I was at a wedding recently talking to an American who had moved to the UK and actually had to retake his driving test before he was allowed to drive there. And it got me thinking. Because in Austria, I was allowed to drive, on the wrong side of the road, in foreign language, with different road rules, immediately – no lessons or tests required!
The driving rules between Austria and Australia are similar in many way – ignoring the whole ‘driving on the other side of the road’ of course. Still, Austria has some quite interesting quirks when it comes to road rules and the way to drive.
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.
When I first started learning German, naturally I did all kinds of Google searches on hints, tips and tricks to learning a language faster. There must be some kind of magic formula, I assumed, and if I could just unveil it, fluency would be mine!
Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there just isn’t. Sure, there’s plenty of ideas, but none of them take away from the fact that learning a language comes with hard work and practice.
One thing I came across a lot was so-called ‘fun’ and ‘easy’ ways to learn another language. I clung onto those with everything I had. Options like watching movies in a foreign language, reading local newspapers and listening to the local radio… sure these may sound like fun, but actually, they’re not.
Here’s why these methods are actually no fun at all, and up until now, have barely helped me.
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.