Category Archives: About the German Language

Learning a second language

With the new decade just three weeks old, New Year’s resolutions are high on the agenda. Folks have all sorts of good intentions for 2020 and for some it is learning a new language.

In the UK, only 34% of 15 – 30 year olds speak a second language. That’s very few compared with Denmark where 99% of young people speak a second language. Germany’s young stand at 91% according to a recent study of the Higher Education Policy Institute.

But which second language to learn? Which language gives you a competitive advantage? The answer may well be German, the mother tongue of over 100 millions Europeans in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, parts of Belgium, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein. You may object as most of these German speakers also speak English. To counter that, let me quote Germany’s former chancellor Willy Brandt: If I’m selling to you, I speak your language. If I’m buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen.

Besides giving you a competitive edge on the labour market, speaking a second language also delays the onset of dementia in old age and improves your memory and cognitive abilities.

A recent study even suggests that learning a language makes the brain grow. Now, let us not get too bigheaded and rather implement your New Year’s resolution of starting to learn German!

German car

In German: Is a Beemer he, she or it?

A Beemer, or BMW, made by the famous German car manufacturer Bayrische Motorenwerke in Munich is a popular accessory for many and certainly complements the German language learning experience. With the car’s satnav and onboard systems set to German it helps to pick up new vocabulary and and learn the German imperative when the friendly satnav lady reminds you to turn right and belches out: Biegen Sie rechts ab!

When referring to your BMW in German, do you use he, she or it?

It all depends on how many wheels your BMW sports. The four wheel version is der BMW and in German you refer to your car using the masculine singular pronoun ‘er’. If your money didn’t quite stretch that far and you bought a BMW motorcycle then you refer to the bike in German using the feminine singular pronoun ‘sie’ as it is die BMW.

Should you be in the habit of addressing your BMW affectionately after you’ve bonded with him or her then you can reassuringly use the informal ‘du’. Should you ever get disheartened with your BMW’s German instructions then you can either take German lessons, change the language settings back to English or replace him or her with a VW or Porsche. When referring to either of those remember to use ‘er’ as none of them make motorcycles.

Gute Fahrt!

Perfect German

The perfect tense (das Perfekt) is the past that German speakers most often use when describing events that have been completed. Learners of the language sometimes get thrown by the use of two different auxiliary verbs, or helping verbs, when forming the perfect in German. The helping verb together with the past participle, in layman terms sometimes referred to as the ge- word, form the perfect in German. The helping verb is the one that we conjugate and keep in position II and the participle which doesn’t change we stick at the end of the sentence.

But which helping verb to use? Haben (to have) or sein (to be)? Most verbs use ‘haben’ to form the perfect. Verbs that convey a change of state or movement form A to B form the perfect with ‘sein’.

To capture 95% of verbs, there is an easy formula to remember: use ‘haben’ unless the verb conveys a change of position or condition. That also applies if you make metaphorical use of the verb. In addition, the verbs sein (to be), bleiben (to stay) and werden (to become) use ‘sein’ as well.

Learning German is as simple as that.

Do German nouns have gender identity issues?

Gender of German nounsSometimes whilst teaching German, I am being asked why German nouns change genders. It is ‘die Tür’, a feminine noun, and suddenly somewhere mid sentence it is ‘der Tür’. ‘Der’ being the definite article for masculine nouns. Do German nouns have gender identity issues? A justifiable question from an unsuspecting student or a precocious question from a grind? Justifiable course and it confuses most learners of German. Nouns don’t change gender, but the apparent change of gender, the changing of articles, is due to their declension. ‘Die’ is ‘der’ in the feminine singular dative, ‘der’ ist ‘den’ in the masculine singular accusative case. Below a table with the declension of definite articles to help you mastering German.

case masc. fem. neut. plural
nominative der die das die
accusative den die das die
dative dem der dem den
genitive  des der des der

Is it ß or double s?

My students often ask during their German lessons if they can just replace ß with double ss. The answer is NEIN, unless you are learning Swiss German where the letter ß does not exist and is indeed replaced with a double ss.

How do you know when it is ß and not double ss? Quite simple: when there is a short vowel before a sharp s-sound then there is a double s. If the vowel is long or there’s a diphthong then there is an ß.

dass, der Fluss, lassen, fassen

das Maß, die Straße, heißen, weiß

Want to learn more about ß? Check out one of our previous blog articles:

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.

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.

False friends in German

German Language Coach; false friendsGermans are loyal and trustworthy folks. However, there are some false friends in the German language that may confuse the English speaker or his mind.

If the German finance minister says that 2 Billionen Euros are sufficient to bails out Greece, then he’s got his figures right because he actually means two trillion. A billion in German is a trillion in English.

Being told in German that taking Gift is to be avoided shouldn’t be surprising, not because Germans have ulterior motives, but because Gift in German means poison in English.

The word Star in German means starling or cataract; the German equivalent for star is Stern.

Winken is to blink and not to wink, der Akt is not the deed but nude artwork. After is not after, but is located behind and means rectum. Bald is not bald, but means soon.

False friends work both ways. Consider the following:

der Roman the novel the roman der Römer
der Qualm the smoke the qualm das Bedenken
die Provision the fee the provision die Vorsorge
der Mist the dung the mist der Dunst
das Kraut the herb the kraut der Deutsche
der Unternehmer the entrepeneur the undertaker der Bestatter

Confused? Refresh your German and book one of our private German tutors.

Martin Luther and the German Language

German Language Coach; Martin LutherFew people can be unfamiliar with the name Martin Luther, the German theologian and instigator of the Reformation. The story of Luther posting his disputations of some of the doctrines and practices of Roman Catholicism, his 95 Theses, on the door of his local church in Wittenberg is exceedingly well known, even though some scholars doubt whether this famed incident ever actually took place.

Luther though, apart from being the author of a massive change in the religious landscape of Europe, also played a major part in the development of German as we know it today. During his captivity at Wartburg Castle from 1521-22, he commenced work on translating the New Testament from Greek into German. His aim was to make the Bible accessible to as many people as possible, so he went to some lengths to ensure that his translation could be understood by northern and southern Germans alike, despite their many different dialects. His research took him out into local towns and marketplaces so he was able to use contemporary language in his Bible so, as he said, “people may read it without hindrance”.

Luther’s New Testament was published in 1522 and followed in 1534 by a translation of the whole Bible. The publication came at a time when printed books were beginning to circulate widely. Luther’s vernacular style won widespread praise and his German Bible became hugely influential in shaping the language. The Saxon dialect used by Luther became the common literary language from which today’s Standard German evolved and his translation had an impact in Germany and beyond which he could scarcely have anticipated.

Enrol on a German language course with our native tutors to learn the language bequeathed to us by Luther and his contemporaries.

Council for German Orthography

German Language coach; Council for German OrthographyThere is an official body for regulation of the German language, just as there is for many other languages. These institutions are often called language academies. In the case of German, the role is fulfilled by the Council for German Orthography, shortened to RdR from its German name, der Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung.

Der Rat is composed of members from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the South Tyrol region of Italy, the German-speaking Community of Belgium and Liechtenstein. It was formed in 2004, when it replaced the existing Intergovernmental Commission for German Orthography (Zwischenstaatliche Kommission für deutsche Rechtschreibung). The RdR was formed following the German orthography reform of 1996 which set out to simplify the spelling of the German language in order to make it easier to learn.

In fact, you could draw a comparison to the differences between UK and US English. US English has simplified spellings which, though they are opposed by language purists, make for easier learning by foreign speakers. The German reform was controversial, but nevertheless the new standards became compulsory in schools and public administration and have gradually been accepted even by some of their fiercest opponents.

When you undertake a German language course today, you will learn according to the new standards, so you can judge them for yourself. You can learn German in London with our native tutors, all of whom are dedicated and experienced in teaching German to adults.

German expressions in English

German Language Coach, German expressions in EnglishEnglish has been steadily adopting words from German for several centuries. I will describe a few here; the tip of the iceberg so to speak. And there we have the first word that has been loaned from German: the iceberg.

We have all heard of the über-cool word doppelganger which is also a German term. Doppel meaning double, der Gänger derives from the word gehen (to go) – hence der Doppelgänger.

Most of us have been to the kinder garden, mused over the meaning of zeitgeist, seen the movie Poltergeist and heard of leitmotiv and angst – all loaned from the German language.

Anyone living in Middlesex, Essex or Sussex may wonder were these place names originate. Middlesex derives from Middle Saxony, Essex from East Saxony, Sussex from South Saxony. Saxons settled in England during the fifth and sixth century and liked to give places familiar names.

Arriving late for work because the railways are kaput? Today, broken railways are of course not the fault of Germany’s Blitzkrieg. The word kaput is German though, as is der Blitz (lightning) + der Krieg (war) = der Blitzkrieg.

Are you wallowing in Schadenfreude when your colleague draws flak from the boss because he is late for work again? There we have two more words loaned from German: flak and Schadenfreude. Flak is an abbreviation of the word Flugwabwehrkanone (air defence canon). Schadenfreude is made up of Schaden (the harm or damage) and Freude (joy). Therefore, Schadenfreude is the pleasure one takes in the misfortune of others.

We’ve all eaten Apfelstrudel (apple strudel), we measure the temperature in Fahrenheit, drive around in cars with Diesel engines, eat Frankfurters and Hamburgers – all German.

Tokio Hotel, Kraftwerk, Einstürzende Neubauten are German bands. However, Motörhead is not German – it is an English band that has loaned, or shall I say stolen, the Umlaut from German. Confused and want to start taking German lessons? You better get in touch with us!

The prepositions ‘an’ and ‘auf’

German Language CoachDuring my lessons I see students struggle with the German prepositions ‘an’ and ‘auf’. Both are used to describe locations and require either the Accusative or the Dative case. If we can ask ‘wohin’ (where to), then the preposition requires the Accusative and if we ask ‘wo’ (where) then the Dative is required. This begs the questions why we use cases after prepositions. The answer is simple: on = auf + Dative and onto = auf + Accusative. English uses two different prepositions to  describe these two different scenarios, whereby German uses the same preposition but two different cases to describe the same two scenarios. When do you use auf and when do you use an? Auf is always used when something is resting on something else that is horizontal and an is used when something is resting on something that is vertical: auf dem Tisch – on the table (horizontal) but an der Wand – on the wall (vertical). if you would like to refresh your German or start learning German, then get in touch and book one of our private German tutors.

Adjective endings in German

In a previous blog article, I wrote about the challenge learners of the German language can face when declining adjectives. There are four cases in German, 3 genders and 1 plural, then there are three ways of declining an adjective: with an indefinite article, with a definite article and without an article (zero declension). That comes to forty-eight ways of declining an adjective! Getting the adjective endings right when speaking German is a sign that the speaker is able to master the German language. Not many foreign speakers of German get it right, even native speakers make mistakes. During my German lessons here in London, I use the following conceptual schema which, with a lot of practice lets you remember the endings very quickly:

German Language Coach; adjective endings

Understanding word frequency

German Language Coach, Understanding word frequencyA frequency dictionary can be of great help when learning German. It does not, however, replace a good conventional bilingual or monolingual dictionary.

Let’s have a look at a few German words and their frequency in the German language: the most frequent word being the definite articles der, die, das and their various forms. You may already know that German has three definite articles depending on the gender of nouns. No doubt, your German teacher has stressed the importance of learning the gender of nouns. The definite articles occur about 155,000 times in every 1 million words. In other words, not knowing the right articles, has the potential of  making 1.5 mistakes with every 10 words; thus stopping you from speaking German fluently. The second most occurring German word is und which is a straight forward coordinating conjunction that joins two main clauses. The word sein occurs 24,500 times per 1 million words, but only if we are talking about the verb. The word sein as a possessive pronoun only has 3,650 occurrences per 1 million words. This shows, that besides the meaning of a word, it is vital to know its function and how to use it in the German language, i.e., how to conjugate a verb or how to decline an article.

Unless you already speak German at an intermediate or advance level, there is no need to buy a frequency dictionary. But that does not prevent you from learning frequent words or from making your own German vocabulary lists according to word frequency. Learn the vocabulary by knowing the meaning of the German word in your language and then recall the word in German. Recalling a German word will be much more challenging than knowing the meaning, but is vital when speaking accurate German with a degree of fluency.

German Word Frequency

German Language Coach, word frequencyYou must have come across words that you never seem to be able to remember. Why is it that when learning German you remember some words better than other words? The answers is word frequency.

Word frequency analysis is not new and dates back well over 100 years to 1898 when Friedrich Wilhelm Kaeding published a frequency dictionary. Kaeding devised his frequency dictionary not because of an interest in teaching German, but he was interested in developing a new stenographic shorthand system for German. In spite of his intentions, his frequency list has enjoyed regular application when teaching German as a foreign language. The basis for lexical frequency list is a corpus, a structured collection of language texts that is intended to be a rational sample of the German language, for example newspaper texts, literature, radio and TV broadcasts. When learning a foreign language such as German, vocabulary can be learned randomly, i.e. as it occurs in a natural authentic setting, or systematically, as is usually the case in a structured language learning environment. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages. But it can be said that lexical frequency information can be useful for the learner and German tutor alike. In our next blog, we will be looking at making use of word frequency when learning German.

The Present Tense in German

German Language Coach, the Present tenseIf you have just started taking German lessons or have studied the German language for some time, then rest assured, understanding German tenses is much more straight forward than many think.

In a previous blog I already touched on the subject. Today I would like to focus on how I go about teaching German tenses during my lessons.

Let’s look at the Present: Simple Present and Present Progressive are expressed with the Present tense (das Präsens) in German. The German present tense is used to express anything that happens in the present or on a regular basis, facts and the truth, or anything that might happen in the foreseeable future. Whereas this is easily understood and practised, the challenge is to express questions in German using the present tense.

Many of my students are tempted to use an auxiliary verb in addition to the main verb when posing questions in German as you do when using the simple present or the present progressive. German however, only requires the conjugated (finite) verb in 2nd position in 1st position for yes/no questions.

Accusative and Dative in German

German Language Coach, Accusative and Dative in GermanWhilst providing German tuition, students often ask me what the Accusative and the Dative is.

Accusative and Dative are cases and they tell the function of nouns in a sentence. Many languages use cases, including English. In German, the direct object requires the Accusative case and the indirect object requires the Dative.

Consider the following example: The dog is biting the man. The dog is the subject (doing the biting), the man is the direct object; he receives the action of the verb (he is being bitten). Then the man kicks the dog. Here the man is the subject, and the dog is the direct object (he is being kicked). If you are replacing nouns with pronouns, then you can see the Accusative case in English: He is biting him. Him being the Accusative.

Now the indirect object comes into the equation: The man is going to the shop and is buying the dog a bone. The man is the subject, the bone is the direct object (it is being bought) and the dog is the indirect object (he receives the bone). Again, you can see the Dative case in English when replacing nouns with pronouns: He is buying him a bone. In this scenario, him is the Dative. In modern English, the indirect object is often distinguished by the use of prepositions, for example: He is buying a bone for the dog.

The German languages not only decline pronouns, but also articles, adjectives and sometimes even the noun itself.

Lets have a look at the above example in German: Der Mann kauft dem Hund einen Knochen.

der Mann = subject, dem Hund = indirect obkect (Dative), einen Kochen + direct object (Accusative)

Der Hund is changing to dem Hund and ein Knochen is changing to einen Knochen.

Apart from indicating the function of a noun, cases are also required after prepositions.

The Gender of Nouns in German

German Language Coach, Gender of NounsIn my previous blog I wrote about the declension of adjectives and I summed up the blog by stressing the importance of knowing the gender of nouns. Those of you, who have already started learning German, will most certainly have come across the definite articles der, die, das and may have wondered how to know which article goes with which noun. Grammatical gender is in most instances not based on natural gender.

The safest approach is always to learn each noun with the appropriate definite article: der for masculine nouns, die for feminine nouns and das for neuter nouns.

Here are some guidelines that will help you determine the gender of certain nouns:

The following nouns are always masculine (der): days of the week, months and seasons, points of the compass and vocabulary relating to the weather, apart from die Sonne. Makes of car are always masculine, as are alcoholic drinks, apart from das Bier which is neuter.

Most trees and flowers are feminine. Der Ahorn (the maple) is masculine though. All numerals used as nouns are feminine as are motorcycles, ships and airplanes.

All collective nouns with the prefix Ge- are neuter: das Gebäck (biscuits), das Gepäck (luggage), das Gemüse (vegetables).

Hotels and restaurants are neuter, hence it is das Savoy and das Hilton. The names of almost all towns and countries are neuter: das neblige London, das alte Nürnberg, das neue Europa.

Adjectives, pronouns, conjunctions prepositions and infinitives used as nouns are also neuter.

Have you ever wondered what gender a noun has that originates in a foreign language? Those nouns are assigned the gender of the originating German noun. For example: der Computer is masculine as it replaces der Rechner (the calculator), der Spieler (the player) becomes der Ipod.

If you want to know more, then maybe you should consider taking private German lessons.

German Adjective Declension

German Language Coach, Declension of AdjectivesDeclining adjectives is one of the most challenging parts of German. Most students taking up German courses or private lessons with us struggle with that aspect of the language, even intermediate and advance learners.

How adjectives are being declined is depended on the article that precedes the adjective. There are three ways of declining adjectives: with a definite article, with an indefinite article or without an article. Bearing in mind that there are 4 cases in German, 3 genders and one plural, then there are 48 ways of declining adjectives. It’s not easy for any German language student to get his/her head around that.

Here an easy way to learn: 1. If no article precedes the adjective, then the adjective gets the ending of the article that would have preceded it. 2. If there is an article and it is not in its original form, then the adjective always gets an -en ending. 3. If the noun is plural and an an article precedes the adjective then the ending is always -en. 4. If the article does not indicate the gender of the noun, then the aajective indicates the gender -es ending for neuter nouns and -er for masculine nouns. 5. If the article does indicate the gender of the noun, then the ending is always -e. It is as simple as that, provided you know the gender of nouns and the use of cases.

‘Present Perfect Continues’ in German

German Language Coach Present tenseDuring many years of teaching German to English speakers, I found that many students tend to struggle with the same aspects of German due to the different structure of English. This blog serves to highlight recurring problems to help learners of German to overcome these challenges.

Yesterday, for example, I was teaching a regular student in the City of London. He has been having regular German lessons for about 6 months. Yet he still struggles to express in German something that has started in the past and is continuing up until now. When I asked him in German how long he has been studying German, he answered in German using the Perfect tense, which is the closest match to the Present Perfect Continues in English, which you would use to answer that question in English. However, that tense does not exist in German. Instead, he should have used the Present Tense in German. You may ask why he continues making that mistake after having had lessons for over 6 months. Since earliest childhood, he is used to the Syntax of English and only repeated practise will help him achieve his goal that German syntax becomes second nature. I shall ask him the same question every week: Seit wann lernen Sie Deutsch?

The evolution of German

German Language Coach, the evolution of GermanI am often asked during my lessons how German as we speak it today came about. The modern German language, or standard German, which we know today has evolved over a period of centuries just as English has developed from Old English through Middle English to the tongue we speak today.

Old High German probably became distinct from the West Germanic language which also gave rise to English and Dutch between the 3rd and 9th centuries. The key factor in this divergence is known as the High German consonant shift, and it’s worth understanding some of the changes this brought about as it explains how certain sounds are related to their English equivalents and can therefore assist our comprehension of today’s standard German.

Our “p” sound shifts to “pf” or “ff” in German, depending on its position in a word, as can be seen by the relationship of words like penny and Pfennig, pepper and Pfeffer, ship and Schiff, sleep and schlafen, apple and Apfel, hope and hoffen.

Similarly, our “t” sound corresponds to a “z”, “s” or “ss” in German, as in ten and zehn, sit and sitzen, bite and beißen, out and aus, eat and essen.

We also commonly see a shift from our “c” and “k” to “k” and “ch” as in can and kann, make and machen, break and brechen; from “d” to “t” as in good and gut; and from “th” to “d” such as brother and Bruder.

Understanding something of the history of a language can be a useful learning aid, but by far the best way of learning is through tuition with native speakers. Get in touch to book your German course with our native tutors.

Swiss German

Have you ever taken a plane to Zurich or Basel, expecting upon arrival that people would sound like your friends or colleagues from Germany – but then feeling rather puzzled when hearing them talk? The reason is that Swiss Germans have a very strong Allemanic dialect when it comes to their everyday conversation, which is called “Schweizerdeutsch”. This, however, should not discourage you from practising your German skills because every Swiss German can switch to the “Standardsprache” (Standard German) when necessary.

Unlike most regional languages in modern Europe, Swiss German is the spoken everyday language at all social levels in industrial cities, as well as in the countryside in Switzerland. Using dialect conveys neither social nor educational inferiority and is spoken with pride. There are only a few specific settings where speaking Standard German is expected, or is done out of politeness, for example in education, during parliamentary sessions, in the main news broadcast or in the presence of German-speaking foreigners. This situation has been called a “medial diglossia “, since the spoken language is mainly the dialect, whereas the written language is Standard German. They write Standard German pretty much exactly like the Germans do apart from a few small exceptions such as writing the double s (ss) instead of eszett (ß).

In terms of vocabulary Swiss Germans tend to use French loanwords like “Glace” (ice cream) instead of the German expression “Eis” or they use “Trottoir” for “Bürgersteig” (pavement). On a grammatical level Swiss German, for example, does not have a genitive case or a past perfect tense.

Swiss German has also preserved certain vowel sounds from Middle High German. Words like “Haus” (house) are pronounced as /huːs and “Wein” (wine) would be pronounced as /wiː. The contrast in pronunciation between Swiss German and German is as distinct as hearing Brummies talking to Glaswegians.

If you want to improve your German skills and also learn a bit more, as you progress, about the different dialects of spoken German and its usage in German-speaking countries, then get in touch with us and we will provide you with one of our native German speaking experts.

Measuring German Language Levels

You may have heard of the Common European Reference Framework for Languages? It is quite a mouthful but useful at measuring language levels. Have you ever wondered which level your German language is at or what the various levels actually mean?

The basic levels are A1 and A2. If you have achieved level A1 then you should be able to understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases. You can introduce yourself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where you live and work, people you know and things you have. You should be able to interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help. At level A2 you will be able understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). You can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. You can describe in simple terms aspects of your background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need. Not bad for starters!

The intermediate levels are B1 and B2 at which you can understand the main ideas of complex texts on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in your field of specialisation. You can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. You can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

Proficiency levels are C1 and C2. These levels take several years of studying and at level C1, you can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning. You can express yourself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions; can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. With ease, you can produce clear, well-structured, detailed texts on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices. At level C2 you can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read; can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. You can express yourself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in more complex situations.

No matter at which level you currently speak German, get in touch because our German lessons help you get to the next level.

Communicating with Germans

What do Germans really understand when the English talk to them?

The English language has many subtleties that do not exist in German. The German language is very literal and & as a result, Germans may come across as rude or off-hand to the English speaker. Of course, Germans are not rude at all.

When attending meetings with Germans, managing German staff or dealing with German management, it is worth considering these differences in language use, to ensure effective communication.

For example, I hear what you say’ means the English speaker disagrees and & does not want to discuss the matter further. However, the German listener would think the speaker is accepting his point of view.

The phrase I was a bit disappointed that‘ means the speaker is annoyed. The German listener, however, may think the disappointment is only slight.

The term quite good’ will be understood literally as quite good’, although it means ‘disappointing’.

Very interesting’ means it ‘is clearly nonsense’ and & may be understood as they are very impressed’.

Consider the Following Examples:

What the English say What the English mean What Germans understand
I’ll bear it in mind I’ve forgotten it already They will probably do it
I’m sure it’s my fault It’s your fault Why do they think it was their fault?
You must come for dinner It’s not an invitation, I’m just being polite I will get an invitation soon
I almost agree I don’t agree at all He’s not far from agreement
I only have a few minor comments Please re-write completely He has found a few typing errors
Could we consider some other options I don’t like your idea They have not decided yet
With the greatest respect … I think you are an idiot He is listening to me
That is a very brave proposalSee you later. You are insane…See you soon, not necessarily today He thinks I have courageHe wants to see me later today

To avoid such communication problems in the future, why not start German Lessons in 2012, with one of our native speaker tutors?

German in the office

Planning to relocate to Germany for professional reasons? Or maybe working with Germans on a regular basis? The following words are taken from every day office language. Have you come across some of them yet?

Der Anhang: If you send an email from a German version of outlook and you would like to also send a report along with the email you would send the report as an attachment, als Anhang.

Die Datei: The attachment/der Anhang could also be more generally refered to as a file, als Datei.

Hochladen/ herunterladen: Depending on whether you are sending or receiving the email with a file attached (mit einer Datei im Anhang) you may need to upload the file first – die Datei hochladen – and at the other end you will need to download the attachment – den Anhang herunterladen. You may have guessed from the look of the verb that it is separable. So it is “er lädt die Datei herunter”

Die Besprechung: Always a welcome excuse not to be able to take a phone call. This notion is the same across all countries, I believe: “Oh, I am afraid, he can’t speak to you right now; he is in a meeting – in einer Besprechung.”

Generally though English native speakers are on the lucky side when learning German, at least when it comes to computer related language. Unlike other languages, German has not bothered to find its own translation for words like, computer, desktop, email, internet, browser, scanner. The only thing you might want to be aware of is whether it is “der”, “die” or “das” and the fact that since they are nouns they are being written in capital:

der Computer

das Desktop

die Email – the has been slightly adopted to German verb grammar, emailen.

das Internet

der Browser

der Scanner – again the verb has the German verbal ending –en, scannen.

These are only a few examples. All in all German language has borrowed many English terms not only for computer related terms but also when it comes to technology, marketing and PR.

Are you looking for German courses in London? Why not consider classes with your own private German tutor.