Thursday, June 6, 2013

The German Language Curse

Guess what? I have some interesting news. Wanna know? I've actually been working on my German. Like really studying and quizzing myself. I made number flash cards and practice randomly pulling them out and saying them so I can converse (somewhat) with cashiers in stores. Friends, let me tell you it will be a magical day in Germany when I can tell how much my total is in a store without having to sneak a peek at the cash register total display. It hasn't been easy for me. Read about how I was Learning German And Sucking At It earlier.

You might be saying, "Wow. She must really be tired of not understanding people or not being understood." 

You would be wrong.

I have become quite comfortable in my bubble here in Germany. I drive along on streets and my kids ask "Hey Mom, what does that street sign say?"

"I don't know."

"Mom, what does that warning message say on that flashing billboard?"

"I don't know." And I'll let you in on a little secret. I kinda don't care.

You get to a point when you live in a foreign country where if you see something and it's not in English, or you don't recognize the foreign words, you start to think it must really not be that important, because the whole world knows that important stuff is always in English. Right? RIGHT?

So why I am I bothering to learn this crazy and difficult language? Because my family is visiting at the end of this summer and I want to look oh so cool and sophisticated and European when they come. That's right. I am learning German to impress my friends and family. Not to make my life easier. My husband already is fluent and I always have him at my disposal. I am learning just for appearances. If my life gets easier then that is just icing on the cake. But where to start?

Learn German

I started in my German In 10 Minutes A Day book. Pretty close to the front they had a whole restaurant section that deals with place settings and food. The book comes complete with stickers to stick on things around the house. Der Löffel, die Gabel, das Messer. Spoon, fork, knife. Check, check, and check.

Learn German

We went to a restaurant last week and I was so happy that I understood the waiter when he asked if he could take our plates. Actually, I didn't fully understand him. I got the 'your' and 'plate' but I didn't really know what he wanted to do with them. Since we had a full table of empty plates I could only assume it was to take them so I answered "Ja." Success!

Learn German

I started branching out into foods and appliances. My German was growing at an exponential rate! (Insert sarcastic voice.)

I hit a stumbling block when I reached the conjugating of verbs. Conjugating wasn't the hard part. It was pronouncing the conjugating. Especially the word möchte as in "Ich möchte..." or "I would like." Here is a sampling of my husband trying to teach me how to say this.

Me - "Itch mocha."
Him - "No. Ichhhh (emphasis on throat clearing) möchte."
Me as I feel like I am hocking spit on the floor - "Ichhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh mocha."
Him - "Better Ich, but your möchte sucks."

Normally in this kind of exchange I would sulk or something. But I really wanted to be able to order at restaurants by myself (in front of my family of course) so I kept trying.

Me - "Ichhhhhhhh morchta."
Him - "No. Make your O more of an ew sound."
Me - "Ich mewta."
Him - "No. More of the sound ewr make together. Think ew-rah. Ew-rah. But say them fast. Ewrah."
Me - "Okay. Ewrah. Ich mewrahta."
Him - "Still no."
Me - "Ah... forget this crap."

Learn German

I went back to my stickers. I can say das Badezimmer (the bathroom) perfectly. How you like me now?

Learn German

I also worked on weather. Maybe someday I will be able to make small talk with some random German person. And what do you chat about in small talk? The weather, of course. Right now all I've got is if a German just happened to walk up to me and ask "Wie es das wetter heute?" or "How is the weather today?" I would be able to give a one word answer. Sonnig oder windig oder kalt. The possibilities for small talk are endless! (Insert sarcasm.)

All kidding aside, I really am studying. I try to go into stores and shops and speak only German. I call Matt up right before I go in and rehearse my pronunciation. I've even taken notes and kept them in my wallet for quick reference if I panic. I do pretty good 50% of the time. What about that other 50%? That other 50% is where I have done so good on my pronunciation that the person I am speaking with thinks I can fluently speak German (I can't) and starts rattling things off left and right. This leaves me with three scenarios I usually follow.

Scenario nummer eins - 
The German person says or asks me something and I get scared to death because I have no freaking idea what they just said so I stand there, eyes wide and round, mouth slightly opening and closing. I stand there for longer than would be considered a comfortable silence until they figure out I have no idea what I'm doing and they switch into English. I leave the store thinking that I will never speak German again. Or at least until tomorrow.

Scenario nummer zwei - 
The German person says or asks me something and to save us both the uncomfortable silence described above, I just answer "Ich spreche kein Deutsch,"  or, "I don't speak any German," right after I spoke German to them. Much easier.

Scenario nummer drei - 
The German person says or asks me something that I don't understand so I just answer "Ja." No matter what it is. They could be asking me would I like them to shave my head and dress me in a clown suit and I would answer "Ja." Thinking 'Hey, that sounds great!'

So that's my curse. The curse of knowing SOME German. My life was actually easier when I knew NO German. Knowing only SOME German made me feel more capable than knowing NO German, but it has actually made things more difficult. So either I need to go all the way with this German thing, or forget the whole stinkin' mess.

Here is a quick example. I ventured to a craft store to buy glue sticks for my kids. Found the ones I wanted and went to the cashier. Vaguely understood the total she gave me (checked the screen just in case) and paid her. Then she asked me in German if I had a bag. Germany is one of those places where most people bring their own shopping bags. I thought she asked me if I wanted a bag so I answered "Ja." And I just stood there, waiting for her to hand me a bag. She thought I told her I had one so she stood there waiting for me to give her one to place my glue sticks in. This happened three more times before I almost started crying and saying, "I don't know what you're saying. I just want my glue sticks. Please..." 

Sometimes I just save myself all the drama and when I go somewhere instead of the German "Hallo," that you greet people with, I say "He-e-ello." Emphasis on that soft e. I raise my English speaking flag right from the beginning.



Have you learned a foreign language? What helped you? What tricks and tips do you have? Do you have a funny story to share? Let me know!


  1. Umm *whispers* It should be "wie ist das Wetter Heute?" Es means it. Please don't hate me for being a know-it-all ;-)

    I'll tell you a secret... I have a degree in German and have been living here for over 6 years, and sometimes I STILL have to sneakily look at the cash register to see how much I'm supposed to pay. There are days where the whole wrong-way-round numbers thing just confuses my brain...

    If you say "heeheehee" in a Mutley kind of voice, the ch in "ich" is kind of like the sound he makes at the beginning of each "hee". That's how I managed to learn to pronounce it, but it's reeeeally hard to explain in writing. And the "ch" in Auch is pronounced exactly the same way as a Scottish person would pronounce it in the word "Loch"... not sure how much Scottish you've heard though.

    1. Never never never! I love when people actually try to help me out. I am so totally new to this thing, so thank you! And I think I just found my new German tutor! ;-)

  2. I love this! When I learned Spanish to go to Mexico I only learned the nouns and it turned into "me want manzana" or "me want agua". It was so funny!

    1. That is funny! Thanks for the read.

  3. The 'ch' in 'ich' and 'möchte' is the same as the initial sound in American (not so much British) 'huge'.

    1. It would seem everyone knows how to pronounce it but me. Thanks for the tip! I will take all I can get.

  4. Cute post! I think you are doing great!

  5. Bwahhahahahahahah I can't wait now to come and see how sophisticated you are in your travels and your fancy new language. I actually don't think I've ever heard Matt even say one word in German. I will look forward to listening to you both with a deer caught in the headlights look from me because I will have no idea what you are saying!


  6. Hey there!
    At the first I need to tell you, I'm a German so sorry for my bad english.
    And at the second I want to answer your question: Yes I've learned a foreign language, to be honest, I learned three. English, French and a bit of Japanese. And French was the hardest of them. I had it at school and it's kind of the same sh... as German, just change der, die, das with le and la because they don't have a neutrum. But here's my advice: Don't give up, watch LOADS of german TV even if you can't understand a word (you get more used to the pronounciation as well as you can learn some phrases, as example at the supermarket the "Möchten sie eine Tasche?" (Do you want a bag?)) and take a look at Volkshochschulen, they're usually offering some courses for Foreign German Learning and Speaing at a moderate price. The courses take place at different times, usually in the evening.

    Hope I could help you!

    P.S.: I had some problems learning to as a kid, it was a little bit awkward because I had problems with the german "r" and my name contains one of them *blush*

  7. And then you get into the Pfalz area, just west of you, and people are saying "ich" as 'ish" and zwanzig as "zwansish." Makes me a bit nuts! All of my non-German friends who speak German around here say it as "ish" but I prefer to *try* to speak Hochdeutsch so I don't want to go down the "ish" route, even though it's so much easier.


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