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January 6, 2015

Learning German: a whole new world

So as you may remember, I recently decided to try and learn some German as part of the uTalk language challenge. It’s not a language I’ve ever studied before, and as much as I’m enjoying getting stuck in, it’s also proving quite a bit trickier than I expected.

First, the accent is quite difficult to master. Up to now, my language studies have focused on the Romance languages, particularly Spanish, with its soft, rolling ‘r’ sound and lovely, lilting quality. German is, in contrast, full of hard ‘d’s and ‘ch’s and is a very throaty language, whereas Spanish trips easily off the tongue. There’s a video that surfaces from time to time on the internet, about how everything sounds angry when you say it in German. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but it’s certainly a very different accent to the languages I’ve studied before and is taking a bit of getting used to. I’m pretty sure I’ve been speaking German with a Spanish accent some of the time, which is confusing to say the least.

Then there are the long words. This is actually one of my favourite things about German – the way you can express almost anything simply by sticking words together – but it’s also quite daunting for a learner. Nowhere is this more evident that in the numbers, which look slightly terrifying on first encounter. That said, the way they’re constructed is actually very logical (67, for instance, is ‘seven and sixty’), so they’re not quite as scary as they look. So far, this is my particular favourite – it looks like a tongue twister but still makes complete sense when you break it down into five and fifty:

German numbers

Telling the time, on the other hand, is proving a bit of a killer. The main reason for this is that German approaches telling the time differently to English. So whereas here in the UK we say ‘half four’ to mean ‘half past four’, in Germany it means ‘half of the fourth hour‘ – or ‘half past three‘. And it gets better – if you want to say ‘twenty five past three’, it translates in German as ‘five to half four’. I’m sure this is perfectly logical to a German speaker, and I know other languages take the same approach, but it’s taking me a little while to adapt to it.

The other problem I’m having is learning the definite articles with nouns – how do you know when to use ‘der’, ‘die’ or ‘das’? Unlike Spanish, which has rules to help you at least take an educated guess at the article, German feels pretty arbitrary – and it doesn’t help that whereas most languages just have masculine and feminine nouns, German throws in a third one (neuter), just for fun. At the moment I’m just going with what ‘feels right’, with varying levels of success, so I think what I’ll need to do is learn every noun with its article, since there’s no other way of figuring it out. That shouldn’t take long…

der, die or das?

I’m jumping in headfirst to the challenge, starting straight away with the games in uTalk to see how much I can work out on my own. Then I’m going back and running through the Practice section for each category to make sure I’ve understood everything correctly, and put meanings to words I may not be sure of. (I suppose it’s the equivalent of attempting a conversation with someone and then going away and looking up anything I didn’t understand in a dictionary.) The results are sometimes a bit messy, but I feel like I’m learning faster that way. I’m working through the categories one at a time, in order, but going back regularly to practise earlier ones and make sure I haven’t forgotten everything I’ve learnt. And I’m saving the Recall sections for later – that will be my final challenge and the ultimate test of how much I can remember!

Since I have a long journey to and from work, I’m making use of my time on the train to learn, and so far it’s not going too badly…

uTalk challenge

Who else is taking the uTalk challenge? How’s it going? Everyone learns differently, so we’d love to hear how you’re approaching the challenge.

And if you’d like to take part in the challenge, it’s not too late – just drop us an email to get involved!



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