The awful German language – Mark Twain was right

I have never been a ‘foreign language’ kind of person. In high school I took the requisite half year of French, half year of Indonesian and picked Indonesian because the teacher was a bludge. I then sat next to the smartest girl in class for the next two years and copied her work. Read: I had ZERO interest.

Learning a second language - German
Why on earth would I ever need a second language?

On my last big trip I spent a good month in Spain and Portugal and had pretty much decided that learning Spanish might not be just cool, but also useful (especially for future South American trips). And then I met Thomas and everything changed.

So now I would learn German.

Studying hard
Studying hard

I was pretty naïve going into it. I thought to myself, if I’m actually living there, surrounded by people speaking it all the time, surely it’ll only take a couple of months before I’m fluent. How wrong I was! Here’s why:

  1. Though I’m in a small town where nothing is in English, most people speak it a little (most young people quite proficiently) so I’m rarely forced into speaking German.
  2. I’m learning German… in Austria. And German-Austrian is a slightly different language. For every other word in German, there’s a different Austrian one.
  3. The dialects here are crazy! In my area the dialect is extremely strong and therefore should anyone say something to me on the street, it’s unlikely I’ll understand. They’ll be speaking local slang, not proper Austrian… or German.

So although it’s difficult, at least there are some advantages of German over other languages:

  • The numbers are the same (written)
  • Some words are the same, or very similar: Papier = paper, hart = hard, Familie = family and so on
  • It’s written phonetically, so once you learn the alphabet and how the various letters sound when they are put together, you can read and write it with confidence

But here’s why the German language sucks (just a few reasons):

  • They have genders and weird ways of pluralising things: so for every word I need to remember two phrases: the dog/the dogs = der Hund/die Hunde
  • The cases are constantly changing: so the ‘der’ of ‘der Hund’ can change to den, dem or des depending on the sentence
  • Their conjugations are crazy, depending on if you’re talking to one or more person, or in a formal or informal voice
  • Oh yeah, they have formal and informal voice
  • The sentence structure (in some cases) is completely different to English. I was reading the back of a biscuit wrapper and there was a sentence written in about 8 different languages. In each one the sentence structure was the same… except

And that’s just for starters.

Mark Twain the awful German language
Mark Twain is definitely right

Anyway, so I’ve been learning German for about a year now, and I’m ok, but it’s definitely not easy. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of English words I know and I wonder how I will ever learn anywhere near the same amount in German. But mostly, I take baby steps and then I get by.


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