Verwirrendes Deutsch #1

Where to go from here - Headless businessman with question markHave been pretty quiet on the blog front lately. Don’t ask… but am planning to change this soon. One of my students, Lia Konstantinova, gave me a proper kick up the behind about this and even decided to contribute to my site by writing the first part of a series of possible blog posts about issues that generally confuse German language learners.

So without further ado, here is Number One of “Verwirrendes Deutsch” (Confusing German)

 


Deutsch ist verwirrend! …Nicht wirklich #1

1. All alcoholic beverages are of male gender.
Except for beer – das Bier

der Wein
der Wodka
das Bier

Example:
Zuerst kommt der Wein, dann der Whiskey, danach der Wodka und dazu noch ein Bier… bääh…

2. Lernen vs. Studieren
Lernen – we learn something at school, while studieren – we learn something in the university.

Example:
Friedrich hat sehr gut in der Schule gelernt.
An der Uni dagegen hat er eher schlecht studiert.

3. Passen vs. Passieren
2 more verbs that are being mixed up quite often.
Passieren – to happen, while passento suit, to fit.

Example:
“So was ist mir noch nie passiert!” sagte Hilde
“Mein Lieblingskleid passt mir nicht mehr!”

4. Car brands
All car brands are of male gender in German.

Example:
Günter hat einen alten Opel. Dieter dagegen fährt einen neuen BMW.
Der Mercedes gehört Erich.

Benny Lewis: Fluent in 3 Months

Fluent in 3 MonthsBenny Lewis is a self-proclaimed failed language learner…. yet is now also a polyglot, having mastered a dozen or more languages in varying degrees.

It wasn’t, however, until his 20s that he figured out how to approach language learning. He failed miserably acquiring languages for the Irish leaving cert and couldn’t speak Spanish even after spending six months in the country.

It’s only when he changed his outlook towards learning Spanish that he made any progress.

He now runs the language hacking website Fluentin3months.com and is a digital nomad whose entire worldly possessions fit into a 50lb bag.

He is one of the few genuine Irish Internet success stories and one of the only Irish guys (if not THE only one) to be invited to a TedX Talk.

He has now consolidated his approach to language learning in a new book published by Collins, also boldly called Fluent in 3 Months and is currently doing an extensive book tour through the UK, Ireland and the US (as well as some other parts of the world) and I took this opportunity to attend the event in Waterstones in Cork where he first gave a little 15-minute presentation, then answered questions from the audience before moving on to the signing.

So…. Fluent in 3 months?

Seems like quite a promise, especially for people who may have struggled with languages before.

Is he selling snake oil?

Nope.

But the title does bear some explaining.

For starters he defines “fluency” as being able to express yourself in a social setting in a flowing style of talking without too many hesitations. In other words somewhere between B1 and B2 is where he would be aiming for.

He acknowledges that there are various other ideas of what constitutes fluency in a language and for the later stages C1/C2 he uses the term “mastery”.

On his site he had once mentioned that the 3 months part of his domain name is not a promise but a goal or a challenge and he is very keen on setting yourself precise targets and mini-missions and if 3 months may prove too short for your goals, then 4 months or 6 months could also do (or indeed just a week or two for smaller challenges).

In the book he emphasises that the 3-month goal is not achievable with just an hour per week here or there but does require full-time studying during that time frame (or at least two hours per day).

So with a minimum of 180 hours (but up to 720 hours if done “full time” properly), it’s safe to say that reaching levels around A2/B1 or slightly higher is indeed within the realm of the possible.

Benny quickly ditches a number of language learning myths. It has e.g. never been scientifically proven that children are indeed better geared towards language learning and there is at least one study that shows that adults are actually far better wired towards acquiring new languages. If kids have one advantage then it is the fact that they are surrounded by better “teachers”, i.e. parents who constantly encourage them and provide non-stop feedback. In other words: if there is a possible advantage, it is a question of nurture over nature.

His main point about acquiring new languages is to speak from Day 1. There really has never been a better time to learn a new language. If you don’t know anyone in your neighborhood who can help you speak, learn and communicate, then there are now scores of opportunities that can hook you up with language exchange partners and tutors online.

He keeps traditional academic approaches focusing on grammar to a later stage in his studies and also doesn’t bother much with reading or listening and film watching exercises at the early stages.

This is one of the few points where I may ever so slightly disagree with him. I love to surround myself with various media and foreign language input right from the start and am somewhat dubious whether it really is a good idea to keep everything grammar related to a later stage when it is more difficult to unlearn a number of bad habits but, hey, who am I do argue with someone who has clearly been more successful than me in acquiring a large number of languages? Plus, Benny openly admits that there is not one sure fire way in this regard and the important thing is just to set yourself precise missions and then find your own path to glory and see what methods work for you and which don’t.

All in all this is a fun and encouraging book, primarily aimed at people who have so far struggled with learning languages. Those who have already mastered one or more may not get all that much more out of it but even then one does find occasional nuggets: One suggestion he has for the mastery stages of language learning when a lot of the basics are already in your blood is not to find a tutor but a speech therapist or voice coach to help with the proper enunciation.

The book is kind of an offline summary of his online ideas and will likely introduce him to a new audience that may not yet be all that familiar with him. If you have already followed his website extensively, then a lot will of course already sound familiar.

Still, it’s great to have all his tips and tricks combined in one book.

(The book can be purchased from either Amazon US or Amazon UK.)

Mahlzeit! – Greeting rituals in German

mahlzeitHallo! Guten Morgen! Guten Tag! Guten Abend! Wie geht’s?

Tschüss! Auf Wiedersehen! Bis dann!

All very popular ways of saying “Hello!” and “Good-bye!” in German and probably some of the first few words you had encountered when learning the language.

But what about the likes of….

Mahlzeit!

Ever heard that one?

It is indeed another popular greeting you may occasionally come across.

It literally translates as “meal time” and still carries the general meaning of a dish or a meal.

Hmmm, das ist aber eine leckere Mahlzeit. Yummy, that is a nice meal.

Over the last couple of decades it has also become popular as a greeting when meeting colleagues, friends or family who are sitting down for lunch in a canteen or elsewhere. Kind of like saying “Guten Appetit!” when you are not actually a member of the group of diners and just happen to come across them.

Now it can, however, also be heard as a general informal “Hello!” all day long and is no longer necessarily connected to a meal. I was once working with a guy who used this as his general greeting first thing in the morning when entering the office. Not everyone says it and it’s a matter of personal preference but it is quite popular.

There’s one last additional meaning that the word can have and that is in the context of

Prost Mahlzeit!

This is an ironic term of frustration when a small disaster has just happened in your presence.

Someone drops and smashes some plates on the kitchen floor: Na, prost Mahlzeit!

You heard that you’re all made to do unpaid overtime: Prost Mahlzeit indeed

When someone comes over to a table with a group of people already seated around them, you may notice that they knock on the table while saying “Hallo!”, “Mahlzeit” or whatever greeting of their choice.

See, in Germany it is still customary to shake hands vigorously when meeting folks and parting from them. No problem, when you meet one or two people. A complete nuisance when you’re at a large event:

Get off from your chair, shake hands, say Hello and chat. Sit down.

Then get up again from your chair for the next person to come along, shake hands, say Hello and chat.

Wash, rinse, repeat until you’ve said Hi to everyone at which time the first people will start leaving which will require you to go through the same routine in reverse again to shake hands and say Goodbye.

So the cool kids on the block simply come over to a table with a group of people and say Hello while knocking on the table surface. Everyone can then breathe a sigh of relief knowing that hand shakes will not be required.

Depending on what part of Germany (or indeed Austria or Switzerland) you’re in, you may also come across a number of other regional greetings such as e.g.

Servus!

Grüss Gott!

Grüezi!

As these are dialectal variations it may end up sounding strange if you attempted them without really being strongly connected to that region.

Please be aware that some of those (e.g. “Servus”) can be used for saying both Hello and Goodbye, similar to the Italian Ciao!

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)

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.)

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.

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.