“Hey! You’re the girl that wrote that article!”
Memories of Latvia came flooding back and I braced myself for the cup – or chair – that was probably going to be aimed at my head.
“I really liked it! In fact, it’s the reason I’m here tonight.”
The article was one that I’d written for Berlin Logs about a really interesting free German workshop I’d taken with an organisation called “Language Transfer”. The “here” was the second workshop, which I was eager to attend after learning more in the previous four-hour workshop than I’d done in eight weeks of standard German lessons.
As a teacher myself, there were a couple of things that I found fascinating about this approach to learning a language:
1. We didn’t take any notes – at all.
2. The guy running it doesn’t actually know that much German. He’s only been in Berlin for around three months and is just learning himself.
But how, I hear you ask, can someone who doesn’t know the language teach it? And this is the interesting part for me too.
Basically, he’s learning right alongside you. Of course, he’s checked everything he’s saying with native German speakers, and he had a few in the room to show us how ‘real’ Germans would say things, but instead of being a drawback, it turns out it’s a huge advantage.
The course I took is specifically tailored for English speakers, not necessarily native English speakers, but you’d have to have a pretty good grasp of the language to get anything out of it. This, of course, makes perfect sense as speakers of any language will have different issues with any new language. For example, Germans have different issues with English to Latvians or Russians; Spanish speakers have very different issues to Japanese speakers. How can you teach them all English in the same way?
It’s the same with German, but everything you already know is probably useful in some way, and that was what this course was all about – making connections with your existing language and creating new pathways in your brain. It might all sound a bit cultish but bear with me…
First of all, quite a few verbs are pretty much the same in English and German:
bring – bringen
pack – packen
Some other verbs will just require a bit of a tweak, so you get:
think – denken
thank – danken
wash – waschen
book – buchen
For verbs that originate from the Latin languages – usually the longer, more formal verbs, sometimes you just add ‘-ieren’ to the English verb:
reserve – reservieren
organise – organisieren
Really, after listening to around half an hour of this, I was wondering why people make such a big deal out of learning German at all.
There are a lot of other patterns that are useful to know as well. For example, the English ‘th’ often becomes a German ‘d’:
thank – danke
The English ‘t’ often becomes a German ‘s’ or ‘ss’:
what – was
water – Wasser
And so many more. Naturally, this won’t work every time, but if you’re aware of these patterns, you have enough information to at least make a stab at forming a word – then, hopefully a kindly German will have a little chuckle at your efforts and gently correct you.
Being aware of the German you’re surrounded by every day is also incredibly helpful. Mihalis, the guy who runs Language Transfer, asked the group if anyone knew the German word for ‘next’. Nobody did. Until everyone realised that they did, as they’ve seen it on every train, bus and tram they’ve taken since they arrived in Germany.
Also, I doubt there’s a soul in Berlin who hasn’t visited a ‘Spätkauf’ at some point, yet nobody had taken the time to figure out what the words actually mean – ‘Spät-kauf’ = ‘late-buy’, basically an all-night shop that’s very useful when you run out of wine at 1am.
I won’t give away too much more but in case you’re wondering where I got the title to this post from, I’ve discovered that when attempting to speak German, it’s rather useful to speak like Yoda. The word order in German sentences is quite different to English so it’s like a little puzzle every time you have to put one together.
In English, we might say, “I can’t stay here long now”. In German, you would say, “I can now not long here stay”. German sentences generally follow the order of ‘when, how, where’, enclosed in a verb sandwich, so:
verb – can
when – now
how – not long
where – here
verb – stay
But it’s given me far more of an understanding of the language than any other method I’ve tried so far. There’s an intensive course coming up at the beginning of April, and I’m definitely going to be taking it. Now, try that sentence out in your best Yoda voice…
For more information on Language Transfer, click here.