

Keep up the good work Emanuel! Re reading – Dominic Wexenberger has a few abridged books that are very easy to read (die Schatz Insel, die Reise zum Mittelpunkt der Erde, zum Beispiel). What greatly surprised me however was getting through the Harry Potter series relatively easily. I normally use a Kindle on a tablet so that translation when required is simple and fast, a ”doddle” in fact. Question: is it better to read a text written originally in German as against one translated (from English say) to German?

Re Germans seizing the initiative to practice their English, I find it highly aggravating as I only took up German to facilitate visits there after my German son-in-law decided to return to Niedersachsen. I’m not being disrespectful of the language, anything but in fact, as I find it quite fascinating. I’m simply boring enough to see a language as being mainly utilitarian.

Lew
Lew
7 months ago
Reply to  Padraig

First of all, thanks Emanuel for a fabulous and thought-provoking essay. And regarding your comments, Padraig, about translations, I have found that translations of books from English to German are definitely easier to read than original German texts. I read “Der Name der Rose” in a German translation and had little trouble getting through the 600 or 700 pages. Same for “Wüstenplanet” (“Dune”) was also relatively comfortable for me. German novels like Krimiromane are also pretty easy, but if the language sophistication level rises, then things are noticeably more difficult. I have been trying to read “Der Blechtrommel,” by Günther Grass, and this has been a long, difficult task and I am still not finished! He writes long, grammatically complex sentences, in which finding even the subject and verb are a challenge. This has been a real learning experience for me.

Lew
Lew
7 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thanks for the quick reply. By the way, I realized that the original language of “Der Name der Rose” was actually Italian, not English, but the effect was the same. Also, I forgot to mention the “long sentence” champion here in the U.S., William Faulkner, who has written paragraphs which come close to filling a whole page. This author is not recommended for learners of English, unless they are at a very advanced level.

Lydia
Lydia
7 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I’ve worked my way through The Hobbit in German, with much pencil marking. I love it. Tolkien’s long sentences are old-fashioned (and adorable) and so seem made for German translation! (I just came across your Seedlang bit where your name Tolkien as your Lieblingsautor, I was thrilled but not surprised!)

Amerikanskan
Amerikanskan
7 months ago
Reply to  Lew

Then you haven’t read Dickens translated to German. Or, Jane Austen.

Why are you reading Gunther Grass? Read something fun – neither Grass nor Mann qualify.

Make reading FUN again!

Elsa
Elsa
8 months ago

Hello,

I don’t think there’s a good synonym for typos:
“I do want to make case to make against synonyms, and I have good reason for it” (I do want to make a case against synonyms, and I have a good reason for it)
“the sentence are so short” (the sentences are so short)

My take on synonyms:
I believe you’re right, those videos do teach you some clunky German people don’t actually use and if so, makes them sound theatrical or pretentious, I suppose…
At least that’s what happens in English, e.g. when people try to use “imbibe” instead of drink or “degustate” instead of try.

However, I find myself using the same very simple words (eat, drink, do, say, wait, etc.) over and over again and feel like I sound like a 5-year-old child speaking bad German, even though my teacher thinks I’m fluent. How, in your opinion, does one come out of that onto the next stage?
I do read a lot, although I’m bad with pods, I tend to switch off very quickly (not just in German, I mean pods in general…)

Bis morgen!

Elsa
Elsa
7 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Actually, I don’t get ANY notifications.
I just happen to be at the computer a lot of time (because I work as a translator). I take regular breaks (as you should) and then check your site if there was a post (as well as my email, the weather forecast, etc.)

michele
michele
7 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

On Duolingo I get an email on all comments to the topic for which I asked a question. I think that is an option I can change in settings, but I don’t remember for sure. I really appreciate you looking into this as a possibility for your site.

RuthE
RuthE
7 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I get a notification via email if I’ve requested it. The check box for requesting it is just to the left of the submit button (PC screen).

RuthE
RuthE
7 months ago
Reply to  RuthE

…And the notification/confirmation is from German is Easy with a direct link back to the page in question.

Amerikanskan
Amerikanskan
8 months ago

It‘s always obvious when someone has used a thesaurus to pepper their text and as soon as I notice it, I stop reading it.

The picture of the dilapidated shack with the roman pillars, one upside down captures the use of synonyms PERFECTLY.

People who read a lot have a natural great Wortschatz. And usually spell well (I‘ve actually only HEARD the deutsch Version von Schneewitchen – thus the inability to spell Spiegelein.)

In our Gegenwart, one can also listen to Podcasts and Books in one‘s target language and sponge up a buncha great terms, vocab and other idiomatic stuff. Not to mention pronounciation.

Unfortunately, I listen to all the wrong Pods, so I‘m learning: Pimmel, meine Fresse!, halt‘s Maul, du kleines Arschloch, und eine Menge Frechheiten.

But also stuff like: was auch immer, die xxxste ich je gesehen habe, bis zum ich weiß nicht mehr and am getting a much better natural feeling for dative vs ackusativ.

Dazu finde ich, that sentences feel „wrong“ when I write „haben“ when it should be „sein“ – as though it‘s coming naturally now – so I‘m forced to change a haben to a sein, in case I started out writing one verb (with haben) and then used another verb (das sein verlangt). Or, the sein just pops out naturally when I use a sein-verb.

Amazing stuff – better than any thesaurus!

Amerikanskan
Amerikanskan
8 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Vielen dank für die Rückmeldung!

stee pedro
stee pedro
8 months ago

there has been an explosion of youtubing, biggest problem is time wasted.
reading your fine blog takes a few minutes – as a video, with the intro, music, graphics, ads it would balloon to 15.
i don’t know if that format is more helpful – i think reading penetrates & lingers more than watching.

best part of YT is watching english lessons in deutsch or français or nederlans.

unlike the rest of me, mein ego is paper thin.

Amerikanskan
Amerikanskan
8 months ago
Reply to  stee pedro

Seriously: read. Read children‘s books. At present I‘m hooked on two children‘s series and am so eager to lese weiter that I barely have the patience to stop and study sentence structure sometimes – the vocab is great and any grammatical conundrum you have can be explained by one of the many online that explain stuff on YT.

Perhaps we all learn differently, but I find that I don‘t get as far learning rules and stuff, but rather empiricism works much better with a little back up through grammar explanation in a book or in a video.

All of a sudden you‘ll be building sentences you didn‘t know you could and using words you didn‘t know you learned.

If you have a sense of humor and remember your childhood the way it really was, try Rüdiger Bertram‘s first book in his „Coolman und ich“-series – you‘ll be laughing your pants off while learning and you‘ll be devouring his other books so quickly, you won‘t even KNOW you are learning. Then, after a few books, when you go back to a grammar video – it‘ll all just „click“.

Elsa
Elsa
8 months ago
Reply to  Amerikanskan

Hej!
I’ll have to look up Rüdiger Bertram on Onleihe later!

Amerikanskan
Amerikanskan
7 months ago
Reply to  Elsa

Leider gibt es nicht in der Onleihe mehr aber Onleihe bietet „Finns fantastische Freunde“ an und alle die Bände in der Reihe sind lesenswert.

Noch habe ich die Superhelden-Bücher gelesen aber „Die Jagd nach dem Geisterdieb“ fand ich ziemlich lustig“.

Pia
Pia
8 months ago

Whenever I go to Germany, most Germans will speak English at me, which is frustrating to say the least. A few people have said “We will speak English because my English is better than your German”. Gee, thanks. However I can understand more than you think. Haha.
Great to know the synonym videos aren’t all that helpful. I like to speak german using my old-fashioned words. I learnt German in the 1980s with a text book from the 1960s.

Pia
Pia
7 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Wow, I never thought of it like that. The reason why their English sounds mechanical is because it is not as good as they think. This has given me confidence if I ever get back to Germany.

Amerikanskan
Amerikanskan
7 months ago
Reply to  Pia

No one‘s ever actually said that to me but I do get the feeling that they love to practice English when they can – esp with Yanks because everybody knows that we really don‘t have a command of the English language either! Haha!

However, I just feign pain and tell them tha I came all this way ONLY to practice my Deutsch and would they please gave Geduld and put up with me speaking it. Who knows how they feel about it, but Krauts are so polite that they never refuse. And, as they have an amazing sense of humor, will live it if you show one as well – can you say something witty auf Deutsch, they‘ll speak with you longer than they actually have time for.

Some of the ladies behind the service desk at Thalia in Hamburg act like someone pissed in their Cornflakes, but since I told her that speaking German was very scary for me, esp. since I am very sensitive about hacking it to shreds wif‘ my hässlichem amerikanischen Akzent, would she please tell me what I‘ve done to make her act so negatively towards me or perhaps just grin and pretend to be amused, she‘s been V. pleasant and has even cracked a smile on occasion. Try it. The worst that can happen is that they don‘t oblige.

Amerikanskan
Amerikanskan
7 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Ist es. It‘s just so funny, I can often not resist. And pro‘lly (instead of probably). Glad to hear someone else is just as twisted as I.

Pia
Pia
7 months ago
Reply to  Amerikanskan

Thank you for the tips. I will definitely practise some polite but firm stock phrases to say to those english replying germans.

Roger
Roger
8 months ago

Ich habe nicht viele deutsche Wörter gefunden, die mit “sinnverwandt” gleichbedeutend sind.

Bitte helfen Sie mir!

Roger
Roger
7 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Ich brauche Hilfe, weil ich von Synonymen fasziniert bin. Das passiert, wenn man zu alt für Sex ist.

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 months ago
Reply to  Roger

LOL