Learning German

I’ve mentioned many times in my recent posts that I’m being tutored in German now. Everybody wants to know how that’s going. Well, it’s crawling. I can speak rudimentary German and I can understand the basics, as long as the speaker speaks slowly.

Learning any new language is difficult, especially as one gets older. Ha. If I can use age as an excuse here, I’m riding that train all the way to the end of this post. You just call me Gramma.

We’ve also been told (A LOT) that we should be able to learn German super fast and without too much effort, considering the fact that our native language is Afrikaans. ◄ This is wrong. Soooo wrong.

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Yes, German and Afrikaans have some similarities. Afrikaans is a Germanic language, after all.

In Afrikaans, we have this thing about one concept = one word. For example – in English, most words are written separately, so you have apartment block, where in Afrikaans, the two words form one concept and would therefore be one word – apartmentblock (woonstelblok, if you were wondering). This is the same in German – one concept, one word.

Likewise, we have the ‘ch’ sound in Afrikaans, as in ‘ich’. Here the difference is that the ‘ch’ in German is softer, while it sounds like boots crunching through gravel in Afrikaans. All our Afrikaans g’s are pronounced as ‘ch’ and only becomes the English ‘guh’ in certain words, like guitar (and just because we totally stole the word from English – the Afrikaans is kitaar, but most people use the English slang).

Many words are similar in the two languages, the pronunciation and spelling are just slightly different. It’s so that I can read relatively well in German, as long as I read aloud. When I say the word, I can often grasp the meaning, because it sounds like an archaic Afrikaans word. In some cases, if I say the Afrikaans word fast enough in a German sentence, it just sounds like I’m saying it with an accent. People guess that we’re speaking some kind of Dutch or Flemish dialect – because Afrikaans is MUCH closer to those two languages.

That’s where the similarities between German and Afrikaans end.

Look, I love Afrikaans, so I say this with as much respect as I can muster. DON’T GET UPSET, AFRIKANERS! *Gaan parkeer die ossewa en sit neer die pik, asseblief.* But Afrikaans is a simple language. It’s young. Maybe that’s what makes it so easy to learn.

The tenses are really straightforward and jumping between them often requires just one word to change. Not always. Often. But even then, it’s easy enough. The language doesn’t have many quirks, the biggest of these probably being the double negative. The plural form of a word is usually achieved by adding an s or e, and the cases where that isn’t enough are easy to figure out. Here’s a helpful Wiki page on Afrikaans grammar.

Above all, though, Afrikaans has rules. Rules that say if a word ends with this letter, the plural will change to that letter, plus e. Or whatever. You can learn the rules and master the language, because you know what to expect.

And here I want to laugh forever, because German. Yes, it’s a language with rules. The problem is that the exception to the rule is often so vast, that learning the rule becomes redundant.

You have to worry about articles. The gender of the thing / person you’re talking about, will have an impact on the sentence as a whole. The only way to learn a word’s gender, is by learning each word and it’s gender together. There’s no quick rule about ‘if it’s spelled like this, the gender is x’. Oh, no. And then, the damn article will change if the word becomes a plural, or in certain tenses (this is ‘the’ in English, but will be ‘die, der, or das in German).

Then, singular or plural form. There’s no quick adding of an s or e. Now you have to worry about umlauts and all kinds of other variable spellings too. And when the umlaut is added, the pronunciation changes too.

And then? Then there’s the fact that every verb will be conjugated in a different manner, depending on who it applies to. This is like I am, but we and they are, while he, she and it is. The difference here is that every verb will completely change, depending on who is doing the action and the tense. Like – I eat, you eat, they eat – ich esse, du isst, sie essen. This verb-changing thing will also impact the sentence as a whole.

All of this above is just the tip of the iceberg. I can’t put a number to how many smiling Germans have told me ‘Deutsch ist schwierig’ (German is difficult) in the last year.

You get that it’s far from a stroll in the park, so I’ll stop complaining.

Still, it’s not bad being able to understand more conversations and actually having the skills to take part in them. We don’t talk to so many strangers here, but it’s happened more often in the last while that random people asked us questions. Usually because they heard us speaking Afrikaans and want to know more about that.

Learning German does have many rewards. So despite the difficulty, I’ll keep trying to learn. If you have experience with new language-learning, tell me about your experience in the comments.

Have a good one,

Yolandie

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