Lost in Translation


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My family and I are seriously considering visiting Germany for our summer holiday this year. I have never been but have long wanted to go since taking German for GCSE at school. The family with whom our daughter lived with last year for her German exchange trip have very kindly invited us to stay. So we plan to pop in on them whilst visiting other interesting parts of the country; Berlin, The romantic Rhine, Cologne, the castles of Bavaria etc. But my German is rusty. Very rusty. So I thought, it’s time to brush up on my language skills.

The beauty of living in this era is that I don’t need to join a boring evening language class. You can just download an app on your phone or tablet and learn for free in the comfort of your own home. And that is exactly what I have done. I thought, what with the training I’d had in my teens, I’d have a bit of a head start (I failed my GCSE – I got a D, but we won’t talk about that); I couldn’t have been more wrong about the head start. However, I must have realised this because I chose to start at the beginner’s level – and that is precisely where I belong.

I always imagine learning a language will be easier than it turns out to be. What I expect is that every English word has it’s equivalent in the chosen language. And I, in turn, learn each of those words and become fluent in chosen language. Hoorah! But the problem lies in that most other languages like to have more than one word for the one English word you are trying to find it’s German equal. For example:-

The = Der, Die or Das (and sometimes even Den)

A = Ein, Eine or Einen

You = Du, Ihr or Sie

Are = Sind, Seid or Bist

Have = Habe, Haben or Hast

or adversely:-

Sie = She or They or You

Well that’s just wonderful. As you probably know (being the smart readers you are), these variations are either gender-specific, plural/singular or dependant on the person you are talking to (somebody in authority or a friend etc). Or something. But you see, I can’t remember which one is which! I know what you’re thinking, the English language is probably difficult to learn for a foreigner too. We have odd words that sound absolutely nothing like the way in which they are spelt. For instance, choir ought to be pronounced quire but looks like…well, choir. Or Subtle should be pronounced suttle but there’s that stupid ‘b’ in it. Not to mention some of our place names. Many a foreigner (even English speaking ones) struggle with places like Leicestershire or Worcestershire or Edinburgh. But you could quite easily travel around England and never feel yourself in need of saying. ‘I would like to go see that subtle choir in Worcestershire’. Whereas I need to be able to say ‘the’ and ‘you’ a fair bit and there’s a high probability that I’m going to look like a right bloody idiot in Germany!

The app I am using is called Duolingo and I have to say it’s fairly good, but on occasion you have to speak into the phone and repeat the German phrase you see and hear on the screen. I consider myself a pretty good mimic so I impersonate the teacher using the phrase for, ‘I am sorry’. This in German is, ‘Es tut mir leid’. I must have cited those words aloud ten times but I am repeatedly told I’ve said it incorrectly. Well I’m sorry you hard-of-hearing old hag from Duolingo, but I said it exactly the way you did! And what’s more, why does ‘Es tut mir leid’ even mean ‘I’m sorry’anyway, when the German for ‘I’ is ‘Ich’, ‘am’ is ‘bin’ and ‘sorry’ is ‘entschuldigung’??!! Arrrrgghhhh!!!! 

On the plus side, Duolingo assures me that I am now 4% fluent in German. Woohoo! Only another 96% to go! The app even suggested I share this joyous news with LinkedIn. Yes, that’s right – the business-oriented social network. Because I’m sure there is a huge calling for healthcare professionals who occasionally write books or sarcastic blogs but are also 4% fluent in German. I hasten to add I am not going to be sharing this information with LinkedIn. All I want is to understand and to be understood. But the app, like all language-teaching tools, also tends to want to teach me things I am very unlikely to need to be able to say in conversation. Things like (I kid you not), ‘the child eats insects’. Handy. I can see that coming up on a daily basis…

img_3239There is also this small voice in the back of my mind that keeps reminding me that German isn’t the only language I’d like to learn. I’ve been telling myself for years that I ought to learn Spanish as so many of the world’s population speak it. But I fear there is only so much room left in my minuscule brain. Yes, there are people in the world who are fluent in multiple languages but they’re just irritating show-offs and are not worthy of mention in this blog. And I think we can all agree on that. I may only have the brain capacity for Deutsch (you see? Fluent. [4%]). If I ever make it big, I will have to only go on book-signing tours in English speaking countries, or German speaking ones (that’s Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein, right?). So I’m all set, really.

Seriously though, to my German readers, I am not casting aspersions on your beautiful language, I’m just mad at my teeny-tiny brain for not allowing me to grasp your language as easily as I’d like. But I won’t give up. You might see me in your fair country this summer conversing like a pro. Or at least inadequately scraping by with my God-awful pigeon-German. But I am determined to give it a try. And if I’ve said anything above that you don’t feel is relevant for me to learn as it isn’t widely used in day-to-day German conversation, please let me know. I will gladly erase it from my memory. It won’t be hard. Bis bald!

(Look it up).


NB: I’m certain there are people out there who will be cringing at my use of the German language above, muttering, ‘she’s used the masculine accusative when she ought to have gone for the neutral or pleural bler-bler-bler-bler-bler-bler-bler-bler…’ (I’ve already gone).

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23 thoughts on “Lost in Translation

  1. lizzie Loughlin is anom dom…
    ” What is she on about?” I hear you mourn Adele. Well let me first congratulate you on embarking on this task, I just know you’ll nail it!
    I used to be fluent in Irish as a school girl, now while we didnt speak a word of it in my part of the country in everyday going about, English being our first language, I LOVED it! I even went to summer school in the west where its their first language. Tragically I can now only remember little bits and pieces, and its a big regret that I couldnt have kept it up (not much need for it in London ) and sadly now my schrivelled up excuse for a brain doesnt have the energy to dig deep and resurrect it!
    Oh btw that first bit means “My name is Lizzie Loughlin”
    Slan go foill mo cairde (bye for now friend)
    😄

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The cartoon boy should been saying “Du bist ein idiot, ja?”, surely. I know – don’t call you Shirley.
    I fondly remember, when we were kids, your joke German. Oh, and before I forget, what happened to having to say something about ‘Vatima Vitbred’ in every sentence?
    Sorry if I sound too much like the learning support teacher I am here but a D at GCSE isn’t a fail but a low-ish pass.
    Don’t remember if I ever told you but on my first German twinning trip, as a child – I know, I was the only one in the family that got to go and not just once – I was so fearful that first night that family Manker had only invited me to stay in the basement of their home because they had plans to fatten me up (I was much too scrawny and skinny for their liking – how could I ever feed the whole family and Timo their dog? They even took to giving me daily vials of yellow medicine to take out with me and consume with lunch), I couldn’t sleep and instead read the German – English dictionary from cover to cover.
    Years later I was having a conversation with members of another German host family, who congratulated me on my knowledge of words but said we English would always struggle with German because we hadn’t been taught our own grammar properly. How could we ever understand grammar constructs of other languages, if we didn’t understand our own properly?
    Best way to learn conversational German, I say, is just get out there and immerse yourself in it. However, most Germans, of our generation, have fantastic English. They are taught languages much better than we and from much much earlier in childhood. I’d love to come with you. I haven’t been back since before the wall came down. I’d love to see how it has changed.
    Oh, and by the way, entschuldigung means excuse – sorry.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love Duolingo. I’m using it, myself, to learn Italian, brush up on my German and French and I’m sure I’ll use it for other languages eventually.
    The fun part, for me, is looking at words and seeing where we’ve used them as roots for our own English words. Or seeing how similar they can be. Although I think that, in addition to Der, Die, and Das, German should incorporate D’oh. Just to make it more fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ha ha ha! Very funny! This was entertaining, but of course, sie immer sind!

    Yeah…I cheated and used Google Translate for that last phrase. I have Duolingo too (also possessing a keen interest in improving my foreign linguistic skills), but haven’t gotten around to clearing the next five years to learning German yet. Any day now though…right after I become an expert in Swahili, Portuguese, and of course Chinese.

    I wish you best in Germany, Adele. Sincerely. Not onlywith being able to successfully ask locals, “How do I find the way to the nearest loo? This beer is making me dizzy….” But also with just having fun traipsing about. Like you, I’ve never been, but I’ve heard Germany’s a great country to see – at least parts of it I’m sure.

    Bis bald!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. We were discussing countries to visit yesterday and Germany actually came up – I’d love to do Oktoberfest 🙂

    Hope the learning goes well, and it’s of use. When we went to Paris I found that they really appreciated us making an effort to use a bit of French, but last year when we did Norway everyone just seemed to expect us to use English and the bit of Norwegian we learned seemed to be, to be honest, a bit wasted.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Mike, yes I guess it’s like that in some places. From what I understand from my daughter though, we are likely to need a few skills here! My daughter is GCSE level and my 9 year old is practicing too – so we’ll muddle through! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Another cracker Adele. I especially loved the LinkedIn bit too.
    I’ve been in Austria for 12 years now… still can’t speak German (typische Engländer.) I only the know the important stuff like, “zwei Bier bitte” und “zahlen bitte.”
    It is hard for us at our ages to pick up a new language. Whereas my two sons are fluent in both of course. Kid’s brains are so much better for learning languages. But it does make you look back at our language and see how it can be difficult too. They often struggle with “th”, since there’s no equivalent. That’s why you get, “zank you” from them. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmOTpIVxji8

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Jack, my 9 year old is learning too and fairing much better. They’re like little sponges, aren’t they? As the lessons go on, the more I’m struggling. But you’re right, as long as I’ve got ‘bier’ down pat, I’ll be fine!!

      Like

  7. Awesome read Adele! And no, don’t give up! I learned a few things reading this article in regards to the German language, and I’m actually excited to give Duolingo a try despite it’s shortcomings. That way I might accomplish my life long dream of becoming 4% fluent in Russian!

    Liked by 1 person

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