About holgerhaase

German Tutor living in Cork (Ireland)

Shhh…. – Learning German the Silent Movie way

frauimmondposterOne of the most entertaining ways to immerse yourself in a new language is through its movies. You can kick back and get entertained while at the same time brushing up on your language skills.

Regardless of your current language skills, you are bound to pick up something new. Even absolute beginners can benefit.

Years ago when I watched LOLA RENNT which features a very important bag stashed full of money, my girlfriend who doesn’t speak much German and wasn’t even watching the film but just heard bits and pieces in the background, came over and asked me what the word “Tasche” means. Obviously the term was used so regularly that it stuck in her mind and she is still able to remember that word whenever she travels to Germany.

Though there are lots of opportunities these days to watch foreign language films via Netflix & Co., only a properly mastered DVD may offer you the flexibility you need to pick subtitles of your choice so that depending on the level you’re at you could do one of the following:

  • Watch the film in German with English subtitles
  • Watch the film in German with German subtitles
  • Watch the film in German without any subtitles

You could even do all three, i.e. start watching it with English subtitles, then – as you are already familiar with it – watch it again with the German subs and finally without any subs at all. It will become increasingly more difficult to understand it but as you are already familiar with the plot and dialogue you’re going to recognise and understand more and more of the actual text.

So far I haven’t told you anything that hasn’t been recommended elsewhere before

What is never really mentioned, however, is the idea to use silent movies (Stummfilme) as a learning tool.

True, there is only a hardcore set of movie fans left who still explore those films regularly, yet once you start to get into their archaic world and rhythm you will see that they provide wonderful imagery that is bound to live with you for quite some time.

And Germany during the Weimar Republic was the world’s leading producer of quality movies. Hollywood was just setting up shop at the time and one could argue that the large scale emigration of German and Austrian film makers to America following Hitler’s rise to power let to the proper resurgence of Hollywood. For starters: What would Hollywood have done without the likes of Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch, Robert Siodmak & Co?

But let’s forget about the historical and artistic qualities of German silent movies and focus entirely on their linguistic benefits.

Given that the majority of these products are indeed silent, all you really need to understand are the German language intertitles. And these are strategically placed in a way so that you can even pause the film if you can’t read and understand them quickly enough without interfering too much with the flow of entertainment.

Pause a proper modern movie in between and you have bizarre random cut-offs of faces and interrupt the natural pattern of speech between characters. Pause a silent movie and you just pause it at a point where the film was actually designed to be read and where you won’t interfere with the natural acting flow.

Of course, whenever silent movies are still shown these days, they usually come with English language intertitles, so make sure to purchase DVDs that offer the original German intertitles as an option. Or you could simply purchase the DVD via Amazon’s German website, where they will generally sell the German versions of those flicks.

As silent movies by and large are out of copyright, they can also easily be tracked through YouTube or Archive.org but again a lot of those versions come with English language intertitles.

Below please find some examples of German silent movies with German intertitles to get you started.

Mind you, some of them feature a more old-style way of writing and some have additional Spanish or English subtitles but these should still give you something of a head start nonetheless. Please also note that some of those productions are sliced up into various parts that can all be found online as well.

 (Part 1/3)

 (Part1/10)

Elke Sommer sagt No

Elke SommerKnow “Schlager”, know Germany.

Love’em or hate’em but the much maligned Schlager” are an integral part of German life.

The term (der Schlager, plural: die Schlager) describes nothing else but a German pop song. It’s the style of music that for English native ears sounds decidedly Eurotrashy but that for millions of Germans has been the soundtrack of their lives. Even if you end up rebelling against it at a later stage – Believe me, I’ve tried! – these addictive ditties easily become a part of you that is impossible to shake off.

The good news for German learners is that these songs by and large operate with a relatively simple vocabulary that is generally sung very clearly and with a catchy rhythm and melody that makes the lyrics easy enough to remember.

There are countless examples for this type of song and Elke Sommer’s ICH SAGE NO is by far not the most popular but I like the way this YouTube video integrates the German lyrics with a collage of her photos.

Sommer is not generally known as a singer but as part of the post-war “Fräuleinwunder” was one of the few German actresses who have managed to create something of an international career for herself. She acted opposite Paul Newman (The Prize) and Peter Sellers (A Shot in the Dark), appeared in a number of TV shows (The Six Million Dollar Man, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island), was in Carry on Behind and in two films by Italian genre master Mario Bava but my overall favourite performance of hers was as one of a duo of sexy female killers in Deadlier than the Male, the best James Bond movie to not feature James Bond but instead focus on bikini clad vixens who emerge out of the ocean and murder by harpoon.  (Check this YouTube clip to get an idea what I am talking about.)

 

 

 

 

 

What is the difference between “wie” and “als”?

comparisonsIn English we speak about things that are as big as something else but bigger than.

In German we use the term “als” (that unfortunately looks suspiciously like as…as) for the latter case, i.e. when things are

kleiner als = smaller than

schneller als = faster than

Please notice that for the comparative form we just add an “-er” regardless of how long the adjective is. For longer adjectives of two syllables or more English often uses the more … than format but German is a bit more consistent in its approach here

interessanter als = more interesting than

We would never speak of something being “mehr interessant als”! Beware of this as this is a common mistake for people learning German coming from an English language background.

When things are on an even scale we use the format “so [adjective] wie” or alternatively “genauso [adjective] wie”

so teuer wie = as expensive as

so erfolgreich wie = as successful as

so schön wie = as beautiful as

genauso gut wie = as good as

Mind you, listen closely and you’ll notice that there are actually a good number of Germans who mistakenly say stuff along the lines of: “Das Buch war viel interessanter wie der Film” or even: “Das Buch war viel interessanter als wie der Film”.

Just because even native speakers may occasionally mess up in that department should not stop you from using the forms correctly. So if you discuss a book and its cinematic adaptation you will properly say:

Das Buch war viel interessanter als der Film. The book was more interesting than the film.

Or:

Der Film war (genau)so interessant wie das Buch. The film was just as interesting as the book.

Feeling blue?

Image

Interesting how connotations can change in different languages.

Though the colour blue does indeed translate as “blau”, this colour is associated with different emotional states in both languages.

“Blau sein” means being drunk. “To be blue”, however, can be translated as “traurig/melancholisch sein”.

Der Peter war gestern wieder einmal ziemlich blau. (Peter was pretty drunk again yesterday.)

Heute fühle ich mich ein wenig melancholisch. (I am feeling a little bit blue today.)

For Pete’s sake….

danger

Ah, those nasty prepositions……

Did you ever want to translate “for” but weren’t too sure whether to use the German “für” or “vor”….. just to discover the answer was neither but something completely different?

The trouble with this one is that sometimes “for” does indeed translate as “für” (or indeed “vor”) but often it doesn’t. A whole booklet could be written just about the pitfalls of translating prepositions in general but “for” in particular stands out as one of the chief offenders. With the limited amount of space we have available here, just a few words of advice.

As a general rule of thumb: Anytime you need to translate “for”, make sure you take a quick mental step back to ensure that you really pick the correct translation in this case.

In a lot of instances the term is used in connection with time:

I’ve been waiting here for the last ten minutes.

In this situation we first of all use “seit” in German and instead of the English perfect tense we use the German present tense:

Ich warte hier seit zehn Minuten.

“Seit” is used to mark the beginning of an event and therefore roughly translates as “since”. Some other examples:

Seit Weihnachten rauche ich nicht mehr. (I haven’t smoked since Christmas.)

Seit 1995 lebe ich in Irland. (I’ve been living in Ireland since 1995.)

On top of the choice of words, it is also very easy to confuse the tenses. Remember: the German perfect tense is used predominently in spoken language to express a past that is dead and gone.

Ich habe letztes Jahr mein Abitur gemacht. (I passed my Abitur/Leaving Cert last year.)

The English perfect tense on the other hand refers to something that started in the past but is continuing into the present: In the example above, the speaker started waiting ten minutes ago and continued to wait until now. And for that we use the present tense in German.

Did I just write “ten minutes ago”?

If we were to translate this expression we would use “vor”:

Ich habe Maria vor zehn Minuten gesehen. (I saw Maria ten minutes ago – German perfect tense! – but now she is gone.)

In English we also use “for” to describe the length of time something took, e.g. “I lived in Germany for three years.”

In that instance we would generally translate this as “[length of time] lang”.

Ich habe drei Jahre lang in Deutschland gewohnt.

We also use “vor” when we mean “in front of” with regards to locations.

Das Auto steht vor dem Haus. (The car is in front of the house.)

There are also lots of other expressions where we use either “vor” or “für” in German but do not use “for” in English (e.g.“vor etwas Angst haben” – to be afraid of something) so caution must always prevail whenever any of these prepositions are coming out of the woodworks.

Pass the marmalade!

Strictly speaking this not a classic case of False Friends as sometimes die Marmelade does indeed translate as marmalade.

But sometimes it doesn’t, thereby allowing us a an interesting look into how the language we speak may help us to perceive and categorise the world around us in different ways. (And into how law makers are trying their utmost to regulate centuries old linguistical traditions.)

See, in English the term marmalade refers to gelled breakfast fruit conserves made out of citrus fruits. For non-citrus fruit conserves the term jam is used, e.g. “strawberry jam”.

In German we generally don’t care about the type of fruit in those spreads but whether or not they have chunky bits in them. The ones with chunky bits we call “die Konfitüre”, the ones without “die Marmelade”.

That means we can equally talk about “Erdbeermarmelade” as well as “Erdbeerkonfitüre” or “Orangenmarmelade” as well as “Orangenkonfitüre”, all just depending on whether there are visible bits of strawberries or oranges left in them.

At least in everyday speech.

In recent years EU regulators have passed some decrees that officially outlaw the term “die Marmelade” for all but citrus fruits and instead favour the use of “die Konfitüre” at least for items prepared for export. Linguistically, however, this has not caught on and small traders selling locally in Germany are also still allowed to keep using the traditional terminology.

And there are lots of those small traders. “Marmelade” in all shapes or forms is an incredibly popular item of food in Germany and lots of families prepare their own during the season or purchase from a local market stall.

Etymologically both “marmalade” and “Marmelade” derive from the Portuguese word “marmelo” for the quince fruit which ironically is NOT a citrus fruit.

Robbing bankers, stolen meanings

Bertold BrechtI recently came across this quote by Bertold Brecht from his Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera):

„Bankraub ist eine Unternehmung von Dilettanten. Wahre Profis gründen eine Bank.“

In the light of recent global events I thought it quite succinct given that this was written 85 years ago.

As I wanted to share it with my social network I looked for the proper, commonly accepted English translation online and discovered those two versions:

“It is easier to rob by setting up a bank than by holding up a bank clerk.”

“What is robbing a bank compared with founding a bank?”

Can you spot the differences?

I leave it for the readers of this blog to explore these versions more in depth but just some pointers:

  • The gist (bankers are criminals) remains in all three versions but what is unexplored in the English versions is that both bankers and bank robbers are considered “professionals” involved in a venture (“Unternehmung”).
  • The German version doesn’t mention anything about the apparent ease. The unstated implication focuses instead more on the larger return gathered from those two ventures.
  • Bank clerk? What bank clerk?

It is clear that if you really want to expand your horizon and learn about a country’s culture it is imperative to become familiar with its language. All too often nuances are lost in translation, never mind the fact the some works simply have never been translated.

Poetry still remains virtually untranslatable and one of these days I will need to pen a blog post about the subtleties in Rammstein lyrics.

For now though I’d encourage you to try and explore as much of German literary texts and quotes as you can given your current language skills. And if you’re sitting on the fence with taking up lessons, what’s holding you back? A whole new world is waiting to be discovered by you.

New Beginners Courses to start in Carrigaline Community School

German Courses in Carrigaline Community School

I will again be hosting a 10-week German Beginners course in the Carrigaline Community School (CCS) Monday evenings from September 26 on. More details can be found here. Enrollments will begin this Monday (August 29) and there is also a special Enrolment Night on September 14 between 7 – 8 p.m.

A minimum number of students (usually around 8 ) is required before the course can proceed so if you have interest please register in due time to make sure the course can go ahead.

If you have any questions about this course, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

Some of my favourite German words

The following are examples of some of my favourite German words. They prove how playfully you can use the language and how much fun you can have with it. You may not necessarily find these examples in your dictionary (or even taught in other courses) but they all make perfectly good sense and are used more or less frequently by native German speakers.

Jein

Could it be that I am indecisive?

Maybe, maybe not.

But I definitely love “Jein”, a mix of of “Ja” and “Nein” that means just that: “Yes and No”. It is often used when being confroted with a question that requires a Yes/No response but isn’t all that clear cut.

“Bist du ein Rod Stewart Fan?”
“Jein. Ich mag seine frühen Alben, aber hasse seine neuen Sachen.”

“Jein” does not mean “perhaps” (=vielleicht) but can best be translated with “yes, but….” or “no, but….”

In other words the closest thing the English language has for it is this:

Speaking ironically you can also answer a query “mit einem klaren und entschiedenen Jein!” (And they say Germans don’t have a sense of humour.)

Can’t say I know of any other language that created a word of its own for this kind of situation.

It’s a simple but handy word that is easy to remember, comes in useful but is rarely ever used by students of the German language.

I still remember the first time one of my students used it in a conversation with me. So proud……..

verschlimmbessern

Another artificial word similar to “jein”, this time combining the two words “verbessern” (to improve) and “schlimm” (bad). It is used to describe when someone intends to improve something (a service, a product) but by doing so actually makes it worse.

“Yahoo hat seinen Service mal wieder verschlimmbessert.”

jemanden schöntrinken

The previous words were playful but popular examples of original German words. This one on the other hand is a bit more obscure and not often used. In actual fact the first time I came across it was in discussion with an English German-language university tutor who made me aware of it.

I fell in love with it from then on in.

It means “to drink someone beautiful” and describes the phenomenon of seeing the beauty of one’s drinking partners enhanced with every drink one takes or “to put on your beer goggles”. Not that I ever needed to use that word but, yes, one can see how it can come in handy every once in a while.

Much more popular is another German construct that is used quite regularly: “etwas schönreden” i.e. to make an awful situation sound much better, in other words: to use a euphemism.

“Der Präsident hat die Situation mal wieder schöngeredet.”

What are some of your favourite German words or phrases?

Irish Leaving Certs (German) – Last minute points of focus

It is Irish Leaving Cert time. The German exams are due on Friday. Good luck to all of you attending.

Here are a last few areas to focus on, typical errors that often pop up and that can make a difference between one score and the other.

Prior to the exam:

Make sure you are familiar at least with the 500 most common German words.

During the exam:

Pay special attention to the following areas. Use the entire time available to you for your exam. If you’re finished before the time, review your answers and again focus especially on the following:

1.Capitalise all nouns!
2.Use the perfect (=past) tense when you describe events that happened in the past. This feels like stating the obvious but you’d be surprised how many times people use the present tense for describing the past.
3.You can, however, use the present tense to describe what you’ll do in the future. Im Sommer fahre ich in den Urlaub.
4.Remember the differences between als, wenn and wann. All translate as the English “when” but als is used for past events (Als ich 10 Jahre alt war, war ich in Spanien.); wenn for future or regularly occuring events (Immer wenn ich Durst habe, trinke ich Wasser. Wenn ich wieder in Cork bin, besuche ich meine Eltern.); wann is only ever used in questions (Wann kommst du?)
5.Remember the word order. Generally the subject in a main sentence comes first followed by the verb. Ich fahre morgen nach Dublin. If you put anything else in the front the verb still remains at second place: Morgen fahre ich nach Dublin. (Not: Morgen ich fahre nach Dublin.)
6.If you’re in loss for a word, don’t beat yourself up over it but try and come up with alternatives that may also describe it. Brand names can often come in handy! “Ich brauche Panadol.” if you happened to forget that “die Tablette” is German for “tablet”. It’s better to write something rather than nothing.
7.Re-read the German exam texts properly to make sure you have really understood them correctly.

If you’re stuck:

Don’t just sit there with your head looking at the ceiling. Write. Anything. At all. If you have to: Doodle. It is scientifically proven that the movement of your pen will likely stir memories as a lot of the time you learned the language by writing it down.

Yes, some of these tips feel like stating the bleeding obvious but they often make a huge difference for the overall exam score. So take them to heart. Trust me: You’ll be kicking yourself black and blue if you end up making any of those errors.

Good luck! And have a blast at the weekend.