As anyone who has learnt a foreign language will know, it is one thing learning the language in a classroom, but it is quite another putting the language into practice when you are living abroad.
German lessons Credit
For nearly a month now, since arriving in Hamburg from London to work for online dictionary bab.la, I have been trying to master what Mark Twain dubbed the ‘the awful German language.’ Now, I am no stranger to German. You would have thought that after 12 years of German classes first at school and then at university, I would have mastered it by now, but no. The German language is a notoriously tough nut to crack, but I really think it might be my nemesis.
It’s not just the grammar, although the cases, the adjective endings and the frankly bizarre word order do not help matters. As a native English speaker, I frequently struggle with der, die and das and the corresponding adjective endings. The situation becomes more nightmarish when the genitive and dative cases enter the equation.
But it’s the pronunciation of German that’s my current bugbear, the ö (o umlaut – oe in English) in particular. The way I pronounce the ö sound in möbel, the German word for furniture, is a constant source of amusement for my German flatmates. I have fun with them by getting them to pronounce the word thistle – not an easy task for a non-native English speaker. Photo credit
One of my flatmates, the one most despairing of my pronunciation, has taken it upon herself to teach me how to speak German properly. Lessons so far are not exactly going swimmingly, though this is probably because we end up in fits of hysterics whenever I try to make these ö (oe) sounds. Let’s just say she’s got a difficult job.
Of course, full immersion is the only way to really get to grips with a foreign language and likewise a different culture, so I have thrown myself into German life living in a WG (a flatshare) with four Germans. I am learning all sorts of weird and wonderful vocabulary just from talking to my flatmates and doing daily tasks such as cooking and washing.
ein Sieb Credit
My German kitchen utensil vocabulary is now at least 50% better than it was when I left England. The word for colander (der Sieb) and spatula (der Spachtel) had never really been necessary before!
Though I am learning new vocabulary both at home and at work, it is frustrating that my progress with German is not ‘instant’ – I can’t see a marked improvement on a daily or weekly basis as I would if I were a beginner.
Maybe I should not be so hard on myself, having been here for just four weeks. Rome, as the saying goes, wasn’t built in a day. Come back to me in a few months’ time and I may well have cracked the ö sound and the adjective endings. Practice, does after all, make perfect or as the Germans say, Übung macht den Meister.
This is a guest post by Anna Larkham. Anna is a languages and marketing assistant for bab.la, a new and innovative language portal and online dictionary based in Hamburg. She also writes regularly for their language blog, lexiophiles
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