In the past weeks, I’ve read many posts about things to do during quarantine. I’ve noticed that one activity that is featured in almost every post is “learn a new language.” And as I’m German myself, I thought why not use the time to teach others a little German? I personally love learning new languages and am always keen to learn from native speakers (they know their language best-don’t they?). Though this post can in now way compensate for a language course, I hope it gives you a little insight into the mysteries of the German language.
Here are some basic rules:
1. The German alphabet has four additional letters: ä, ö, ü and ß (you can listen to the pronunciation here).
2. All nouns in German are capitalized.
Consider the sentence: Der Hund und die Katze sitzen im Garten. Can you spot the nouns? You don’t have to understand the sentence to find them: Hund, Katze, Garten (if you’re wondering why ‘der’ is also capitalized, it’s because the first word of a sentence is also always capitalized-just as in English).
3. There are three genders for German nouns and thus three different definite articles. You use
die for feminine nouns,
der for masculine nouns and
das for neutral nouns.
Knowing which article to use is really difficult for non-native speakers because gender in German doesn’t refer to the meaning of the word, but the word itself. So very often the assumed gender doesn’t match its grammatical gender, e.g. it’s das Mädchen (the girl), die Gabel (the fork) and der Löffel (the spoon). Mark Twain once wrote “In German, a young lady has no sex, while a turnip has.” I think this sums it up pretty well. (There are some common rules, but I guess for now it’s enough to know that there are three genders.)
4. The 2nd pers. sing. ‘you‘ can be translated to ‘du‘ or ‘Sie‘ (capitalized!).
du is more informal and used to address family, friends, or children and
Sie is more formal and used to address strangers, business associates, or teachers.
In some cases it’s really obvious how to address someone, e.g. in school you always call your teacher “Sie,” but in others it depends on the situation. If you meet someone and you’re not sure how to address the person, it’s common to just ask the person directly whether you address each other as du (“dutzen”) or Sie (“siezen”). If you don’t dare to ask the person it gets a bid awkward because you have to construct weird passive sentences to avoid addressing the person directly (If you’re German or living in Germany-you probably get that struggle haha).
5. German has a habit of building new words from existing words. For example, gloves are “Handschuhe” (lit. hand shoes), a sloth is a “Faultier” (lit. lazy animal), a loo seat is a “Klobrille” (lit. toilet glasses), a vacuum is a “Staubsauger” (lit. dust sucker), a light bulb is a “Glühbirne” (lit. glowing pear), a fridge is a “Kühlschrank” (lit. cool cabinet). That’s why a lot of German words are so awfully long. Because these words tend to be very descriptive, it’s easy to remember them though. I mean a light bulb does look like a glowing pear, just look at it! Who says learning German ain’t easy 😉
6. German has four cases (nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative), which are roughly equivalent of the subject, possessive, indirect object, and direct object in English. Cases tell you what role the noun plays in the sentence. The difficulty in German is that the article changes with the case. That’s why you see so many different versions of “the” (yeah I know- as if 3 articles weren’t enough already). I won’t annoy you with any more rules as your brain is probably still processing points 1-5, but if you want more explanation on the cases you can click here.
Finally, German is of course a spoken language so here are some everyday phrases:
|Guten Morgen/Abend!||Good morning/evening!|
|Bis später!||See you later!|
|Wie heißt du? / Wie heißen Sie?||What’s your name?|
|Ich heiße …||My name is …|
|Wie geht es dir? /Wie geht es Ihnen?||How are you?|
|Mir geht es gut/schlecht.||I’m doing well/not well.|
|Wo kommst du her? / Wo kommen Sie her?||Where are you from?|
|Ich komme aus …||I’m from …|
|Wie alt bist du? / Wie alt sind Sie?||How old are you?|
|Ich bin … Jahre alt.||I’m … years old.|
Lastly I’d like to say, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Learning a language takes time and effort and mistakes are just part of it. So feel free to comment in German!
Do you speak German? If so, do you think it’s difficult to learn? If not, would you like to learn it? Let me know in the comment section below! Also let me know if you’d be interested in more crash course German posts, I’d be up for it!