**where is it spoken?**
Well, Germany, of course! And most people know that it's the official language of Austria as well as one of the four languages which are spoken in Switzerland. But it's also spoken in Luxembourg, bits of France and Italy and in random parts of Russia and Eastern Europe. And there are actually groups of German speakers all over the world, including in the US, Australia and South America. Granted, it's not in the league of English or Spanish or French in terms of the numbers of people who use it, but it's still quite a big player in the global market.
**what sort of language is it?**
As most people know, there are different group of languages in the world, and German belongs to the group called Germanic languages. So no great shocks there then. What is more interesting is that English also belongs to this group (so we've got a head start learning it) - along with Scandinavian, Dutch and Flemish. Which explains, I suppose, why I can understand all the menus in Holland without speaking a word of the language!
Germanic languages were around for centuries in spoken form, but the earliest written examples of any Germanic language are the odd word written by Latin authors in the 1st century B.C. About this time the Roman Empire arrived and then when the
Roman Empire converted to Christianity in 312 A.D. Germanic languages really became established as written languages as the Bible was translated. You can still see a lot of influence of Latin words in the language - so if you've got O Level Latin (I'm a mere slip of a thing with GCSE Latin!) you're all set.
**are there regional variations?**
Definitely! There is one very broad line of demarcation to start you off - Low German (Plattdeutsch) from the North, where it's flat and High German (Hochdeutsch), spoken in the mountainous bits down south. The first real standardisation of the German language happened when Martin Luther translated the Bible in the 1500s, but in reality, German is just as varied as English. When I first arrived to live in the south west, I could barely understand a word when someone spoke with a thick local accent, despite doing a German degree!! I suppose it's like arriving in Newcastle on a Saturday night...And don't get me started on how they speak in Switzerland, or we'll be here all night! But hey, that's half the fun of learning a new language - what's the point if they've got no cultural differences for you to explore?
**why learn German?**
Let's look at the ten reasons for learning German given by the Goethe Institute ( a society for the promotion of German, so a bit biased, but then so am I!)
1. Germany is the world's largest exporter.
Of cars and technology mostly I presume. And cheap supermarkets. Interesting to consider if you're in business, though.
2. German is the most commonly spoken language in the EU.
Yes, I thought that would be French too! Germany is a massive old country though.
3. 18% of the world's books are published in German.
OK, that does leave you with 82% of the world's books, I'll grant you that. Bit like the 90% fat free crisps argument!
4. Germany is home to numerous international corporations.
Can't argue with that.
5. German is no harder to learn to speak and write than other languages.
That is of course presuming you have to pick a language to learn and can't just try lots..a bit odd.
6. German is the second-most commonly used scientific language.
Now lots of scientists have told me that A Level German is really useful for being a scientist, so I'll go for that - anyone like to comment? Don't feel my GCSE Physics qualifies me!
7. German is the language of Goethe, Nietzsche and Kafka. Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Freud and Einstein also spoke German.
Yep, no argument there. If you want to really appreciate a work of art you don't want it translated, do you?
8. Speaking and understanding German will deepen your knowledge of the culture and improve your employment opportunities.
I've certainly had more than my fair share of people telling me how much I could be earning speaking German if I wasn't being a teacher..
9.Learning German provides deeper insights into a region that plays a vital role in central Europe's intellectual and economic life and in its cultural history.
No, I'm not sure I understand either..
10.In many regions, Germans account for the largest percentage of tourists.
Have you been to London recently?
And of course, it will help you to understand those little bits of Dooyoo that crop up in German from time to time - don't tell me you've never noticed!
Seriously, though, it's also just a great language to learn - a real intellectual challenge if that's what you want, but also a fantastic sounding language (and yes, rude sometimes, I know). And you don't have that far to go to practise speaking it either. And boy will your understanding of English grammar improve - I promise you (there you are - back to Eats, Shoots and Leaves again!)
**what's good about the German language?**
The compound nouns for a start. Yes, I know, this is hardly earth-shattering stuff, but I like it. In most languages, you either know a word or you don't, right? Well in German if you don't know a word, you look at the bits that make it up and you work it out. Fantastic! It's not uncommon, therefore, to have really long words in German.
Rollschuhlaufen = rolling shoe running = roller skating
Luftkissenboot = air cushion boat = hovercraft
Schwarzwalderkirschtorte = black forest cherry cake = black forest gateau
Lebensmittelgeschäft = life means shop = grocers
I could go on all day! Don't worry, I won't - I've made the point!
And then there's the cognates. The words that are the same or very similar in two languages which act as a kind of hook to get you started, to make you feel a little less all at sea. Well the good news is that German has more than its fair share, especially when you get to modern terms, where they've not bothered to create new words and have just adopted the English e.g.
Ich finde das Internet interessant und ich habe E-Mail in meinem Büro.
(I find the internet interesting and I have e-mail in my office)
More good news is the pronunciation. Basically, what you see is what you get. Unlike French where there are lots of silent letters or Russian that has an entirely different alphabet, as long as you obey a few rules (and of course listen to native speakers to work out the accent) you're away. The basic rules are as follows:
w - pronounced like v
v - pronounced like f
ie - pronounced e
ei - pronounced i
d at the end of a word - pronounced like a t
z - pronounced like tz
So, try this:
Mein Hund ist viel zu dick und wir haben eine Katze
(Mine hunt ist feel tzoo dick unt veer haben eye-ne kat-tze)
My dog is much too fat and we have a cat
And yes, dick means fat....there'll be a comment or two about that, I'm sure...
I also think that learning German sets you up really well for any future language learning you might do, as you really have to learn all about nouns, adjectives and verbs if you're going to ever do more than just repeat set phrases. You might also start to realise a few things about English along the way too!
**what's not so great?**
Well, in common with lots of languages round the world German has more than one words for you, which can be not only a bit confusing, but could also cause you to inadvertently cause offence if not used correctly! Basically, you've got two words:
'du' - for people you know really well or children, dogs, cats etc...
'Sie' - for people you don't know or for people in authority i.e. child talking to their teacher.
And if you get the hang of that then, all well and good. But when you meet someone for the first time when do you decide you both know each other well enough to suggest du?
And there is of course the grammar to be considered. It's fine when you get the hang of it, or when you're just basically repeating set phrases (I'm afraid that you can get by with that for GCSE..) but if you want to work out all the grammar it is quite a complicated business. Let me give you another dog based example:
Ich habe einen dicken Hund
(I have a fat dog)
To do that you have to know that dog is a masculine noun (German has 3 genders, masculine, feminine and neuter unlike the 2 in French) and that the masculine accusative of the indefinite article is 'einen' which is accompanied by the adjectival ending 'en' on the end of dick. I need a lie down!
And to add to that, there is the issue of word order. Again, it's OK when you get used to it and there are actually only a few basic rules but it can be a bit bizarre e.g.
Weil er dick ist, ist mein Hund krank
Because he's fat, my dog is ill.
But the word order says ' Because he fat is, is my dog ill' !! And added to that they are probably even more strict about the use commas that Lynne Truss is!
**the bottom line?**
Its not the easiest language in the world, but its by no means the most difficult and if youre prepared to put in a bit of work, Ill bet youll love it. And the best bit is the German people themselves - despite the stereotypes they are warm, welcoming, interesting people. Yes, they do speak wonderful English, but youll never get to know them expecting them to do all the work for you - go on, have a go!
**some starting points**
My advice would be an evening class or tuition, as thats the best way not only to get and keep motivated but also to make sure that youre actually getting it right! Most local colleges run evening language courses - Spanish and French are the most common, but lots run German too.
Other than that, try Learndirect or the BBC if you want a course you can do on your own. But always go for a course with a CD or DVD/Video as you need to hear the language being spoken as well as reading it.
As you get better, try the www.deutschewell.de website - it has radio broadcasts and news from Germany, with some bits re-recorded slightly more slowly for non-native speakers.
But above all, ENJOY!
Thanks for reading.
To learn another language, a second tongue, is a goal of many people however once you begin you start to realise just how complex this is. The study of German is a much simpler affair for English people than an unrelated language such as Japanese or American - ha ha, little joke there, I don't know what I mean - but once you start getting assessed on the matter it becomes something of a burden to get it all in the head. I've been learning German for over six years now in secondary school, although to be fair two of these years were basically wasted doing crosswords and watching stupid computer-animated videos of people buying Bon Jovi CDs, and was all summed up in three lessons when GCSEs began. GCSE level required the pupil to be fluent to a degree, to use complicated sentences- using "weil" to mean "because" is always a good one because it sends the verb to the end and you can look a bit more clever- as well as proper use of the past tenses, that's perfect and imperfect, and the present. This may seem a little heavy-going but my school had great teachers and besides, there were two years to cover it all in over four lessons a week. The most embarrassing part of GCSE was that the student was required to record a tape of German at home which would be assessed by some examiner somewhere, although the final exams were the usual writing; reading & listening; and speaking, a conversation with the teacher in a deceptively homely room. The easiest part of the course was certainly the coursework which only needed to be very brief and could be cross-examined aplenty, and I was very satisfied when I came out with an A grade at the end of GCSEs- my teacher later told me that I was only one point off an A star but that's alright because I wasn't one of those kids who got money for their A stars anyway. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ ---------------------------- After a lot of thinking, I decided to carry German on to A-level, and after the AS year I'm currently studying it for A2. The course is a lot harder: For a start, one of the best German teachers has left, leaving only the lady, what is good, and the other man, what is rubbish. This also makes the lessons much more of a chore to go to on Monday afternoons and Wednesday mornings, especially as the majority of the four-person class decides that an hour of drinking at home is preferable to an hour in the fittingly-dark and depressing Deutsch room. Before I lose too much perspective, the A-level course is considerably harder than the GCSE one and this time that's actually true. Along with the existing tenses, new ones suddenly spring up all over the place and there are an increasing number of conjunctions, pronouns, verbs and everything else that suddenly make it very hard to write anything down at all. My mind hasn't been on the lesson completely for the last couple of months, mainly because of the change in teacher, and as such it's very hard to try and get all of this new German into my head. I have two re-sits in January, as I only achieved a C grade at AS-level but was close to a B, and am going to have to have a very German Christmas if I plan to succeed! And I'll have to spend time talking to the scary and smelly German assistant. That isn't a racial stereotype by any means. I would recommend study of another language to anyone who's interested, but if you expect to become fluent then it is a LOT of work, probably more than you'd expect. German is a good choice as, although it's not very widely spoken outside Deutschland, most words and phrases are similar enough to ease the burden a little. I can't really offer any starting phrases or words both because I have some German coursework to get on with, and it's early in the morning for all that stuff! It would be great to be fluent in a numb
er of languages, and I've heard that a lot of jobs can pay up to £10,000 more per year to someone fluent in a foreign language, however the workload suddenly seems very strenuous, or "schwierig," once you open your book at home and there's no one explaining it to you. Oh yes, and it's very satisfying when you feel you've begun to master certain aspects; something that happens far less frequently now there's the sentence sructure to follow. I'm sure I never used to use that and got awarded A's, makes you wonder whether it's the "real truth" I'm learning now. The school, and obviously a large number of others across the country, has offered annual visits to Germany which are becoming more insane in prices all the time- £180 when I was in Year 7 and now around £300, but I managed to get a free ride last year as one of two Sixth Form 'assistants' on the Year 7 trip to Aachen, a nice place in Germany that I would recommend a large number of times over the depressing and grey Koblenz where we had stayed on previous excursions. Now I'd better get back to that German coursework...
If you’ve read my op on learning languages (and if not, why not?), you’ll know that at age 6 I showed off my skills and called the German mayor of our twin town an idiot. A few years later, at a Brownies show, my, ahem, “talent” was reciting a poem in German. Can still remember it, “6 mal 6 is 36 und die Kinder sind so Fleißig.....” Although at GCSE I’d done more French than German in school terms, I knew a ton more of the latter and that’s why I chose to do it in 6th form (also started, and dropped French A/s, but that’s a long story). However, I detest the literature side of things and so opted for A/S which, with my exam board, included no set books. I did NEAB (part of the AQA group) German in 1999, so I know it’s probably changed slightly since then, especially with the introduction of the new A/S levels. Still this is what I had to do: Vocab Vocab Vocab *********************** Since I only had 8 months to learn everything (started in September and did the first exam the following April), I had to work hard. The main difference between this and GCSE was the level of vocab we needed. Essentially, we needed to be able to speak about every topic on earth, not just pets, brothers and sisters and where we went on holiday last year.... I learnt all sorts of useful words – “Vermittlungstelle” – telephone exchange, “Verfassungsgesetz” – constitutional law,,,,, you get the picture. I was all prepared , or so I thought. Jill Dando was murdered just a couple of days before my exam, and Mrs Summerdrought (not her real name) told me that the others had prepared a few sentences just in case the topic came up. She also thought I could do with a serious topic (but not Jill Dando as I was too young and tactless), and somehow we decided on Kosovo. I quickly learnt vocab (and to this day can still reel off wonderful sentences) along th
e lines of: “Wir sollen keinen Bodentruppen hinein schicken – das würde eine schlechte Idee sein, mehr Leute würde ums leben kommen, und nicht nur die Soldaten sondern auch die armen Fluchtlinge” Just like in a Miss America pageant you’re fine if you waffle about what a wonderul country it is, in an oral exam you can’t go wrong if you mention the poor refugees and manage to fit in a “würden” formation, not to mention a “nicht nur....sondern auch”. Oh, and my favourite phrase was also in there – ums leben kommen (to die). Don’t know why but it always tickles something in me (not in a ha ha death is funny way, more in a look what Germans say for it way) References ************* Since I wasn’t doing any German books, I decided I needed a few, ahem, literary quotes and references to drop into conversation should the need arise. Ended up with Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and the sehr bekannte “Über alle Gipfeln.....” – oh so useful..... Grammar *********** As well as vocab, what most people find hard is the emphasis on correct word order. Having grown up surrounded my Germans this wasn’t a problem for me as it came naturally, but for others it caused no end of grief. Have to say though, the annoying thing I’m finding here in Vienna is so many people don’t use “school taught” language and it’s taking me a while to pick up the exceptions and learn when I don’t need to send the verb to the end and so on. Exam ****** The exam was a reading paper (answer in English) and a listening paper (ditto) which were each worth 30%. Topics included Wimbledon, house fires and the problems of the youth of today (believe me, die Jugend von Heute haben viele Probleme). The remaining 40% was taken up by an oral exam conducted by an extern
al examiner. Since there were only 4 of us from my school, we had to go over to the Comprehensive to take our exam there. That was an experience : we were frog marched through their school in the lunch hour when the place was streaming with students. Let’s just say we attracted a bit of attention in our uniform – our suits and blouses were not quite subtle enough to blend in with their 6th form “wear whatever you like” rule. Anyway, the exam went well although Kosovo never came up. Instead I talked about school, what I wanted to do at uni and why I was only 16 years old (“So young!” the examiner kept saying). I ran way over time before she shut me up. Came out with an A. I was happy. Why chose a language at A Level? *************************************** Languages are a useful skill to have, and one which can earn you more money at that. The majority of foreigners can converse in at least one foreign language, but why should they get all the jobs? As one of the other ops says, having proficiency in a 2nd language can often result in a higher salary and more job prospects. Plus, languages are fun – in what other subjects to you get parties involving wine and chocolate all in the name of research, or get to debate abortion, drugs and the environment for hours on end. Who should do languages in the 6th form? ***************************************** At our school you had to have got a B or above at GCSE to continue studying any subject, and this is something I think is important for languages especially – unless you have the basic groundwork you’ll never make it. Sure if you just messed up your GCSE and can actually get by in German, give it a go, but otherwise steer well away. P.S. ***** Sorry for German typos above – remember I haven’t written much in German for years until I went to Wien, and then I was writing te
chnical documents, about files and program layouts, not refugees, and I’m using English Word so it won’t pick up German Fehler.
I thought it was probably about time that I updated some of my really old (and probably really crap) opinions...so here goes (I will leave in the original text and add an update at the bottom). Choosing German at 'A' level is not the easy option, but for me it was the right one. As with GCSE you have to put a lot in and in return you get a lot out. Opportunities in working with languages are exceptional and with the United Kingdom in Europe, it is becoming ever more necessary to speak one of the modern languages today. Like GCSE, this course focuses highly on grammar, it becomes quite difficult and you have to stick at it. As at 'A' level it is not actually a set course, virtually anything can come up on the exam paper and therefore you have to cover a lot of work in a fairly short space of time. All 'A' levels are hard and you have to work hard to succeed. German is no exception. It's great though. There's always the opportunity to work abroad or study abroad during summer or the holidays - this is one of the advantages of the course. The disadvantages would be the amount of effort you have to put in. It is worth it though, as apparently you can earn up to £5000 more per year in certain jobs for having a second language! How cool would that be? UPDATE Ok, so that was a bit rubbish really, wasn't it? I only really talked about the advantages. What about other stuff? I'm a university student of French and German at the moment and to be honest I'm finding German more difficult than ever before. I spent last year in France and therefore my ability in the two languages are now completely different. German at University Of course all unis tackle the course differently, but this is what mine does: we study compulsory modules on grammar and language skills (written and oral)...we also have the choice of other modules on culture, history a
nd literature. Much of the time they can overlap though. For instance, at the moment I am studying 'Literature of the Wende' and we read books, watch films and study the historical and cultural side of the German Reunification. It's very interesting, but extremely hard work. Two long books in German for half the module and a 2500 word essay (also in German) - and that's only this semester's workload! German at uni starts off a lot easier than A level to be honest. They have to make sure that everyone is at the same standard and you may find that you are not being stretched at all. That was the case for me - now it is completely different though. In your third year you can go abroad (actually at our uni it is compulsory except for mature students). As I said above I went to France, but I do think it is absolutely vital to spend as much time as possible in the country where your language is spoken. That is one of the reasons why I am struggling. I don't really know what more to write - chin up! You'll manage it!!! A lot of hard work and determination...