Cases in the German language

German lessons in LondonTeaching German at all levels, I am regularly tasked to explain cases to my students who tend to see them as an alien concept, but cases in German are easily explained. German has four cases: nominative, accusative, dative and genitive. Genitive is the easiest: it donates possession. The nominative case is reserved for the subject of a sentence, the person or thing that decides how a verb is conjugated. The accusative is the person or thing that is receiving the action of the verb – it is the object of the sentence. The dative is the beneficiary (indirect object) of any action in a sentence. English also has cases but nouns are no longer declined dependent on case. Look at this simple sentence for example:

I am making breakfast for my wife’s parents.

The subject is ‘I’ – I am left to do the work. The indirect object is ‘my wife’s parents’ – the beneficiary – they are going to eat the breakfast. The direct object is the breakfast – that is what is being made. And the genitive is my wife – because she is the one to whom the parents ‘grammatically’ belong.

Think German is complicated? Try learning Russian with six cases or Polish, which has seven cases.

German words from Asian languages

german-lessonsOften during German lessons, I get ask if there are words in German that are of Indo-Aryan or Austronesian origin. Many words covering religion and philosophy originate in Hindi, Sanskrit, Malay and Tamil. They made their way into German via the English language. There is der Bambus, which originates in Malay. From Bangla we have der Bungalow, a low rise building. Der Dschungel is a word from Hindi and means wilderness. From Sanskrit we have der Guru that is a spiritual teacher. Der Ingwer is a spice (ginger) and the word originates in Tamil. Of earthy colour is khaki and that is what its meaning is in Hindi. Die Orange made its way into German from the Persian language. Das Shampoo is a Hindi word and means to kneed or massage. Less desirable words in the German language with their origin in Sanskrit are der Swastika und der Arier, but let’s not go there again …

What did Napoleon do for the German language?

Learn GermanDo you know what Gallicism means? Gallicisms are words from French that have found use in another language. When learning German you will come across a lot of Gallicisms. They found their way into German during the reign of Louis XIV who was revered across the German aristocracy. Amusement, fashion, cuisine, the military are all subjects that have words borrowed from French. For example das Ballett, das Turnier, der Chiffon, der Satin, die Frisur, das Kostüm, der Gobelin, das Dessert, die Kreme, der Kaffee, die Kantine, die Kolonne, der Veteran.

Other words are die Garantie, das Plädoyer, die Eleganz, die Garage, die Garderobe

Verbs ending in –ieren tend to be borrowed from French as well: abonnieren, arrangieren, revanchieren, engagieren, plädieren, frisieren.

Till the late eighteenth, lectures at German universities were in Latin and the German aristocracy spoke French and only plebeians, of which were many, spoke German. All that came to an end when Napoleon occupied large parts of German territory and people developed a national pride and a pride in their language. Gallicisms in the German language have been in decline since the Napoleonic wars. Who would have thought…

German words of Russian origin

WITH STORY Russia-Britain-EU FILE - In this file photo taken on Wednesday, June 29, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he addresses students during his visit to German Embassy school in Moscow, Russia. Putin has remained poker-faced during Britain's EU referendum vote to exit the European Union, but the shake-up could alter the status quo in Europe, and create new opportunities for Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, file)

When taking German lessons or attending a German course you’ll come across many German words of foreign origin. German, like other languages, borrows words typically from Latin, Greek, English and French. Less well known are Russian words that have made their way into the German language, often through the linguistic development of the part of Germany that lay behind the Iron Curtain.

There is the word der Kosmonaut, the counterpart to the English word Astronaut.

Kosmo- from Greek kosmos meaning outer space and naut from Greek nauta meaning navigator – therefore Kosmonaut is the one navigating the outer space.

Kreml (Kremlin) – meaning fort – nowadays the epicentre of power in Russia from where Mr Putin pulls the strings. Mammut (mammoth) – meaning tusk from the earth –usually what is left when one of these mammals is being excavated in the Russian steppe. There we have another German word of Russian origin, die Steppe – meaning treeless and barren land.

Die Troika from Russian tri meaning three – Troika – group of three. Are there any other German words of Russian origin that you know?

How many people do speak German?

Only 1.571% of the world  speaks German

Why learn German you may ask? Please read on …German Language coach

There are about 7,000 languages worldwide. Many languages are threatened by extinction, especially languages spoken by natives in Asia and America.

Some languages are spoken by only a couple of people. More that 50% of languages have less than 10,000 speakers; more than 25% of languages have less than 1,000 speakers. 4% of the world population speak 96% of all languages. From a different angle: 96% of the world population speak 4% of all languages. People should easily be able to communicate, but they cannot because 4% represents 270 languages.

Eight languages are so called world languages with more than 150 million speakers each. They are Chinese, English, Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, Portuguese, Bangla and Russian.

German, Latin, Slavic and Greek are all Indo-European languages. It is thought that all languages originate from one language over 100,000 years ago.

Approximately 150 languages are spoken in Europe, of which 40 are spoken in the Caucasus region alone.

Most languages are spoken in Africa and Asia. Top of the chart is Papua New Guinea with 820 languages.

Only ⅓ of all languages have writing. Most languages are solely spoken.

There were 9000 languages in 1000 B.C. Today we are left with 7,000 languages. The number of languages is in decline. Dominating countries are the cause as is the wish to communicate in a globalised world.

If I have done my homework correctly, then I can say with certainty that 1.571% of the world population speaks German. You may wonder if there is any need to learn German. Yes, there is because that percentage represents over 110 million people, most of which live in Europe.

German Inventions

German Language CoachMany world changing innovations originated in Germany, some widely known but others less so. A visit to the Deutsches Museum in Munich, where many of these inventions are displayed, will be enhanced by a knowledge of the German language which we teach here at German Language Coach in London.

Most of us take books for granted, but it was in the mid-fifteenth century Johannes Gutenberg, a craftsman from Mainz, developed the movable type printing system and an oil-based ink enabling books to be produced in large quantities and therefore available to the public.

There were several inventors working on producing a motor car but it was Karl Benz of Mühlburg, now part of Karlsruhe, who was granted the first patent for an internal combustion engine in 1879 and another in 1886 for the first “Motorwagen”. Benz’s was a two-stroke petrol engine but German engineers also developed other types of engine: Nikolaus Otto (the first practical four-stroke); Rudolph Diesel (diesel engine); Felix Wankel (the rotary engine).

Several scientists had experimented with acetylsalicylic acid for medical applications, but it was in 1879 that chemist Felix Hoffmann, while working for German company Bayer, created a more stable synthesised version of the drug, that became known as aspirin.

In 1895 Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen from Lennep discovered what he called X-Rays for which, in 1901, he won the first Nobel Prize in Physics.

The first small format 35mm camera was developed by optical engineer Oskar Barnack making every day photography far more convenient and enabling the public to create and save their memories. He worked for Ernst Leitz and the name of Leica, later to be a separate company, came from “Leitz Camera”.

Born in Salzburg of German parents, Fritz Pfleumer invented magnetic tape in 1927 revolutionising sound recording, and it is still in use today.

Jürgen Dethloff and Helmut Gröttrup were granted the first patent for a plastic card containing a microprocessor which is universally known as the chip card which changed the way we carry information for banking and communication.

There are many more revolutionary inventions from Germany and we haven’t even mentioned Albert Einstein, but ask any child about Haribo sweets. The company name is an acronym of Hans Riegel, Bonn after the founder who invented the Gummy Bear, affectionately known in Germany as Gummibärchen, in 1922. Kids around the world are now fans of the range of chewy sweets from Bonn.

German Business Etiquette

German Language Coach, German Business PartnersWhen doing business in Germany you will probably at some point need to attend meetings and spend time in the offices of your German colleagues. To avoid making a faux pas you should familiarise yourself with the business etiquette in Germany.

Most important is to have a working knowledge of the language, particularly with regard to your business sector. You can learn German here in London on a one to one basis, with your German tutor focusing on the specific areas that you need so that you can communicate confidently with your counterparts.

The British view of German punctuality is somewhat stereotypical, but being even a little late for a meeting can be considered a personal insult and damage your reputation.

German businessmen and women tend to wear subtle colours.

Personal and business life tend to be kept separate in German offices so don’t expect too much in the way of small talk. Discussing anybody’s income is a particularly taboo subject. Also, physical contact, other than a firm handshake, is generally unacceptable, so the shoulder patting and arm squeezing the British take for granted is unadvisable.

Respect the privacy of your German colleagues; if you find an office door closed don’t enter without knocking and never call them at home unless you are literally faced with a catastrophe.

Germans are very direct in negotiations and say exactly what they want and you will be expected to be the same. When making a pitch, avoid flowery sales talk and just provide a thorough presentation of the facts. Similarly, if a project is being presented to you, prepare to be inundated with facts, figures, graphs and charts.

You need to arrange meetings well ahead of time as your German counterparts will tend to have fairly inflexible schedules and trying to rearrange a meeting at short notice will not be appreciated. Cancelling an appointment at the last minute is more taboo than being late!

At a business meal the proceedings will usually be initiated by the host, so watch and follow!

Increase in German Manufacturing

German Language CoachThere have already been signs of growth in German manufacturing and this could now get a boost from a proposed EU – US trade agreement. This makes it a great time to increase trade with Germany and learning German here in London would give you a definite advantage in this respect.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is designed to make the export of goods between Europe and America easier and with less red tape. This reciprocal agreement could help to grow the economy by increasing manufacturing and creating jobs and Germany in particular can build on its existing growth.

However, not all Germans are in favour of the TTIP and there are fears that the American influence could undermine some of the strict regulations in force in the EU to protect domestic manufacturing, particularly in the food and beverage industry.

Products which are controlled by protected designation of origin (PDO) and protected geographical indication (PGI) have to be produced in a specific location or region with ingredients wholly or mostly from that area.

The USA has generally opposed PDO and indeed some protected products have become generic names. March 2015 saw 50,000 people on a protest march in Berlin against the TTIP and concerns have been voiced in Germany that under the trade agreement you could see “Thüringer Bratwurst from Kentucky” or “Bavarian beer from Milwaukee” using inferior ingredients and with labelling that would mislead the consumer.

The designers of the agreement insist that EU regulations will be upheld, not only with regard to PDO and PGI but also to food safety standards.

It is not only the food industry which will benefit as under the TTIP most tariffs on goods imported in the US from Europe are to be scrapped meaning that all German goods will more competitive in the American market place.

It was hoped to have the agreement in place in 2014 but it should now be finalised in 2015 and the advantages it will provide will far outweigh the objections.

Germany’s most liveable cities

German Language Coach, Medienhafen DusselldorfThere are many reasons for visiting Germany. Taking German lessons here in London before you go, can only enhance your experience. And there has never been a better time to go! In an annual survey about the quality of life in cities around the world conducted by Mercer, the global consultancy, seven German cities are in the top thirty with three in the top ten.

The survey is designed to help international companies work out relocation packages for employees on foreign assignments and is based on several factors including housing, healthcare, social life, and education. However, it is also a useful gauge for tourists and business travellers.

Munich came fourth and, with its stunning location at the gateway to the Alps, is a beautiful place. The River Isar flows through the city and there are many green outdoor spaces. It is a very culturally active city with a large number of museums, galleries and churches to visit along with a vibrant theatre and music scene.

The Olympiapark, built for the 1972 Olympics, is a wondrous place and the stadium with its soaring curved glass roof still looks futuristic today.

Bavaria is famous for the quality and purity of its beer and there are several beer festivals in Munich throughout the year culminating in the world renowned Oktoberfest.

Düsseldorf, rated sixth, is situated on the banks of the mighty River Rhine. The Altstadt is where you will find most of the historical and cultural venues along with the “longest bar in the world”, a street of around 260 pubs!

The reinvigorated harbour area of the MedienHafen has been tastefully updated while retaining many of the original features of the docks. Many companies now have offices here and the wide variety of modern bars and eateries are frequented by business customers during the day while in the evenings it is the place in which to be seen by the in-crowd.

Connecting the Altstadt with MedienHafen is the Rhine Embankment Promenade which was reclaimed by building a tunnel for the main road. Now you can enjoy the river walks and cycle paths while watching the river life, oblivious to the traffic beneath.

Frankfurt, at seventh, is the financial and business centre of Germany, home of the European Central Bank, and has an amazing futuristic skyline. It also boasts Europe’s third largest airport making it a major international transport hub.

However, away from the skyscrapers you can find streets of beautifully preserved 19th century buildings and parks. Römerberg is the historical centre of the city where you’ll find 14th and 15th century buildings with many shops, bars, restaurants and museums.

Alongside the commerce and cultural delights of Frankfurt, you can also escape the hustle of the city in Germany’s biggest inner-city forest, Der Stadtwald, with its walking paths and attractive ponds.

The other four cities are Berlin, Hamburg, Stuttgart and Nürnberg. Vienna, Austria, where the German you learn will also be useful, came first in the survey, while London managed 40th place.

The Muhlenberg Legend

German Language CoachIt is a great idea to learn German if you are intending to spend time in Germany, and we offer German courses here in London in the comfort of your workplace or home.

But could it have been the case that you might have needed to speak German when travelling to America?

A myth persists that in the early days of the United States of America a proposal was put forward to make German the first official language of this great nation. The motion was put to a vote and it is said that English was chosen ahead of German by just one vote which was cast by the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Frederick Muhlenberg, himself a German descendant. This has become known as the Muhlenberg Legend.

However, there is a nugget of truth behind the story. In 1794 a group of German immigrants from Virginia petitioned the House of Representatives requesting that some federal laws be translated into German. When the motion was put to the vote there was a tie at 41 for and 41 against, so Muhlenberg, who actually spoke very little German, cast the deciding vote to keep English only. He is alleged to have said, “The faster the Germans become Americans, the better it will be.”

Through the years the legend evolved from the translation of statutes, to German becoming the official language of Pennsylvania and then of the whole of the United States. This is a typical example of not letting the truth stand in the way of a good story and the myth has been perpetuated throughout the centuries.

In fact America does not have an official language and until the early twentieth century German was the second most widely spoken language in the USA before dropping to third behind English and Spanish.

Large numbers of Germans moved to America, particularly Pennsylvania and the surrounding areas, and there are still communities where various forms of German are spoken. At one time there were more than 800 German magazines and newspapers in the US the first of which, the Philadelphische Zeitung, was founded by Benjamin Franklin.

If you would like to learn German in London contact us here.