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EU > Germany > Bad Breisig

Basic German

Bad Breisig, DE (View on map)

German is the most important language of Europe when measured by the number of people who speak it as their first language. The German speaking family has no less than 90 million native speakers, which dwarfs French (65 million speakers) and English (64 million speakers) as native languages within the EU. Still, German is not the most popular language of the continent. Few non-native German speakers learn it as a second language. Most Europeans see English as more practical, French and Italian as more romantic and Spanish as more fashionable. But what about German then?

Angela (20):

`Most foreign films and TV programs in Germany are not subtitled but dubbed`
History has not been favourable to the popularity of the German language. Poles already told me that they thought of German as an army language, and the opinion of many of Germany`s neighbours is not much more favourable. German is easily portrayed as unromantic, overstructured and difficult to learn: good for satire but otherwise not a foreign language to be overly proud of when you speak it fluently.

German for foreigners
Simone (26) is surprised by how well some foreigners have learnt to speak German. `The command of German that some Bulgarians, Romanians and Turks have of our language is just amazing. Some are better at it than a solid number of Germans. Europe also has quite some German-speaking minorities in many countries across Europe. These include Czech Republic, Poland, parts of former Yugoslavia as well as Bulgaria and Romania. German is also wide-spread in Southern America, but the reason for that is not very elegant. Many of the Germanophones in South America are, or descend from, former officers during Nazi reign over Germany. They fled after the war so that they would be safe from getting extradited and trialed for war crimes.`

Simone thinks that it`s quite logical that fellow Europeans will learn English before they think of learning German. `There are so many people in the world who speak English that it just makes much more sense to learn English. For us Germans, it`s a bit of a shame that many fellow Europeans get flashbacks of World War II when they hear us speak. Many of us have quite a strong accent. Even if we speak English, we will still be easily recognised as German.`

`Another downside of speaking German is that most of our neighbours can understand bits of what you say. The Dutch and the Danes understand almost everything. Unfortunately, we Germans have a much harder time understanding them. Even the Swiss and the Austrian are difficult to understand if they don`t switch their local accent for one that is closer to Hochdeutsch, `high German` or the basic German in the way it is supposed to be pronounced.`

Easy recognition
Having lived in Ireland for one and a half year, Angela (20, photo) has become quite aware of the Germans are likely to make when they speak English. `English is quite widely spoken in Germany, especially among young people. But a German`s English is often easily recognisable. Germans often translate sentences word by word, which makes them come up with combinations that do not exist in English or do not make sense. German word order is quite flexible thanks to the different cases. English is not, so word order easily becomes a problem. Accent-wise, they can`t produce the `th` sound, which often changes into `z`. In German, all letters of a word are carefully pronounced, which is not always the case in English. This causes some trouble with words like `Wednesday`, `clothes`, `business` or `worked`. `English first names have become quite popular in Germany during the last decades, especially among people with lower education level. Which can produce funny results, because the parents are unable to pronounce the names properly.`

`Answers to negative questions may also pose problems. The question: `Did you not go swimming last night` is quite likely to be answered by `Yes` if the person did not go swimming. The idea behind this construction is a bit mathematical. Replying `No` implies that you did not not go swimming which would mean that you actually did go swimming.`

Angela continues: `English has no proper translation for the word `mann` or `Leute` which both refer to people in an abstract way and without distinction of any individuals. Also, the expression `Mensch` does not make sense in English. It would have to be translated as `human`, but the meaning stretches way beyond just that. Depending on the context `mensch` can mean anything from just `person` up to a semi-polite insult.`

Abbreviations and exceptional structures
Exposure to English is quite limited in Germany. Foreign films and TV programs are usually dubbed and their titles are translated. When talking with English speakers, it sometimes even hard to know which film each person is referring to. Some people use English words or expressions in their text messages or for instant messenger. Practical abbreviations are much harder to compose in German than they are in English. We do have abbreviations, but most of them are, again, abstract. One German band recently made a song of which the verses consist of only abbreviations. The song is called `Mfg`, which stands for `Mit freundlichen Gr?ss` (With kind regards). The band is named `Die fantastischen Vier`.

In a way similar to Estonian, German uses capital letters for `You`, `Your` and `Yours` (both formal and informal) in written correspondence. Unlike Estonian, the German use of capitals extends to the beginning of each and every noun. In English, a Sentence written in that Way would look as if Somebody would need to go see a Doctor. The `Scharfes S`, ? ? looking like the Greek Beta - stands for a sound of a double S. On top of that, German has four different cases and three different genders for articles. `Those are difficult for foreigners to learn`, says Angela, `but even today`s German school kids have problems with them. They have started to just skip articles altogether, coming up with sentences like `I go to swimming pool`. It saves them a lot of reflection, but it doesn`t sound very pretty. As if they came from another country and had to learn German as a foreign language.`

Everyday language
Richard (22) thinks that Germans often refer to their poo and pee when something negative happens to them. ``Lech mich am Arsch` (lick my ass) is probably the worst. Others include: `Du scheisse` (you piece of shit) `verarschen` (to take the piss), `Verpiss Dich` (get lost), `Ich hab` mir den Arsch abgerissen` (I tore apart my ass, meaning: this is the best I could do), `ein Stock im Arsch habben` (have a stick in the ass: be inflexible or humourless) or `am Arschloch der Welt` (in the asshole of the world: in the middle of nowhere).` They are often used in mixtures with expressions taken from English. `Fuck`, `fuck off`,

`The more polite German expressions typically refer to law and structure. `In Ordnung`, literally translates as `in order` but actually means OK. `Alles klar` (all clear) has a similar meaning. In the same way, German people do not `have` a meeting, they typically are `verabredet`: committed or engaged to meet. Apart from that, there are some German words and expressions that are universal. Leaving the war slogans to what they are, sentences like `Jetzt geht`s los` or `Auf geht`s` (we`re started, we`re off, let`s go..) are quite well known and so are words like `Sauerkraut` (sour cabbage), `Gl?hwein` (hot wine with herbs), Kindergarten (same in English). The names of the major car brands ? Audi, Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes - are as famous in the rest of Europe as they are in Germany itself.`

At the end of today`s article, let me share some of my favourite German words and expressions with you. `Fingerspitzengef?hl` is the definitive number one. It translates into `finger tip feeling`, and it refers to a combination of skill, intuition and precision while practicing one or another discipline. The expression `ich versteh` nur Bahnhof` means `I only understand railway station`, which describe how you have no clue of what was just said. Similar to that is: `Das kommt mir Spanisch vor` (that seems Spanish to me). So if you want to make sure that people don`t understand that you don`t speak German: try this phrase: Die Deutsche Sprache kommt mir Spanisch vor. Somebody just might find it funny.

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