Tag Archives: Art

Learning the Lingo

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.
Good enough
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…

  1. 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.
  2. Use everything as an opportunity – and I do mean everything. Take this, for example:
Snigger.
Snigger.

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.

Prost, my unsuspecting conversation partner...
Prost, my unsuspecting conversation partner…

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.

T2: Di.

T1: Yes! OK, now put them together…

T2: Die-force! 

T1: JAAAAA!

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.

Schönen Abend 😉

 

 

 

Advertisements

Arty Fahrt-y

“Art” is one of those words that you sort of assume is international. And, if you’re learning French, Spanish or Italian, you’re in luck – art, arte and arte, respectively. Not so in German. No, the German word for “art” is “Kunst”, which, let’s face it, is far more fun to say. KUNST!

Now, I can’t claim to be an art expert in any way, shape or form, but I’m always looking for ways to broaden my horizons and, of course, improve my German. So, when I heard about a “Kunst & Deutsch” afternoon being run by a company called Kunstkomplizen (Accomplices in Art), I decided to sign up.

We were to meet outside the old “Der Tagesspiegel” building, in the up-and-coming gallery district of Potsdamer Straße, at the very Linda-friendly time of 3pm. As I’m still out-Germanning the Germans when it comes to punctuality, I was the first to arrive at around 2.50. We would be visiting two galleries that day –Jarmuschek + Partner and the Maerz Galerie.

The old "Tagesspiegel" (Daily Mirror) offices
The old “Tagesspiegel” (Daily Mirror) offices

I’m always a bit nervous when it comes to this kind of stuff. I’m afraid that I will be the worst at German, that I will say or do something ridiculous or, horror or horrors, be the weird, silent one in the corner. But, when Hedda, our guide for the day, showed up before any of the rest of the group, I had no choice but to stop mooching around the car park like a weirdo and, instead, engage in lovely, German small talk. Poor Hedda…

We chatted a bit about our work, what had brought us to Berlin, and my amazing German skills. (I’m kidding about the last one.) By the time the rest of the group showed up (late), I was totally at ease. Hedda asked us if we’d mind if she used the “du” (informal) form of address, none of us had any problems with that and all was rosy in the world of Kunst & Deutsch.

In the end, there were five of us in the group. Me, a French artist, a French student of prehistoric archaeology (female, unfortunately, so no Indiana Jones-style eyelash-batting opportunities), a programmer from England and an American yoga therapist. Apparently, that is a real job. And, of course, our lovely guide, Hedda, art historian and German teacher.

After a round of introductions, it seemed that we were all roughly the same level, apart from the American, who was an absolute beginner. It was time to enter the lion pit gallery.

First up was the Maerz Galerie, featuring a series of installations by Thomas Sommer called “Schluss mit lustig”. Seemingly, Sommer’s “three-dimensional collages are a series of irritating trials and offer everything that doesn’t want to be definite”, but none of us had a clue how to say any of that in German so we walked around together, saying what we liked, didn’t like and why.

A series of... oh, forget it.
A series of… oh, forget it.

The great thing about a tour like this is that everyone can have an opinion – there’s no right or wrong when it comes to interpreting art. Plus, everyone is so conscious of their own German level that there’s no judgement or laughter at anyone else’s expense. Naturally, I caused a couple of outbreaks of laughter, but I know that was because of my witty genius rather than my shoddy German…

20160206_152748

Hedda was friendly, relaxed, patient, and fantastic at steering the conversations we were having, making sure that everyone participated a little. She also handed out sheets with useful vocabulary and grammar explanations as we went along.

Hedda: Schluss means “end” so how would you explain the title of the exhibition? 

Me: (little brain working overtime – OK, so “end with fun” would mean the fun’s over, which (maybe?) means roughly the same as… YES! It was time to bust out one of my beloved German sausage expressions!) Um, jetzt geht’s um die Wurst? 

Hedda looked surprised and, I like to think, a little impressed.

Hedda: Why, yes! Does everyone understand what Linda just said?

Blank looks all round. Linda glows.

Hedda: Why don’t you explain it to them, Linda?

Crap. Linda’s glow dims.

Me: Well, it translates as (doing annoying quotation marks with my fingers and hating myself simultaneously) “Now it gets about the sausage”, which means that it’s time to get serious. The fun’s over.

I don’t know if they understood me or not, but I was happy. We moved into the next gallery. At the end of the tour, we each had to pick a piece and describe it, using our newly-learned, arty German. I was the first to volunteer which, trust me, is very unlike me but there was method in my madness. I chose this one…

I'm so clever...
I’m so clever…

The others got stuck with trying to describe this…

20160206_160053
Good luck

And this…

Where would you even...?
Where would you even…?

When the tour ended, I practically skipped out of the gallery. I had spoken, and understood, German for close to two and a half hours, and had even managed to slip a porky expression into a very high-brow conversation. The whole afternoon had only cost €20 and I can definitely say that I got more than my money’s worth.

So, I’m sorry to say, Kunstkomplizen, you’ll probably be seeing me again in the near future. Now I’m off to learn some more weird German expressions so that I can blow your minds next time round…

If you want to check out some more porky German expressions, click here:  https://expateyeongermany.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/as-happy-as-a-pig-in-shit/