A company that I teach at has recently moved offices. Unfortunately, their new conference room is a bit like a fishbowl, surrounded by around 50 other people who waste no time in gawking in at my highly entertaining lessons whenever they happen by. While I have no problems with having an audience, my Germans (believe it or not) are a little on the shy side.
As a result, they’ve decided to have their lessons in one of their offices. This would be fine but for the fact that desks, shelving units and files take up most of the space. Being the short-arse that I am, I also can’t see my students’ faces over their computer monitors. In short (ha ha), it’s not ideal but I persevere.
On Friday morning, the usual dance of manoeuvering chairs around the desks and wheeling extra chairs in from another office began.
Me: Jesus, it’s like musical chairs in here.
Bertha: What is “musical chairs”?
Me: Oh, you know that game that kids play. If there are six kids, there are five chairs. When the music stops, they have to stomp on each other to get a seat.
Bertha: Oh! Yes, Germans play that, too!
Me: What’s it called in German?
Betlinde: Stuhltanz (chair dance).
Bertha and Bertilda: NEIN! It’s “Reise nach Jerusalem”.
Me: What? Journey to Jerusalem?
Me: But why? What does Jerusalem have to do with anything?
Bertilda: I know not.
Me: Don’t know.
Bertha: Maybe they have not enough chairs in Jerusalem?
Me: Don’t have. Hmm, it seems unlikely. Jerusalem has been in the news quite a bit recently but I don’t think I’ve seen any mention of a shortage of chairs…
Curiosity sufficiently aroused, I did a Google search when I got home. It turns out that nobody really knows where the name “Journey to Jerusalem” originated but there are a few educated guesses. It could date back to the mass migration to Jerusalem during the Crusades when space on the ships was limited. It could also refer to a military manual from Byzantine times when (yawn) Emperor Maurikios devised a method to (yaaaawn) identify enemy spies…
Curiosity sufficiently dampened, I was about to close the window when things got interesting again. Seemingly, “Stuhltanz” is the East German term, and “Reise nach Jerusalem” is what the West Germans call it. They also call it “Journey to Jerusalem” in the Philippines, probably because the Philippines are so similar to Germany in every possible way…
I’m not sure how accurate the following translations are (I found them on a website called grandparents.com) but they tickled me so here you go – a short list of what “musical chairs” is called in other languages:
Japanese:”Isu tori game”(The game of stolen chairs)
Romanian: “Pǎsǎricǎ mutǎ-ţi cuibul” (Birdie, move your nest)
Swedish: “Hela havet stormar” (The whole sea is storming)
And my personal favourite:
Russian: “Скучно так сидеть” (It’s boring sitting like this)
If anyone has any more to add to the list, I’d love to hear them. My thirst for largely useless information really does know no bounds!
If you thought you were finally getting your head around the German language, I’m sorry to disappoint you – you now have 5,000 new words to remember.
Yes, the Germans, in their infinite wisdom, have added 5,000 words to the Duden, the official dictionary of the German language, first published in 1880 by Konrad Duden. Back then, there were only 27,000 lovely entries you had to remember. Fast forward to 2017, my intrepid language learners, and you will have to get your head around 145,000 of the tricky “little” blighters. Or I guess you could just go around shouting “DOCH!” at people all the time instead, something I’m considering doing.
For anyone still convinced that the Germans are all about simplifying processes for the sake of efficiency, the Duden is now in its 27th edition, comes in at a whopping 1,264 pages and is published in 12 volumes, which include Die Deutsche Rechtschreibung – The German Spelling Dictionary, Die Grammatik – Grammar, and Das Synonymwörterbuch – Synonym Dictionary. Yes, it’s simple alright – simple German-style.
However, for native English speakers, the news isn’t all bad as a lot of the new words come from the English-speaking world. Consider, if you will, some new German verbs – facebooken, taggen, tindern and liken (to “like” or “heart” something on Facebook). What gives me some comfort, and amusement, is that Germans are just as likely to be confused by the changes as foreigners.
Jochem: So, what did you get up to last night?
Jochen: Oh, you know, not much. I facebookt for a while. Wait, facebookt? Facegebookt? Gefacebookt?
Duden.de reliably informs me that the correct form is “gefacebookt”, which sounds more like a horrible condition than a fun way to spend an evening. They also, helpfully, give a few examples of how to use this new horror-verb:
es wurde die ganze Nacht gefacebookt
sie facebookt und twittert über das Leben in Japan
In a weird way, this actually makes life easier as you no longer have to worry about pesky prepositions. Am I bei Facebook? Auf Facebook? Who cares!? Now you can just say, “ich facebooke” – genius.
German spelling also just got easier with the disposal of, well, the German spelling of certain words. “Majonäse,” “Ketschup” and “Anschovis” are now simply mayonnaise, ketchup and anchovies.
Laptop, Selfie, Tablet, Emoji and Hashtag have all made the cut – a sad day for fans of the word “Klapprechner”. The official German word for Brexit is… Brexit. Post-truth is post-faktisch, cyber war is Cyberkrieg. It’s all starting to sound a bit Denglish, right?
Still, some German German words are also in. Here are a few of my favourites:
Kopfkino – (literally “head cinema”) meaning to daydream.
Die Wutbürgerin – An angry female citizen. The male version, der Wutbürger, had already been added but I guess now women can officially be angry citizens too.
rumeiern – (literally “to egg about”) meaning to amble aimlessly around and not really get anything done
ick – how Berliners pronounce “ich” (I). I have, in the past, been lectured for saying “ick” but now it’s official; ick can ick away to my heart’s content.
So, what do you think? Likst du the new additions or do they make you want to be a Wutbürger(in). Ick just can’t decide…
Eight Hungarian men have moved into my apartment block. Thankfully, the only hot one moved into the apartment opposite mine. He has a propensity for walking around half-naked which I find pleasing. We have mildly flirtatious conversations that I can barely understand as he only speaks Hungariman. They don’t seem to go to bars but, instead, enjoy knacker-drinking on the roof of the parking garage which is just below my balcony. I feel like a bit like Juliet some nights, if Juliet had had eight Hungarian Romeos, that is.
On one such occasion, they offered me some Hungarian moonshine. (If you want to know what that tastes like, go and swig some petrol.) We all ended up at a party in one of their flats and I immediately impressed with my one word of Hungarian – “egészségedre!” Where I could have picked up the word for “cheers!” in Hungarian (and around 15 other languages) is a mystery…
Anyway, on Sunday, I decided that a major blitz of my flat was necessary. I had amassed enough paper over the last year and a half to start my own recycling plant. Five sacks of paper and general rubbish (separated, of course) sat in the hall and I proceeded to lug them down to the bins one by one. On my fourth trip, I bumped into the Hungarian who acts as an interpreter for the rest of them. He looks a bit like Chris Evans, unfortunately not the hot Hollywood one.
He also likes wearing socks and sandals.
He kindly unlocked the front door for me and I trudged back upstairs. I was hoping he’d have finished his cigarette by the time I went back down with bag number five but no, he was still there.
András: Wow, so much rubbish.
Me: Ja, heute ist Putztag.
Luckily, he hadn’t seen me schlepping down with the first three bags. He opened the door for me again and then paused on the steps.
András: Em, Linda, can I ask you something?
Me: Sure, (whatever your name is).
András: I’m looking for someone to practise my German with and I was wondering if you’d be interested.
Me: I’m not sure I’m the right person for that job. I’m pretty sure your German is better than mine. (Educating someone on the art of the Sitzpinkel does not make you an expert on the German language; it merely means that you have a rather unhealthy fascination with the peeing habits of German men and like talking about it when you’ve been drinking Hungarian moonshine.)
András: (peering at me intensely through his black-rimmed glasses) I’d like to try though. I can cook dinner for us. Monday?
Me: Erm, no, I can’t tomorrow. I have a pub quiz.
Me: Erm, erm… Maybe. I have a late lesson though so… we’ll see. Maybe. Byeeeeeee!
On Tuesday, I arrived home, put on my slippers, spooned some beans into a saucepan and started up my laptop. I hadn’t even had time to enter the password when there was a ring at the bell. Scheiße.
Me: Oh. Hi.
András: Are you coming?
Me: Well, I’m really tired and I’ve just got in the door. (He lives directly under me so he had obviously heard me coming home.) Would you mind if we left it for another night?
His face fell. More.
András: But I’ve already cooked.
András: It’s 20 minutes out of your life and I’ve already prepared everything.
Me: (Sigh.) OK, then.
I then flopped around the flat, sighing loudly, sulkily taking off my slippers again and angrily bunging my poor beans into the fridge. I gave the bottle of wine in there a last wistful glance and walked wearily downstairs.
When I stepped into the living room, I was comforted to see that András had his laptop on and was currently browsing a website full of terrifying-looking knives.
Me: Em, what’s that?
András: Oh, it’s a hobby of mine. I make knives.
Me: … Cool?
He then opened a cupboard and proceeded to show me his collection. Just in case I wasn’t convinced by the glinting blades, he then shaved a chunk of hair off his arm to demonstrate how sharp they were. Tufts of ginger hair floated lazily to the floor.
Me: (Hmm, I wonder if I should throw myself through the window or try to make an attempt for the door…) Um, wow, impressive. Oh, is that a photo of your family?
Immediate crisis averted, we sat down to eat. To be fair, he had gone to quite a bit of effort. He’d even bought wine. I tucked into the goulash while making what I felt were appropriately appreciative noises. We chatted a bit about his family in Hungary, his work here and the joys of learning German. He pulled out the book he was using. It was quite possibly the most boring book I’d ever seen.
András: I’m using this book.
Me: (Say something positive, say something positive) Bah hahaha! That’s probably the worst book I’ve ever seen! It’s just table after table of conjugated verbs! It’s so dry!
András: (Peering at me over his goulash) You think your books are better than my books?
Me: (Say no, say no) Yes, for sure. They have pictures and dialogues and useful everyday German. I can lend you a couple if you like?
I polished off my goulash and got ready to make good my escape.
András: I’ll get the main course.
He set down a plate of grilled chicken and a pot of vegetables. I refilled my glass.
Me: Mmm, this is really good, thanks.
András: You know, I don’t want to be… wait, I don’t know the word.
He started typing the Hungarian word into the translator app on his phone. The German word appeared letter by letter:
Me: (Gulp) Violent? You don’t want to be violent?
Me: And are you?
András: I don’t want to be. But when you said you didn’t want to come tonight after I’d prepared everything…
At that moment, I knew exactly how Julia Roberts had felt in “Sleeping with the Enemy”. Door it was.
Me: Well, that was delicious but I really must be going now. Thank you for dinner!
András: Next Tuesday?
I scarpered back upstairs and gave Manfredas the abridged version over Messenger.
Manfredas: Double lock your door.
Manfredas: And your balcony door.
Me: Also done. I mean, he has a wife and kids, but then, so did Fred West.
The real tragedy of the story is that I never did get around to eating the beans.
In German, you can add the word “Sau” (sow) to quite a lot of other words to add some porky emphasis to your point. So, for example, “saukalt” (pigging cold), “saublöd” (pigging stupid), or “saugeil” (frigging great) are all possible.
In my efforts to amaze and impress my students, I like to bust out a few German expressions every now and then. This is normally met with reactions like, “AWWWWW!” and “Aww, so süß!” (Aww, how sweet!), but I persevere anyway.
So I was at a lesson, one rainy afternoon…
Me:Ugh, das ist wirklich ein Sauwetter. (Ugh, this weather is really shite.)
Gudrun: Ja. Hey, what’s “Sau” in English?
Gudrun: Sow – Sau. Huh, maybe that’s where the English word for “sausage” comes from?
Me: Ha ha! (Hmm, I wonder…)
Linda-brain in overdrive is a dangerous thing and, really, something that should be prevented from happening with any sort of regularity. But, on this occasion, there was no stopping me. My brain hit the ground running – there’s a nice image for you – and, by that evening, I was ready to share my profound new theories with my unfortunate German friend. I installed myself on the sofa and prepared to make linguistic history.
Me: So, I’ve been thinking…
Long-suffering friend: Oh no.
Me: You know the English word “sausage”?
Me: OK, and you know the German word “Sau” and the verb “sagen” (to say)?
LSF: I’m German.
Me: Yes, yes, but listen. What if “sausage” comes from those two German words?
LSF: Go on…
Me: I mean, maybe, back in the day, in a village called BAD Wurstemburg or something, there was a local guy who used to sell pigs at the market? He’d have called out descriptions of the pigs and “Get your pigs, five for fifty!” or something, making him…
Me: The Pig Sayer! Sausager!
Me: Or, OR, maybe in BAD Wurstemburg, or wherever, the pigs developed kind of an attitude problem and the locals found it hard to deal with them.
LSF: (Pours another glass of wine)
Me: (Singing) Who they gonna call? THE PIG SAYER!
LSF: (Downs said glass of wine)
Me: You know, he’d have been like Robert Redford with the horse-whispering, except in Lederhosen – and with pigs, obviously. Whenever someone had an uppity pig on their hands, they’d send for Sieghard the Sausager.
Me: But “sausager” was a bit too cumbersome for native English speakers to get their poor little tongues around so they shortened it to “sausage”! Ta-dah!
LSF: Is any of that true?
Me: I have no idea. Let me check.
Of course, it turned out that I was talking absolute nonsense. The word “sausage” actually comes from the old Northern French word, “saussiche”. How dull. Anyway, it’s all sausage to me. I live to drivel another day. My apologies to any Germans who make my acquaintance.
Having been told, on more than one occasion, that I have a flair for the dramatic – it wasn’t meant as a compliment – this week, I decided to put this theory to the test and try out “German with Theatre Games”.
The lesson was to take place at 77 Kastanienallee, which is right at the opposite end of the city. I left myself plenty of time (as usual), found 75, walked past 77, which is a cinema, and hit 79. Huh. Guess it must be down that dark alley somewhere. So I trotted through the darkness until I came to a courtyard. Nope, nothing to see here. So I headed through the second dark alley until I came to the second dark courtyard.
I followed the signs to the third floor and pushed at the door. Locked. I had managed to arrive before the teacher even got there. I stood for a couple of minutes admiring what I hoped was my artistically mysterious, all-black clothing, shoving at the door every now and then.
The teacher showed up right on time, but I wasn’t allowed in until I had removed my boots. Crap. This was about the time “artistically mysterious” went awry.
When I walked in, Traudl the Teacher had also removed her socks. Great. A hippy. And I hate feet. Still, I tried to make polite conversation for a few minutes until, finally, Claudio showed up. With two people, we could get started. The theme of the “lesson” was drinks and restaurants, something I felt I could get on board with.
But first, we had to move “freestyle” around the room to music, which, as I’m sure you can imagine, is one of my all-time favourite activities…
I chose to shuffle around glaring accusingly at my non-mysterious pink socks. As the room was roughly the same temperature as the streets (0 Celsius), this activity was probably more for survival purposes than anything else.
Next Traudl put a “Ja” card in one corner, and a “NEIN” card in another. We had to ask each other questions to get to know each other a bit.
Me: Können sie singen? (Can you sing?)
Traudl: No, no, there’s no “sie” in this space, only “du”. (The informal “you” in German.)
Me: OK, but I’m asking two of you so then it would be the plural, “ihr”. “Du” doesn’t make any sense.
Traudl: Please use “du” in this space.
We threw a massive workout ball around for a bit with me trying not to aim for Traudl’s head. Two more girls had shown up in the meantime.
Next up was a “game” where we had to pretend to be something else. Traudl showed off her acting skills by pretending to be a worm and lying on the floor, wriggling. I wondered why she wasn’t in Hollywood. Claudio ran over and pretended to be a bird and another girl became a tree. The bird took the worm and it was game over. Seemingly we were practising our article forms. This continued for some time and, while I’m not sure it helped my articles much, I’m pretty sure I could be a convincing worm now…
Traudl gathered us all into a circle and it was time to shout, “JA, NEIN AND DOCH”, with various hand gestures, at each other. After a while, these three words were replaced with DIE heiße Schokolade, DER frischgepresste Orangensaft, and DAS alkoholfreie Getränk. The shouting and gesturing continued for a further ten minutes or so. Admittedly, I’ll never forget the articles that go with these drinks, but can this really be counted as learning the language in any sort of meaningful way?
After what seemed like an eternity, we were put into groups of three (two more people had shown up 30 and 40 minutes late) and instructed to write a drinks menu. After a while, Traudl bare-footedly bounced over to inspect ours.
Traudl: But wait, what’s this?
Traudl: Oh no, that’s not a thing. You mean light beer.
Me: No. I don’t.
Traudl: (Scribbling out my word)
Me: No, obviously you have light beer and dark beer but Weißbier is something different.
Traudl: No, no, you mean light beer.
Me: Sure. And “DU” can kiss my white Irish Arsch.
It wasn’t like I needed much convincing at this point, but seriously, what can I possibly learn from a GERMAN who knows nothing about BEER? She’d also never heard of Hoegaarden.
Finally, we had to act out a couple of “ordering in a restaurant” scenes, which luckily, we all knew how to do anyway as we’d had zero input in this respect in the preceding 75 minutes.
Seemingly it had taken Traudel – professional actress and German teacher – three years to “perfect” this teaching technique. I’m pretty sure I could have beaten her by 2 years, 364 days and 23.5 hours. She even made two spelling mistakes AND an article mistake in the “useful language” .pdf she posted the next day.
Clearly, I would not recommend “German with Theatre Games”, unless maybe you have a foot fetish. However, Hollywood, you there? If you’re ever looking for a convincing worm, I’ve got just the woman…
As an expat living in Berlin, it’s pretty hard to avoid bumping into other foreigners living here. While I’m always interested in what brings people to a new country, I’m equally fascinated by their attitude to learning the local language.
From what I’ve seen, these can be grouped into a few categories:
the people who never bother, usually because “everyone speaks English”, or they don’t need it for their job so why make the effort?
the people who “try” but languages really aren’t their strong point…
the people who think they speak German because they can say, “bitte” and “danke”.
the people who get to a certain level and think that’s good enough.
Then you’ve got the people like me who, if it’s the last thing they do, will speak the language like a native, albeit, in my case anyway, with an endearing Irish accent…
I’m no expert on language learning – far from it – but I’ve got myself from zero to a level I’m reasonably happy with in the space of a year and a half. And boy, do I have a long way to go. Still, I figure I’m probably doing something at least half-right so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts will all of you poor souls in the same boat as I am. Obviously I’m using German as my focus but there’s no reason this shouldn’t work for any other language. Here goes…
Pay attention. It’s not enough to be surrounded by the language every day. You’d be amazed by the number of people who seem to walk around wearing ear plugs and blinkers. You need to listen, to read, to analyse. That couple you’re eavesdropping on on the train… why did she say that sentence that way and not another way? And yes, I’m condoning eavesdropping as an acceptable language-learning aid. There’s no such thing as politeness when it comes to learning a language.
Use everything as an opportunity – and I do mean everything. Take this, for example:
OK, so it’s a titter-inducing advertisement for a sex shop, but look more closely. Dildo King can teach you more than you think – and no, I don’t mean in the self-love department. OK, so sex would appear to be the same word in German – always useful to know. “Macht” comes from the verb “machen” (to make) and “schön” means beautiful. Take it further. “Macht” can also mean “power” or “might” when used as a noun, and how many expressions can you think of that have “schön” in them? What’s the comparative or superlative form? “King” probably isn’t a German word so what is “king” in German? Or “queen”? Thank you, Dildo King, for being such a fountain of educational knowledge…
3. Get input. Before you can start outputting, you need input. Listen to the radio, or just have it on in the background. If a film or TV programme is too much for you, watch a couple of ads or listen to a song. If reading a book is too challenging, read a newspaper or magazine article, a blog post, an ad. But do something. If you’re learning any of the major languages, there’s an embarrassment of riches online that you can utilise.
4. Ask questions. Lots of them. Will you drive your friends mad? Probably, but you can find new friends.
Me: If “ich bin raus” means I’m out, does “ich bin rein” mean I’m in?
Long-suffering friend: That would seem logical but NEIN! It’s better to say something like “Da bin ich dabei”.
Me: Alright, that makes zero sense but OK. German. Danke!
Me: If you can say “damit” (with it), can you also say “darohne” (without it)?
Long-suffering friend: That would seem logical but NEIN!
Me: Dammit.Alright, that makes zero sense but OK. German. Danke!
And so on until everyone you know has been committed.
5. Start speaking. As soon as you’ve got a few basics down, it’s time to put them to use. If you find it too embarrassing speaking to people you know, find people you don’t know. Go into a bar (my personal favourite), order a large glass of something and strike up a conversation with the person next to you. Torture them for as long as they’re willing to bear and then move on to your next victim. Repeat until you can no longer form a coherent sentence in any language or your money runs out.
6. Find a way to learn that you enjoy. Formal language classes, group or individual, aren’t for everyone so find something that suits you. I consider myself really lucky to live in Berlin where there’s always something happening, be it German through art workshops, German through theatre games or various other German language meet-ups. A lot of these activities are run on a donation basis, which also means they’re cheaper than regular lessons. Cheap is good.
7. Have fun with it. Are you going to sound like an idiot for a long time? Yes. Should you care? Hell no. Have as much fun with the language as possible and keep trying until you succeed. I recently played “Taboo” with a group of students. “Divorce” was one of the words they had to describe. They’d got to a certain stage and the other team knew the word in German but didn’t know the English word. A lot of people would have given up at this point but not these guys.
T1: It’s kind of like “air-force” but not. Well, the second part but not the first.
T2: So, “force”…
T1: Yes! And the first part sounds like the princess who died.
T1: Yes! OK, now put them together…
Me: Well, “divorce” actually but close enough.
Was there much merriment? Did they sound a bit silly? Did they make tenuous connections?
Yes to all of the above, but they also had a lot of fun and I don’t think they’ll ever forget that word, just as I’ll never forget that lesson.
Anyway, that’s about it for now. I’m sure I’ve forgotten to include loads of things but you get the gist. I’m off to be confused by German TV for a couple of hours.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sailaway from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain