Tag Archives: german

The Road to Hell…

14 Jun

They say that the Road to Hell is paved with good intentions and if this is true, then I definitely have more than one foot on the cobbled stones. You see it was never my intention to have an extended pause from writing my blog when I got back from holiday. But it happened. It was an accident, an unintentional slip after I had tried so hard to continuing to blog while I was in Asia.

Sometimes when circumstances are difficult we manage to solider on regardless, like when I persevered blogging, without a laptop, but using an app on my iPhone which was made even more infuriating by my fat fingers mis-typing every second word. When things are infinitely easier, we tend to slip up.

I arrived back in Switzerland after my adventure (on reflection, it definitely was an adventure) and was straight back into work mode. It saddens me how easy it was to slip back into the work routine. Get up. Work. German lessons or hockey training (depending on what day it is). Home. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Within a few days and back into the frustration of daily work trivialities, it is easy to forget how big the world is, how many possibilities there are out there and how amazing my experiences on the other side of the world were.

So in the last six weeks that is what I have been up to. It’s nothing very exciting but it is what it is. One of the things that I am terrible about doing, when I get back from holiday, is sorting and organising my photos. I take thousands and thousands of photos. A lot of the time, I take pictures of things that are not even that interesting but I was determined this time to sort them properly and make a picture book so have to look back on. The actual organising of photos took at least 3 days (I did say I take a lot) and in the end I got bored so there are some that are not yet sorted properly.

Making and editing the actual book was like reliving the whole holiday: things I have seen, things I have eaten, things I refused to eat (they have some quirky things that are classed as food in Asia). It already brought back some great memories and as they say a picture paints a thousand words.

I did head to less humid climates in May – Manchester. It was a trip I had planned in October last year with a friend. The reason was the 25th Anniversary Take That tour. Unfortunately, due to circumstances that were all too tragic and well documented. The concert didn’t take place. It made me realise that we are living in a time when violence and terror is now on our doorsteps, whereas just a few years ago was confined to places that we can’t spell or would never ourselves visit.

Nevertheless, I flew back to Manchester because it was time to see friends and family: People who I am separated by distance on a regular basis. Time at home can sometimes be extremely time pressured but it also gives some unexpected surprises, like bumping into my godmother at the supermarket.

The next month will continue to be high paced as a trip to Edinburgh is planned and I have my German exam looming on the horizon at the beginning of July. For those of you who know me this is good enough reason to give me a wide berth until the afternoon of 8th July. Before exam stress levels =off the scale.

Until the panic sets in, I am happy  sit on the balcony, watching the sunset over my little garden while updating my blog. This feeling may not last long. I will enjoy it while it lasts.

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The literal nature of the German language

16 Mar

The other day I was thinking (and I have no idea why before you ask) about the German word for breakfast. I have no idea why I was thinking about Frühstück while I was waiting for my tram but I was. If you deconstruct the word, you are left with früh which means “early” and stück which means “piece”. The word literally means in English “early piece”. This make so much sense because breakfast is the first meal of the day and my theory is that the word “piece” is fitting for the German speaking world because most people have a croissant or a piece of bread as their first meal.

This doesn’t really work in the English language because we tend to have more lavish and complicated breakfasts. We don’t just take “a piece” and go. Can you imagine if you took a piece from an English breakfast and you mistakenly end up with a baked bean? That won’t stop you snacking until lunchtime.

This got me thinking about other German words which are literal in their meaning. The word for shoe in German is Schuh and the word for glove is Handschuh. So Germans genuinely think of a glove as a shoe for the hand, which it sort of is.

The German word for a sloth is made up of the word faul meaning “lazy” and tier meaning “animal”. I’ve watched David Attenbourgh and that animal is lazy by anyone’s standards.

It is, therefore, perhaps not surprising that there are some laughable mistranslations when Germans try to speak English. I mean laughable in the nicest possible way. One mistake that is frequently used in the office is emails that start with “Hello together”. In German the email would start with Hallo zusammen meaning dear all. The problem is that zusammen also means “together”. You can say Wir gehen morgen zusammen which means “We are going together tomorrow”. I have a colleague who proudly walks into the office every day, cheerily declaring “Hello together”. Part of me thinks I should politely point out to him his mistake, the other part of me thinks it might be a bit rude to say anything at all. It’s a modern-day dilemma.

Other howler is the use of the words “some when” which is directly translated from the German word Irgendwann (irgend meaning some and wann meaning when in the precise sense of what time). A friend asked me if I wanted to go to the cinema with her some when. I pointed out this way wrong. Firstly, she is my friend and secondly, she specifically mentioned that it’s ok if I pick her up on mistakes. The modern-day dilemma was clearly avoided in this case. When I told her the question should be “do you want to go to the cinema some time?”, she looked at me a little confused and said “when do you use some when?” To which I replied “well, never. It doesn’t exist in English in the way that you mean it”.

The verb to ski in German is Skifahren, literally “to drive skis”. This time I was on the receiving end of the confusion when a friend told me he would like to drive with me. I had to stop myself from saying words to the effect of “That’s lovely. Maybe we can drive somewhere later but right now I would like to go skiing”. Then it dawned on me what he meant and I smiled and followed him down the mountain.

These miscommunications, while at times can be frustrating when learning a language, provide light relief. In some of the above cases, it makes it easier for me to remember phrases in German because of the funny story or association behind it. At the moment, I wish there were some more funny stories that would stick more vocabulary in my head; recently my memory has been like a sieve and I need a way to bung those holes up!

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Disaster and two murders in a weekend!

5 Feb

Disaster might be a bit of a strong word but bad things have happened this weekend. The Wifi modem has broken and since Thursday evening there has been no internet connection at home.

I am not the sort of person who can’t go without the internet. In fact, not having the Internet  when I travel is one of the reasons that I like to travel so much. I normally only have the internet when I am at a hotel or restaurant and I can get a connection. I never pay for data roaming; partly because I don’t want to age 10 years when I finally get the bill and I realise how much data I have actually downloaded. I find pleasure in not being 100% contactable during time away and also not worrying why someone hasn’t replied to one of my messages.

It was a bit annoying that it had to happen this weekend. I had nothing planned this weekend, except a two phone calls via FaceTime with a friend and with my mum but now with no Wifi and a weak signal on my phone, that is not possible. I was looking forward as well.

fax-1904656__340Also, I had planned to spend some time this weekend on the internet researching some thing to do on my holiday in April. The weather is so cold and grey that a bit of research and thinking about holiday in a few months time was going to be momentary release from the drudgery of February. It seems like it was not to be.

Instead I have managed to do quite bit of reading. I have finally finished the second ever German book I have read. I am feeling a little smug again. This book was harder to read than The Reader because there isn’t a film that the book is based on that I have already seen. The book was a sort of crime thriller. A man is found dead and a private detective is hired to find out what happened. The book is called Happy Birthday, Türke by Jakob Arjouni, if you are interested. I also finished an English book that I only started on Wednesday evening. Because the Wifi broke on Thursday and the TV was also not working so well, I managed to get through a lot of it before the weekend even started. Coincidently, this book was also about a private detective. And, thinking about it, the book does start with the death of a man at the beginning. They weren’t the same book though. I am pretty sure that my German is not so bad that I wouldn’t have noticed.

If you are wondering how I am writing this without Internet, I am actually writing it on my phone. It isn’t the same as typing on the computer. I have fat figure syndrome and I keep hitting the wrong keys on my phone. It is taking me a lot longer than it would do normally. It’s frustrating. But hopefully a new modem will arrive tomorrow and normal service will be resumed. If not, I did visit a book shop yesterday with the intention of “just having a look”, but I came out of the shop ten minutes later with a bagful of books, so I should be able to keep myself entertained for a few days more at least.

The language question

1 Feb

After my blogging about going to Germany for a week, I realised that people may not have understood the real reason for this or, that they may be wondering why after 4 years in a country with a different language, I am not fluent already.

The main reason is because in Switzerland the language that is spoken is not the same as in Germany (“High German” as it is known) but Swiss German. The differences between the two are many and varied. So much so, that Germans who come to Switzerland to work or on holiday have difficulty in understanding the Swiss.

There is the well-known quote of the Irish writer, George Bernard Shaw who said:

England and America are two countries divided by a common language

I would say that this is true of the difference between Swiss German and High German as well. An example may help with my explanation. The German word for “taste” is actually the word that Swiss Germans uses for “smell”. So there could be a misunderstanding, when a Swiss German asks a German colleague, if they have smelt how bad the toilet is. The German will understand that this to mean “have you tasted how bad the toilet is”. This leads to confusion all round and quite a few puzzled looks in the office.

It is not just the words that might be confusing. The grammar and the sounds of the words are completely different in both languages It can take some time for a native German speaker to grasp the meaning of the Swiss language.

Of course the Swiss are also able to speak High German. In fact, they normally write emails, read books and newspapers in High German but only speak in Swiss German. A teacher once explained to me that Swiss people don’t like speaking in High German because this is the language that they are forced to speak at school. A child growing up in Switzerland will learn to talk Swiss German with friends and family. They will only learn High German when they finally begin school. Very early on, a child is programmed to associate speaking Swiss German with spending time with friends and family and having fun and High German with homework and school.

As this isn’t complicated enough, there are different Swiss dialects which are only spoken in certain regions. The word for “boy” is different in the Canton of Zurich to the word that they use in other cantons. The verb “to shop” is different in Zurich to the verb that is used to mean the exact same thing in Bern, which is only an hour away.

I would say that this is a little bit like the different words we use in England for a bread roll. Where I was brought up, I would use the word “barm” to refer to a sandwich roll but regional variations can be anything from bap, roll, barmcake, buns, bin lids, cob, teacake. I actually looked this up and there are 18 regional variations for a bread roll in the UK.

But teacake, for the record, is most certainly not a savoury bread. It is a sweet bread with currants in it that you have with slathered on it with a cup of tea on the side. I would just like to make that absolutely clear.

From the context of the sentence, it is normally easy to work out what the speaker is saying but it requires some effort from the listener to decipher what is being said. My point is that even Swiss Germans can have some difficultly in understanding each other.

When you put all of this together, you can see what my, and many others in my situation, problem is. There is a complete disconnect between the High German that I am taught in my language school and the language that is spoken in the office, in the supermarket and in the street. I spent the first year and a half wondering if I was learning another language because I was still struggling to understand what was being said to me and around me.

download-3Going to Germany was a tactic to hear as much German as was possible and to reinforce
how much I could understand and function in the language that I have been struggling to learn for so long.

I am not sure if I know of any other languages where there is this disconnect between the spoken and written language. It is completely confusing for someone trying to learn. In France and Italy for example, the language that you would hear after leaving in the language school would be the same as the language as on the street and the learning process would be accelerated.

For now, I am concentrating on getting my High German perfect but if I am to stay here longer term I will need to learn some Swiss German. I already have an okay-ish understanding of the numbers for example (so I can at least give the cashier at the supermarket the right money for my shopping, which was virtually impossible when I first arrived) and I know the days of the week. Except for Tuesday. I can never remember the word for Tuesday. But as I don’t consider Tuesday to be so much of an important day of the week, I am happy to let that one slide.

 

 

 

Operation Full Immersion: Complete

22 Jan

I arrived back in Zurich yesterday afternoon.  Operation Full Immersion is complete. I thought it would be useful to reflect on the past week and see how much I have benefitted from this exercise.

First of all, it was nice to be able to take the time away from work and to focus on my language learning away from distractions. In a normal day after work, I can come home feeling exhausted and not able to learn something new productively.

It was nice to spend the time in Munich and get to know the city a bit. It is a lovely city, even though it was extremely cold, certainly a lot colder than is was in Switzerland in the city. Normally if I travel to a city in Europe, I only spend a weekend or a long weekend there and often this is not enough time to explore and to get a feeling of the city. It is often the case that I only get to see a few specific things and most of the time is a bit stressed rushing from one place to another. I feel that this time I can say I really have been to the city. The history of the city was surprising in places and I learnt a lot of things that I didn’t know or had completely forgotten.

What was disappointing was the language school. They communicated badly from the start and never mentioned that the highest level was not on the same level as my German is currently. If I had know this from the start I would have reconsidered my options. Ok, it was fine that I was able to change from the group lessons to the private lessons but that wasn’t the point of this trip. The point was to be fully immersed in the language. After the 90 minute lesson I was then on my own and apart from in coffee shops, supermarkets and restaurants, I didn’t properly speak to another person at length. I already knew I would be able to function in German society without any problems but I don’t feel that I got the boost that I needed.

The private lessons themselves were good but I don’t know how much I have profited from these. The teachers only met with me three times and a lot of the time I had the feeling that they were analysing what I actually knew and where my strengths and weaknesses lay.

So one week on, I can say that the mission is complete but how much further I am along the line to being fluent is still to be seen. I was hoping to go to another German speaking city (maybe Vienna in Austria) later in the year for three weeks for German lessons so this was the trial run. One thing is for certain: I can not go somewhere for 3 weeks when the langauage school cannot offer what I want. That would be pointless and a complete waste of money.

I need to reassess my opinions and decide what is best for me to do in the long run. I know I need to speak more German on a day to day basis for it to improve. In the past I have been a bit lazy in this respect but I hope I can focus on this in the months ahead. In the meantime, I need to get ready and prepare for my German lesson tomorrow evening. The learning never stops…

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Operation Full Immersion: Day 5

19 Jan

I was up early again this morning for my first of two lessons. I must say that my a-little-bit eccentric teacher is really growing on me. She has such enthusiasm about learning that you just can’t help but carried along with it. We spend most of the lesson talking. She asked me to give a small presentation about my favourite book and we spend a lot of time talking about the different themes in the book.

She knows that I like reading because I mentioned it yesterday  and that I also read some books in German (or, at least I try to). She takes 2 books out of her bag. One is by a Swiss author and one is by Franz Kafka. She explains a bit of the plot of the story to me and says that she has two copies of these books so I am welcome to take them with me. How lovely is that! I have always wanted to read some Kafka but I never thought that I would ever read it in the original language it was written in.

We talk some more about memory and most of the questions that she asked me are hard to explain in English. I muddle through it some how and manage to partly answer the questions. We finish off singing a song together because “I sang so well yesterday”. I am not sure if my confidence in German has grown but my confidence in singing has. I might audition for the X-Factor at this rate!lowenbrau-1693942__340

I have some free time before my next lesson. I go to a well-known coffee shop again and use their internet for free while doing some grammar exercises. I have completely stopped feeling guilty about this. As it costs almost 3 Euros for a tea, the WiFi is certainly NOT free.

Refreshed and ready to go, I head back to the language school for my next lesson with another teacher. I can sense some sort of jealousy going on between the teachers. This teacher asks what I have done with the other teacher and how I found it. I find it a little bit odd. It’s an odd situation all round. I wanted some groups lesson and some private lessons and then the group lessons were changed to private lessons as well; now I feel a bit like a pawn in between to warring fractions.

I realise in my first lesson that I am tired and I made some mistakes that I really shouldn’t be making any more. I try to focus 100% in the second lesson but this makes me feel even more tired. Anyway, we talk about learning languages and how it differs in Germany to England. I mention that the English tend to be a bit lazy because everyone in the world can speak good English. There are many studies which prove that being bilingual, multilingual or even the process of learning a language can have benefits for the brain and also in the pay packet.

Later on, we move onto some grammar topics that I have been having difficulties with and these seem to be a lot clearer now. It has been useful to specifically look at some topics I have been meaning to understand better. I also have these grand ideas that I will spend time on these topics at home to understand them better but I never end up doing it. Having someone else explain something to you that you just can’t seem to get can also make a difference. I have certainly found that out this week.

Straight after the lesson I go to  join another walking tour. This time the topic is the Third Reich. The sun seems to be out but it gives the false impression that it is warmer that it was yesterday. It was -8 degrees and I was stood out in it for about 3 hours.

As you can probably imagine, a 3 hour walking tour about the Third Reich is not the best feel good activity that you could ever do but I feel that this topic is intrinsically linked to the history of Munich and modern day Munich. I was left feeling a little bit depressed at the end. However, the tour guide was very well informed and he really brought to life why Munich was so important to the success of the Nazi and which events unfolded where in the city.

I find it mind-blowing when I think of some of the places that I have been and who was there before me. But this time it made my spine shiver. The guide explained the events of 8 November 1939 when the Nazis walked into Odeonplatz and it was by sheer luck that Hilter was able to get away unscathed. If he hadn’t the whole of human history would have panned out differently. I have no idea if this would have been better or worse but no doubt it would have been different.

The tour itself brought the city and its history to life for me. It was far more interesting than reading a book or watching a TV reconstruction and I found out a lot of things that I didn’t know before or things that I had completely forgotten about from being told in my school days.

Tired from another 3 hours of German lessons, I head home to relax and prepare for my last day!

 

Operation Full Immersion: Day 4

18 Jan

The week seems to be running away and it is Wednesday already! I didn’t sleep that well last night because I knew that I needed to be at the language school for another private lesson for 8.30am. I was nervous that I would oversleep and I would end up missing the lesson after I had made a fuss about the group lessons being too easy. It seemed like I was waking up every half hour just to make sure that my alarm was still set and I hadn’t accidentally not heard it go off.

The private lesson today is with a different teacher than I have had for my other lessons. I met her briefly yesterday when she had introduced herself. On first impressions, she seems to be a little bit skatty with a hint of barmy. She tells me that she is a German-Russian and is wearing a T-shirt with the logo “Love Conquers Capitalism”. It’s an interesting choice.

From my school days, which seem a long, long time ago now, I know that sometimes the more eccentric the teacher, the better the lessons are. I am certainly not disappointed. The lesson is probably one of the most varied I have ever had. We seem to jump from one topic to another but I know, because she only has a limited about of time with me, that she is eager to find out where my strengths and weaknesses lie and to help me as much as possible.

She mentioned that when I speak, I speak really clearly. A mistake that a lot of people make when they are learning a new language is that they tend to mumble and hurry through the words rather than focusing on the individual words. This pleases me because for the past 6 months or so I have really been concentrating on my pronunciation. Even though people have commented that I speak like someone from Switzerland and not someone from Germany, I find this to be a great compliment. Maybe I am no longer sounding like an English person trying to say really long words, which is how I sounded until recently. She does, however, notice that I have a problem with the difference with “u” and “ü” which is something that I have been trying to improve. I think I am almost 90% of the time saying these correctly. I just have to practice a bit more.

We finish off by singing a song together in German. A German pop song. And no, it wasn’t by David Hasselhof. When songs from my childhood come on the radio, I can remember them word for word. Learning songs is probably a good way to learn a language. But I am not sure I could ever get into German pop. No matter how hard I tried.

Straight after my lesson I go to visit Schloss Nymphenburg, which is 15 minutes from the main train station. It is freezing cold and there is a school class who are ice-staking as part of their lessons on the frozen lake which is in front of the palace. The building and the grounds are impressive but it is far too cold to explore outside. I can imagine that in the summer that it is a glorious place to visit and spend time but not when the outdoor temperature is -7 degrees. IMG_4477.JPGHoused at the palace at the Natural Histroy Museum is a temporary exhibit of “The Wildlife Photographer of the Year”. I went to see the exhibition last year and it was amazing. The photographs in the competition were equally mind-blowing. I like taking pictures of animals and nature but I can never imagine taking photographs of this quality. I was studying the first category and was amazed. I then realised that this was a category for the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year for children aged 10-17. Unbelieveable!

After doing some work inside (yes, at Starbucks again), I braved the cold weather to do a free walking tour of Munich. I have been on a lot of free walking tours and have always found them to be a good way to quickly learn about the city and the culture. I was slightly disappointed that the guide was actually from Wolverhampton. He was actually a really good guide, was well informed about the history of the city and was very entertaining. As it was cold, he took us into some public buildings so that we could warm up a bit inside.

On a side note: when I went to Copenhagen with my friend Mark, we went on a walking tour. There were a lot of people and the split us into 3 groups with 3 different tour guides. We were delighted to be put into the group we were in because the other 2 guides were from the UK and Australia. Our guide looked so Danish; with blond hair, blue eyes and a huge beard. We were going to be given a tour by a genuine Danish local! It turns out he was from Belgium. It just goes to show that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

After something quick to eat, I headed back; more because the bitter cold weather had begun to creep into my bones. I have some homework and some things to look over before my lesson tomorrow morning. It is surprising how tired I have felt this week. Obviously, I have not been as stressed and busy as I normally would be if I was working in the office but the combination of the crisp, winter air and using my brain to think hard about certain things and trying to improve my German is definitely a remedy for insomia!