May 27, 2014

Das Ist Mir Wurst; Or My Love/Hate Relationship with German

Source.
 Q:  What do you call a person who speaks three languages?
A:  Trilingual.
Q:  What do you call a person who speaks two languages?
A:  Bilingual.
Q:  What do you call a person who speaks one language?
A:  An American!

***

Now before you think I missed my calling as a stand-up comedian (my wit is undeniable, I know), I have to admit that joke is actually quite old.  Sadly, it is also quite true.  And I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that I fit the stereotype!

It's not for lack of exposure or education.  I studied Latin for eight years (two in middle school, four in high school, and two in university), but not much remains in my noggin besides the unforgettable amo, amas, amat drills.  I also had two years of Spanish in university, but after one scarring semester with a septuagenarian megalomaniac, I retained nothing beyond ¿Dónde está el bañoWhile I can imagine this will be a very important phrase to know whenever I'm in a Spanish-speaking country, more's the pity that I can't remember anything else since I come into contact with a lot of Spanish-speakers in my current job.

Watching the World Cup match in 2010 while in Germany
(c) Thrifty Gypsy
Then I met my husband in 2006, which brings me to my current foreign language attempt.  (Cue dramatic music)  The language fraught with multi-syllabic, impossible-to-correctly-pronounce words:  GERMAN.

My husband is half-German, you see, and his mother's side of the family actually lives in Bavaria.  He spent every other summer growing up in a medieval, fully-walled town in the heart of Germany, and even now as an adult, the American intonation fades after a few days in country and his natural Frankish accent takes over.  From what I gather, the Frankish accent has about the same reputation as a strong southern accent in America.  I find that factoid rather amusing!

But I digress.  Currently, I am the only one on that side of the family who can't sprechen die deutsch even a little bit, a fact which saddens me every time we visit his family.  It's frustrating to not be able to have direct conversations with Oma, who does not speak any English, or have more than a halting, short conversation with his aunt and uncle.  Mind you, I know enough words now to understand most of what's being said even if I can't fully participate (so no talking behind my back!), but one-sided conversations are not really conversations.  After having four of our German friends visit us last summer, I resolved that I was finally going to put my nose to the grindstone and learn German.

So my husband bought the Rosetta Stone: German edition as a birthday present for moi last summer.  And between working full-time, taking university classes part-time, the holidays, social life, and everything else, my progress has been painfully slow.  With less than 40 days until our Italy/Germany trip this summer, I've had to kick things into high gear the past few weeks.

I'm finding that German is easy and yet difficult.  English derives many words from German, which makes recognition of many words easy, but grammatically, German is difficult for an English-speaker to learn.  Der, die, das - gah, those gender specific articles will be the death of me!  And pronunciation?  I feel like I'm coughing up a lung every time I try to correctly pronounce the -ch sound, and my tongue ties into knots trying to trill an r or two.  But there are some things about German that I really, really like.  In many ways English lacks words to describe an exact idea, which is why we've stolen such German words as wanderlust and schadenfreude to make up for it.  And there's no denying that German just sounds, well, cool!  It's guttural, commanding, and earthy.  (See the light-hearted video above if you actually have never heard German before!)

Thankfully most Germans speak a fair amount of English (especially those under the age of 40), and with my interpreter-husband in tow, I've never had any problems communicating with Germans.  But as I don't want my future children to end up monolingual, I hope that the Rosetta Stone lessons will continue to help me learn German.  I may not learn enough to carry on deep, philosophical conversations with Oma in July, but at the very least I'll be able to point out that meine Schuhe sind blau, or die schwartze Katze ist unter dem Tisch.  Be impressed, y'all.

Mmmmm, sausage!
(c) Thrifty Gypsy
In closing, I'll explain the title of this post as another illustration of why I love German so much.  In English, if something isn't important or we don't have a preference about something, we merely say "I don't care" or "it doesn't matter to me."  Fairly straight-forward, yes?  Well, Germans have a more interesting way of expressing their non-preference.  Das ist mir Wurst.  It literally means "it is sausage to me."  Start using that in your everyday conversations to elicit some funny looks!



Do you speak more than one language or are you learning a new language now?  Have you ever had difficulties communicating in another country when you don't know the native language?


Linking up with Bonnie and Van every Tuesday!

39 comments:

  1. Wow I didn't know you were learning German! It's quite ambitious and definitely not the easiest one to learn! I wouldn't want to learn it and I'm glad that it's my mother tongue. But even though it is, the more time I spend abroad speaking English, Swedish or Norwegian, the more German expressions I forget. I often struggle finding the German equivalent for something I would say in English. You definitely have my respect for trying to learn German and it's interesting how you perceive the language. I think it sounds rather aggressive :D I also know exactly what it feels like understanding everything but not being able to join the conversation. It's just awful and I can't wait until I have a full conversation with someone in Swedish! However I pity you for having Bavarian relatives, I don't even understand their accent ;) But I love that you want to raise your kids bilingual! Learning languages when you are young is so much easier and the more languages you can speak, the better are your career opportunities later on! Thanks for joining the prompt! It was a pleasure reading about your experiences with my mother tongue! ;) oh and: Viel Erfolg!

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    1. Danke! My Bavarian relatives are lovely people; I just have a hard time understanding the accent sometimes! (Kind of like my New England relatives, but that's another story... ;) My biggest struggle with learning German is that I don't try as hard to speak it because I'm afraid of making mistakes. Unfortunately, part of learning a language is making mistakes, so I need to get over that part of my personality!

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  2. I have heard German is similar to Icelandic in the grammar department so I know how difficult learning it is. I understand completely what you mean as well about not being able to join in on the conversation even when you understand most of what is being said! Best of luck with your German studies!

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    1. It feels like there is a thin, gauzy curtain hanging in between me and the German conversation around me. I can all but grasp it, but if I could just learn a little bit more, maybe that "curtain" would go away and I could understand better! English is a language of so many exceptions, both grammatically and for pronunciation, that it's strange learning a language that has set grammar rules (like, conjugating verbs, etc). If Icelandic is anything like German, then good luck to you! :P

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  3. I've been learning German for 3 years back in school and still can remember a few basic phrases and read simple things :) For me it was rather easy to learn it as I've found much similarities with English, yet yes, grammar is way more difficult than in English.

    I'm currently trying to learn French and this is my huge struggle. It's oh so different from English and I have huge spelling and pronunciation issues.

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    1. English is such a hodge-podge language, but it certainly is more Germanic than a romantic language like French. The pronunciation for French looks SO difficult. I don't know that I could shape my mouth to be able to speak it properly! But it's a beautiful language to listen to. Good luck!!!

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  4. I live in Italy (my husband's Italian) and so I feel your pain about sitting and just kind of listening to conversations going on. I have been able to learn enough to speak to people, however, it's clumsy at best. I know everyone talks about being bilingual, etc. However, the more families i meet that are half American (or British) / half Italian the more I realize that most people still have ONE mother tongue and another language that they are fluid (but not fluent) in. We are struggling with my 15 month old because she is actually not learning either language...
    Found you via Travel Tuesday

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    1. I can imagine that must be frustrating on a daily basis! We see my husband's family so rarely that I don't really mind it as much because it's at least one or two years before I'll see them again. That's a good point about fluency versus fluidity. Do you think your daughter is confused by having two languages being spoken around her? Hopefully something will click, and she'll be able to become bilingual as she grows up!

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  5. AnonymousMay 27, 2014

    It's absolute nonsense that so many American schools don't even offer foreign language instruction until the middle/high school level, just as the language acquisition centers of the brain are starting to slow down. Even hearing a language as a child can make such a huge difference when you seek to become fluent as an adult. That was definitely my experience, anyway, since my mother spoke some German around the house when I was little (just as her father had done, since his grandfather was German). I didn't really attempt Spanish until college, but it just hasn't stuck the way that German has. That's not to say it's impossible to become fluent in another language as an adult, it just gets a lot harder.

    It's great that you have the motivation though! I have made several earnest endeavors to learn Arabic since many of my husband's relatives speak little to no English, but none have lasted very long or gotten very far.

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    1. I agree - learning a language should start in elementary school. Wow, Arabic? That's quite an undertaking! Learning a new alphabet on top of a new language is a lot of work!

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  6. It always strikes me how many people speak English when you travel. I think about how much trouble someone would have in the US if they did not speak English but not the other way around...it is a bit embarrassing. It is always easier for me to read, then hear or speak...speaking is where I'm just hopeless.

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    1. Very true. It must be so overwhelming to visit or move here if you don't know any English (or Spanish since that's becoming prevalent, too). I'm the same way about languages! I'm visually oriented so reading comes quickly to me, while hearing/speaking progresses at a much slower pace.

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  7. I'm trying to learn Portuguese right now, and it definitely comes with its challenges! although I consider myself fluent now, the first 3 months were extremely frustrating. Luckily I have a Brazilian boyfriend, so we speak portuguese everyday, but it takes a lot of patience on both ends!

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    1. I hope you don't think it's creepy I'm commenting on your comment... (since this isn't my blog haha) Do you live in Brazil right now? I moved to Rio 10 months ago with my husband (who is American/Brazilian) and I consider myself conversational now (without having taken any classes). I love learning Portuguese - it's so much more "exotic" than Spanish haha

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    2. Portuguese is so cool! My uncle just married into a Portuguese family (they're actually from the Azores), and their language and music is so lively! Is Brazilian Portuguese similar to continental Portuguese or has it drifted apart like South American Spanish and European Spanish? I don't know much about Portuguese at all other than it being a Romantic language.

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  8. Haha your description about how German sounds is great. I'm a musician and had to study the pronunciation of many languages, as well as sing in many languages, and German is the worst to sing in, by far. The consonants get stuck in my throat and prevent me from actually singing! In Europe it's common to find people who speak English very well. But here in South America, it's very uncommon. I HAD to learn Portuguese just to be able to do anything - buy groceries, use a taxi, etc. But that's ok because I love learning new languages! :)

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    1. It's exciting to learn a new language. Since we only get to travel part-time, doing my German lessons helps me extend my "travels" so to speak. I'll learn a new word, and it'll remind me of something said or done while over there. Have you found learning Portuguese to be difficult?

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  9. Learning German never occurred to me, because yes, it's the most difficult to learn although it does sounds pretty cool. But I do know one; ich liebe dich. Good luck! ;)

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    1. Always a good phrase to learn in any language! That and how to ask for a beer. ;)

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  10. Aw glad to see another post about German! Glad to see i'm not the only one struggling!
    I so agree with you that it's a cool sounding language! Good luck with your trip and your language skills :)

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    1. Be assured that there's at least one more person sweating blood and tears to learn this crazy language! Misery likes company, eh? ;)

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  11. I feel like German would be SUCH a hard language to learn. You could also change the 'what do you call someone who speaks on language' to Australian! Good luck!

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    1. Australia and the U.S. are unique in that we're huge countries, and fairly isolated from other countries. We only have two neighbors, which are both far away from my state, and of course Canada also speaks English so there's no motive to learn any other language. Whereas in mainland Europe, there are many countries with many different languages, so it's more practical to learn multiple languages!

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  12. It's not just you Americans - we English have a terrible reputation for not bothering to learn any other languages, and as a result everyone in Europe hates us! I studied German for three years at school, but have not used it since I was 16 and can't remember too much. Best of luck with your speed lessons!

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    1. Really? For some reason I've always had this thought that the British have a better reputation for knowing at least one other language! In a way it stinks to have your native tongue be the lingua franca because then we get lazy and just make everyone else learn our language! :P

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  13. Just found your blog through Travel Tuesday... I am currently learning German as well, it is oh so difficult, but I want to learn it so that helps a lot! but I am still unable to hold a long conversation & like you sometimes end up with one sided conversations because I can't fully participate, I just nod and smile.

    Viel Glueck!
    Diana

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    1. Being excited about a language helps in the motivation department! Thanks for finding me! Just checked out your blog and see that you're currently living in Germany. I'm more than a little jealous!

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  14. Ugh I know! Come on America...let's all learn some more languages!! While there is the ability to sort of learn them in school, my wandering mind had me take Latin, French, German and Spanish in all of my education years...so I know a few phrases in all these languages, but not enough to really have a conversation. Good luck learning German! I've heard Rosetta Stone is really helpful :)

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    1. Sounds like me in high school. :) I started (and stopped) a lot of language courses and textbooks that I purchased independently. Swedish, Italian, Spanish, French... I'd get anywhere from 10-40 pages into the textbook and give up. Usually because I "didn't have time" but also partly just because I lost motivation!

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  15. Hi, Katrina. Good luck with your German! Me, I love it, and I'm now a complete Germanophile/Teutonophile. Something about the language, the country, and her people appeal a great deal to me, though it might say a lot more that some of my best friends are Turkish-German; I think there's that *something* about the immigrant experience. :)

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    1. Thanks! And absolutely! Most of us North Americans are the results of immigration, whether personally or through our ancestors. Part of my fascination (besides my husband being half German) is due to my own heritage, too. And as a logophile and glossophile, I just love seeing the links between languages and exploring the nuances of them. Sadly, that passion hasn't seemed to translate into an ability to learn new languages very easily!

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  16. AHHH! I relate to everything in this post! I've been procrastinating improving my German skills for... oh, about a DECADE, but I can retain some knowledge from when I lived in Austria and it's easier for me to understand than speak. But anyway, what you said about what is frustrating and what you like about German are the same things I feel with the language. It's almost deceiving as an English speaker -- it seems closer than French or Spanish, but then it's crazy when it comes to grammar! Well, I hope learning is going well and you're able to better communicate with your husband's Oma on your trip!

    -- Erika from America

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    1. Thanks! My books and Rosetta Stone have been abandoned for a week now, thanks to my brother's wedding and a dear friend visiting from Texas, but I'm hoping to pick back up tonight. The World Cup fervor should serve as a good motivation so I can try to read some of the commentary articles!

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  17. Katrina!! Thank you so much for directing me to this post in your comment on my blog. This post, and your blog in general, will be so helpful to me. But I can't find a GFC follow button on your blog so that I may follow it. Am I overlooking it?

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    1. Funny you should ask! I'd been putting off figuring out the G+ stuff, but finally got around to looking at it today. I just added a follow button on the right sidebar near the top (literally did this 5 minutes ago, so you didn't miss it). I already follow you through Blogger's feed, but will follow you on G+ also! Thanks for stopping by!

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  18. I have just found your blog. English is my second language. I started learning it when I was... 6, was it? Long time ago. In high school I started learning German, though I never liked the language. I can communicate mmore or less, which came in handy two years ago when we were roadtripping Germany. And I also started learning Russian and Finnish a few years ago, but only for a few months. Yes, I love languages. They say so much about culture as well. I'm planning to learn Spanish one day (hopefully sooner than later). And if anybody complains on the difficulty of German, try speaking Polish, Hungarian or Finnish ;) Could be fun ;)
    Joanna from http://me-and-my-itchy-feet.blogspot.com

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    1. Dzień dobry! My aunt and uncle lived in Poland for many years, and they've told me how difficult it is to learn Polish! :) I'm impressed with the number of languages you have started learning. I love languages, but do not have enough time to study a lot of them. Thanks for stopping by! I've added your blog to my follow list so I can read about your travels, too!

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  19. I totally understand the shame of being monolingual! haha. My parents are multi-lingual and my sister even knows French alongside English. I'm the only one stuck at one language :( Tyler and I have decided we are going to be bilingual before we have kids so that we can raise our children that way. So how is the German coming along now? I know this post is a little old :)

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  20. I have the exact same thought about children, too! Danny is fluent, but I'm nowhere near capable yet, so I have a lot to learn before the little ones arrive one day. :) I finally finished Level 1 of Rosetta Stone; it took me 18 months to do what should probably take only 3 months if one were doing it consistently! :P

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