For someone not being native in German and mainly having studied the Latin languages (think French, Spanish, Italian…) learning German might seem like mission impossible. But do not fear, I have found THE WAY! And generous as I AM, I have created a 5-minute guide for you to also get your German up to about 50% in one GO!… amazing, right?
I think that the creation of the German language can be seen as something like a timeline, more or less exactly aligning with the human evolution. Let me explain, because it really is that easy. And let’s start at the BEGINNING.
Stage ONE, or STONEAGE: What is this? Hmmm… a FIRE-THING!
With simple words and things that are not inventions of the last century, always refer to the THING. Meaning, when you’re not 100% sure about the translation of a word, think like a German (what they themselves refer to as logic, and we foreigners sometimes to “ridiculous” (-ly funny)).
Me: “I’m going home for the holidays”
Other: “Oh, nice… are you driving?”
Me: “no, I … I …. Go with the… erhhh…. “
That’s where you take the time to stop and THINK. Think like a German. How are you going home? You’re flying… if you’re flying, what do you go by? An airplane, yes, but what could that be in German. Let’s see… it’s a thing… that flies… OK, got it… “flying thing” (= Flugzeug).
Good examples of stone age-words:
- Spielzeug – Play + thing = Toy
- Werkzeug – work + thing = Tool
- Feuerzeug – Fire + thing = Lighter
- Fahrzeug – Driving/riding + thing = Vehicle
Stage TWO, or MODERNISATION: Oh, look at that, what are we going to call it?
This is the tricky piece, where the Germans came up with their own words, and I think it usually went something like this:
German 1: “Look, a new fruit, now – what are we going to call this?”
German 2: “Hmmm… the English call it “pear”, the French “poire”, the Spanish “Pera”… we have to stay unique…
German 1: “You’re right… let’s go for… what do you think about “BIRNE”?
German 2: “Awesome, that will not be confusing at ALL and make us unique and our language harder to learn”
Good examples of modernization-words:
- Birne = Pear
- Möhre = Carrot
- Entschuldigung = Excuse me/ Sorry
Stage THREE, or COMBINATION: “Oh, we ran out of ideas, let’s combine what we already have”
Be aware, because this is also the stage when German started to get complicated. After they ran out of words that were new and unique, they started to combine words to get the specific meaning of new inventions/things and this is also where the world-famous lengthy words start to pop up. As we were already talking about vehicles back in the Stone Age, let’s go back there and see how the Germans handled it when they realized it was too vague as they now had different kind of vehicles.
“Oh, let me see, we have too many vehicles, we can not understand the exact use of it, we need to specify…. What is this REALLY???”
That is how a car got to be called a “person-force-wagon” (= personenkraftwagen… yes, in ONE word) which is more precise than vehicle. A turtle (which was probably unknown to Germans until this period of time) became a “shield-toad”.
Good examples of combination-words:
- Personenkraftwagen – Person + force + wagon = Car
- Schildkröte – Shield + Toad = Turtle
- Streichholz – strike/sweep + wood = Matches
- Handschuh – hand + shoe = Glove
- Schlittschuh – sliding + shoe = ice skates (Schlittschuh laufen = the verb “to ice skate” – to go “slideshoewalking”)
Stage FOUR or GLOBALIZATION: “Oh, that sounds like English, let’s call it that”
The Globalization stage is not something that only the Germans went through, and believe me, I could talk endlessly about how the Spanish or French adapted the new terms, which might even be funnier, but in order to make this guide complete, I feel like I can not leave this part out.
This period also lead to that most Germans think they speak good English and it is therefore bound for confusion when talking with them in English. For them, it is totally normal to say such things as:
“You can call me on my Handy…”
Ugh, OK, I can call you upon convenience, or what do you mean?
- Handy = Cell phone (and they think it comes from English)
- Antibabypille = contraception pills (I guess “contraception” was to hard to make sound German)
You see, that was less than 5 minutes, and you are already there!
Vocabulary – CHECK!
Now, the only thing you should keep in mind in order to get your German sound like native is simple:
KEEP IT COMPLICATED!!!
Yes, you heard me right… the expression “less is more” is DEAD to the Germans, and here it is all about being as complicated as possible. Mostly, this comes down to being very, very specific when talking. Always think about what you want to say and see if you can get more specific, and if yes, usually you lengthen your word (Germans do not like attributes adjectives and adverbs, they want just ONE word, it’s SIMPLER…right…)
Meaning… if you talk about the turtle we previously mentioned, think about it, is it living on LAND or on WATER (the fact that you saw it in your garden does not justify you for NOT specifying this… again, think like a GERMAN).
“I saw a land-turtle today” (= Landschildkröte)
If you talk about, let’s say a house, think about it, is it a big house with several apartments, is it a house where more than one family lives but doesn’t have more than 5 floors so it’s not considered huge or is it a private house?
“We looked for an apartment in a multiple-family-house on the mainstreet” (e.g. mehrfamilienhaus as in an apartment building with not too many residents…)
Now, if you have made it all the way down here, I have some things to say:
- Congratulations – you now speak 50% German
- Congratulations – You have now learnt how to think like a German
- I’m sorry for you – you must be very bored (or live in Germany and trying any method possible to learn German)
So, let’s be pedagogic here and sum up… in order to speak German:
- Think like a German – e.g .What is the purpose of the word you are searching?
- Learn the “unique” words (haha, they won’t be so damn unique anymore)
- Complicate… I cannot stress this enough!!!
OK, that’s all for now.. I’m heading out to practice my German on complete strangers, might tell you how that went another time 🙂
PS: I showed this post to my (German) boyfriend before posting it, and his first comment was “But you know yourself it doesn’t totally make sense right… they did not have cars in the stone age….”
PS2: One of the longest German words I could find on the internet is Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz, seriously! (this word also won a “special award” in 1999 – WOW!!!)
PS3: If you think this was the awesome post I had in mind, think again… I’m not THAT retarded… I still have that in my head 🙂
PS4: I promise to write about something else than German tomorrow…