How to avoid a faux pas in a foreign language

Most politicians consult interpreting or translation services when holding a speech in a foreign language.

A mistake can easily be made.

When I worked in recruitment, one of our international managers tried to say that he was feeling hot. It was indeed a very warm summer’s day. He said in front of all his business partners in German: “Ich bin heiß.”

The translation in English would be: “I am on heat.” There was a poignant silence after this announcement.

However, there is one example in German history, when a mistake in the target language was taken humorously.

John F. Kennedy addressing the people living in Berlin during the cold war era

Ich bin ein Berliner.

German translation: I am a doughnut.
Photo by Tim Gouw on

John F. Kennedy won over the sympathies of the German people despite his faux pas. Everybody knew, what he wanted to say.

I am one of you.

A good speech can make all the difference. Prince Charles was well received in Germany on his latest visit, because his speech was in perfect German.

at a remembrance ceremony in Berlin

The German nation was very much impressed. He was very brave to speak in front of the parliament and the cameras.

Getting it right, can have a huge impact. Getting it wrong, can damage your business’ reputation.

You can avoid a major faux pas by consulting translation services beforehand.


Published by Maria

I am a German expat and I have been working in England for more than 30 years. Ich bin eine Auslandsdeutsche und arbeite schon seit 30 Jahren in England.

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