This post comes from the article: “Why we should learn German”
“Why We Should Learn German?” or “Why Should We Learn German?” – funny the two meanings that come out of switching two words around and adding punctuation.
A common stereotype of the German language is how ugly, mean, angry, aggressive, etc the sounds are. Of course every German villain in Hollywood fits this; the very accents they speak with set up a dark and un-trustworthy character. Everyone is always yelling, all the time, and not in the friendly “Italian yelling with hands” way.
Upon arrival, I too felt yelled at immediately upon ordering a loaf of bread. This was my fault though, I had ordered “dark bread with kernels for summer” instead of the standard “dark bread with kernels for winter”, silly me.
(There is so much bread here you guys you have no idea)
Not really. What happened was I stuttered something difficult to hear and understand in a crowded bakery and misunderstood the baker’s instructions to please speak up. However to my delicate ears I heard “LEAVE THIS BAKERY UNTIL YOU UNDERSTAND THE PROPER ORDER OF THINGS.”
Since then, I’ve had to re-think how I learn languages. Sure I appreciated the grammar and vocab exercises from school, and role plays are hugely helpful, but once immersed in it, I feel the language and the culture become completely fused and one can’t learn one without the other. The baker wasn’t interested in my lack of command over her language, but was more interested in helping her customers and get the line moving. Nothing personal against me, I was just slowing down the morning rush and there was no point, to her, to be gentle and show me where I made a mistake in my Satz.
This is evident especially when different dialects come into play and I tried to convey this in English lessons as well. English has morphed across borders over the years until it’s really become distinct enough to warrant British and American flags in language choosers in browsers. I would constantly correct students on their prepositions “I live on Rheinstraße not at Rheinstraße” before I looked up this curious pattern online and sure enough, this is sometimes a typical British saying. It would make sense then that my students say this since they learn “British English” in school.
Maybe the above isn’t 100% cultural since we’re talking two separate nation-states, not exactly the most proper term for culture, but I would also use the following for the USA:
You all vs. ya’ll
The Route 1 vs Route 1
I think German can be cool. I’m not a master in it by any means, but I do love some of its “hidden features”:
You can have a lot of fun with the German language, as we all know. You can tease it, play with it, send it up. You can invent huge words of your own – but real words all the same, just for the hell of it. Google gave me Donaudamp-fschiffsfahrtsgessellschaftskapitän. – The Guardian
I find when stumbling over words with colleagues I can generally smoosh two nouns or two verbs together and it makes sense enough that the conversation doesn’t have to pause. I still feel far more comfortable in English and I’m lucky enough to be able to use it with most people here, but I do my best to throw in verbs and nouns in German when I can thus participating in Denglisch.
And now, now that I understand 90% of what goes on around me at work and roughly 75% out in the street, I hear the beauty in it. No really. It is beautiful sounding. It’s not so sing-songy as Dutch nor does it have the natural romantic nature of French; when translated directly it’s too harsh and doesn’t have the pretty little passive nuances we expect in English. But the flow and pattern, once one gets the hang of it, becomes another type of song that’s beautiful to hear, like Baroque vs Romantic periods in music history.
Or maybe I only hear the above because now I understand more, am comforted in my knowledge that I’m not such an outsider as before and now see the similarities between a people and their language with my own.
Clear language – lucid, rational language – to a man at war with both truth and reason, is an existential threat. Clear language to such a man is a direct assault on his obfuscations, contradictions and lies. To him, it is the voice of the enemy. To him, it is fake news. Because he knows, if only intuitively, what we know to our cost: that without clear language, there is no standard of truth. – John le Carré
Is German more clear than English? I don’t think that’s a fair question to ask. I do think though if one is not a native speaker, they will certainly pay far greater attention to a message in a foreign language than one spoken in their own, simply because decoding and framing the message to one that makes sense to them is a longer and slower process. As obvious as it feels typing this out, it’s a good reminder to myself that just as I take my time processing German emails, headlines and crazy emoji-filled texts, I should take the time to more slowly process emails, headlines and texts in my own language, to see where my bias is coming in. Probably, I should slow down all together.
So, Why Should We Learn German?
You should learn German because the word for “Turtle” is “Schildkröte” which is, literally, “Shield Toad” and isn’t that great?
Learn any language! I would propose German or French since these are two I work at and I know best 😉 Learning a language is learning a culture and learning a culture is how we as a planet and species find more in common than we originally thought we have. Obviously it will highlight our differences as well, but hopefully with more first-hand knowledge we will be able to make the informed choices ourselves about if such differences are truly so different and so unsurmountable.
By having everyone learn a new language, are we going to gain world peace? Probably! I have no idea! But it would be klasse.
Here are two articles I think make for good reading on the topics of dialects and differences in American English and English in general: