One of the great irritations of German, apart from having genders and weird pluralising and everything else that goes on… is formal speech. You could say it is a little similar to English… but only in a very subtle way. In English, it’s normal to refer to someone older than you as Mrs or Mr so-and-so… until there comes a time where they tell you it’s fine to call them by their first name. But come on, that’s simple!
German is an angry-sounding language. You know it, I know it. When Austrians get together over dinner they generally start speaking in their very loud, angry voices.
I remember the first few times I had dinner with my now in-laws… I would sit quietly, eating my dinner, sipping my wine, just trying to stay in the background because I certainly didn’t want to get involved in whatever it was they were so mad about. Their heated conversation would be sporadically punctuated with cackles of laughter and then the grim faces would return and they would start arguing again. Or so it seemed to me.
The German language is known for its long words. Without even going into the ridiculously long words (which to be honest nobody uses anymore anyway) try Entschuldigung instead of simply saying ‘sorry’ or Kniebeuge for ‘squat’. Though in all honesty, part of the problem is that the German words just don’t fit well in our English-speaking mouths – they come out all clumsy and end up sounding a lot longer than they do when spoken by a native speaker.
But there are exceptions. So I’ve made a list of 10 words that are actually shorter in German:
They say that after a certain age, a person loses the ability to pronounce certain parts of a foreign language. That means, unless you start learning a second language from when you’re a kid, you’re always going to sound like a foreigner and there will always be some words you just can’t get right. Here are ten of mine:
The German word for ‘squirrel’ is basically impossible to pronounce. I could repeat it all day and it still wouldn’t come out right. However, it makes me feel a bit better that Austrians can’t pronounce the English ‘squirrel’ either.
Living in Austria with an Austrian husband leads to people often asking me: “So do you speak German at home?” And if I said no, they say: “You should, it’s the best way to learn.”
And they would be right. We should. And speaking the language to a native is the best way to learn. But it is also a double-edged sword, especially when it involves a loved-one.
A few weeks ago my company held a firm-wide meeting discussing our future growth direction. The content is not important, what is important is that the meeting was (obviously) completely in German.
And then the most surprising thing – I actually understood a lot of it!
Ok, the first part anyway – but that was a good hour!
I’ve been living in Austria now for 2.5 years. Wow! That’s even surprising for me. And I know what you’re thinking… 2.5 years… she’s definitely fluent by now. Well, I have to admit something… I’m definitely not!
Of course it depends on your translation of fluent. Can I read the local newspaper and work out the story? Yes. Can I listen to the traffic/weather/news report and know if there’s an accident ahead? Yes. Can I have a perfectly normal one-on-one conversation with someone about almost anything? Yes.
If you want to stay in Austria for any length of time there is a basic German language test that inevitably, you have to take.
I started preparing for this as soon as I arrived, studying doggedly for two hours a day, painfully learning pronunciation with my Ukranian teacher. It helped not having a job – I had such a lot of time and a high desire to use my brain.
They say that the A1 test can be passed in three months, with two hours of study a day. I can tell you for a fact that I was nowhere near ready after three months. I still felt like a drunk fruitcake whenever I tried to speak German.
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.