Like every other language, English contains a wealth of words that at some point have been adopted (or adapted) from other languages. Once these borrowed words (or, "loanwords") become incorporated into the everyday vocabulary and are thus accepted, people often forget that they're really from a foreign language.

Sure, as a native speaker of English, you know the meaning of these words and understand them. However, do you truly know their origin? By that I not only mean the country or language of origin—are your aware of the actual meaning of the word and its elements in the native tongue?

My sister once told me a story of how during her time in France, she had to disentangle the meaning of the word ‘kindergarten’ to some of her non-German friends. It made me realize that while using and understanding the meaning of a German loanword, English-speaking people may not necessarily be aware of its original meaning. (In this case: a garden for children.)

Personally, I love those aha-moments when something suddenly appears in an entirely new light because someone explained a context or background you never thought of before. So I recently put together a list of 20 German words used in English and translated them for you. Read on and let us know if any of these surprise for you!

[And feel free to study Brainscape's German flashcards to dive deeper]

1. Kindergarten

Kinder = children
Garten = garden
Garden for children.

2. Iceberg = Eisberg

Eis = ice
Berg = mountain
Mountain of ice.

3. Wunderkind

Wunder = wonder, miracle
Kind = child
Wonder child.

4. Angst

Angst = fear

5. Uber- = über

über = above, beyond

6. Zeitgeist

Zeit = time
Geist = spirit
Spirit of the time.

7. Doppelganger = Doppelgänger

Doppel- = double
‘Gänger’ (not used in this form; derivated from the verb gehen = to go) = ‘walker’
Double walker.

8. Poltergeist

poltern = to rumble
Geist = ghost

9. Bauhaus (architecture)

Bau = construction, building
or: imperative of bauen = to build
Haus = house

10. Blitzkrieg (military)

Blitz = lightning
Krieg = war
War of lightning.

11. Neanderthal = Neandertaler

Tal = valley (Thal is an old spelling)
Taler (not used in this form) = inhabitant of the valley
Neander(tal) is the proper name of a valley in Germany
Inhabitant of the valley of Neander.

12. (Apple) Strudel = (Apfel) Strudel

Strudel = swirl

13. Sauerkraut

sauer = sour
Kraut = herb; cabbage
Sour cabbage.

14. Leitmotif = Leitmotiv (music)

leiten (in imperative form) = to lead
Motiv = motive, theme
Leading motive.

15. Volkswagen

Volk = people, nation
Wagen = car, cart
Car for the people.

16. Gesundheit

gesund = healthy
heit = -hood

17. Schadenfreude

Schaden = damage
Freude = joy
Being joyful about the sufferings of others.

18. Katzenjammer (music)

Katze(n) = cat(s)
Jammer = sorrow, misery
The sorrow (moaning) of cats.

19. Zugzwang (chess)

Zug = move
Zwang = compulsion, pressure
To be forced to move. (a bad situation in chess)

20. Gründerzeit (history)

Gründer = founder
Zeit = time
Time of the founder.

Castle in Germany
Learn German for more German words used in English.

Learn German more effectively

Learning a language isn't just a rewarding way to connect with other people and another culture—it can also help you connect better with English.

And it's not as hard as you might have thought. Check out Brainscape's huge guide to learning a language efficiently to get started. Let go of your angst about learning German, and start today. You'll be fluent before you can say Apfelstrudel.