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
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…
There 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).