The Furchtbar German Language

August 28, 2017

I haven’t posted for a while. I think the last bit of scribbling I did was actually for a piece on Hong Kong – and that feels like eons ago. But in my defense, I’ve been preoccupied with work and learning German. Plus who the fucks got time to sit inside and write when the Austrian sun beckons like a busty breasted dirndl wearing maiden from the mountains? Not this Australier... not for this booby lover.


 Who wants to write with views like this? A lot of prominent authors actually.... not so much me


But what’s that? Spreche Ich Deutsch? Shit no. I don’t even know if it qualifies as a language. I mean, of course it’s a language. But the more I learn, the further away I feel I’m getting from grasping its intricacies. Want an example of just how complex it is?


"On the basis of my philological studies, I am convinced that a gifted person can learn English (except writing and pronunciation) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years. It is, therefore, obvious that the latter language should be justified and repaired. If she stays the way she is, she should be gently and respectfully given to the dead languages, because only the dead have enough time to learn them. " Mark Twain


Keep in mind Mark Twain was one of the finest literary minds of the 19th century. Here he’s pretty much saying that one lifetime isn’t enough time to learn German. I’m positive there’s individuals that had hoped to learn German in the past, that are now deceased… yet still clutching their 1880 Duden. I’m also pretty sure Herr Twain was quoted as saying that German is more of a bunch of rules than a language – to this I can testify.


 Me; the day I become fluent in German


I watch and listen Alex speak it with her family and even she stutters with the complexity of the conjugations and trips up on some of the words. Learning the grammar is a Sisyphean task. Australian English it seems is nearly the complete opposite of German in terms of pronunciation. In Australia, we’re known for casually gliding over vowels and consonants – a phonetic hallmark of our pattern of speech.  The contrast is striking, especially when you hear German native speakers repeat something you’ve just said in your Australian accent.


German is like quicksand: Every time I think I've grasped a new aspect of the language, I'm dragged back down into the grammatical bog... covered in sand and devoid of hope. Too bleak? Read here


German natives speak and emphasise every single sound. Words like Eichhörnchen and Quietscheentchen make me sweat bullets. German, it seems, is nothing less than a riddling obstacle course, which can only be navigated with a healthy dose of humor, expansive capacity for patience, and tolerance for the illogical. There are some similarities between German and English, if you can believe it.

Actually 80 of the 100 most common words in English are Germanic in origin. Give or take a few spelling and pronunciation differences, they’re practically the same. For example:


  • I have – Ich habe

  • It is long – Es ist lang

  • Where is that – Wo ist das


It also helps that German is the same alphabet as English, as opposed to an Asian, Russian or Scandinavian language. Do you know what Здравствуйте means? I do, but I'm the one that Googled it. I shit you not, that's just "Hello" in Russian – surely you've got to consume enough vodka to be practically smirnoffing in your pants before you understand it right. German, in comparison, looks like a walk in the park.


The hardest aspect of learning German however is the cases. I don't even know what they are yet, I just bluff my way through them when talking to people. And by people I mean Alex's cat... Alex's deaf cat. Check out these examples to get a bit of an idea of what I'm on about. For those in the know, English does and did have cases too, but like the logical language speakers we are, we turfed most of them in favour of simpler grammar. Thank you Shakespeare. 


So why am I attempting to scale perhaps the Everest of languages. Love? Curiosity? Stupidity? Maybe it’s all three. It’s odd to consider though that I really have never been able to meaningfully contribute to a conversation with Alex’s dad or mother. I drop the odd “Shön” and “Danke” here and there, but I’m mehr oder weniger a mute in most social settings. This has led to some epic social faux pas though. Like when I got back from a run at 9 in the morning and I thought Alex’s mum asked me if I’d like some water to drink. I said yes, and as I rounded the corner into the kitchen I noticed her taking the cap off a beer. Turns out she asked me if I wanted eine Flasche Gösser (which is a Styrian beer), not eine Flasche Wasser (a glass of water), which to me sounded exactly the same. I didn’t say no, and ended up drinking a long neck in the shower at 8 on a Monday morning. Lost in translation? Or does her mum just think I have a drinking problem after stumbling back into the house one Saturday night only to pass out in the doorway.


If she didn't before, she does now.


 Auf Wiedersehen... vielleicht






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