Ich Kann Kein Deutsch Sprechen

The title pretty much says it all: it has become my catchphrase since I arrived here in Germany. Some of you may have read my previous article about how the French are not exactly crazy about learning the German language as German is considered as a weird and impossible dialect in France. Well, as a result, I never got the chance to study it at school and had to focus on English and Spanish, so when I found an internship here in Hamburg, I just went for it hoping I would not have too many difficulties to survive.

Thus I arrived in Germany with no knowledge of German whatsoever, and trust me, it was not a piece of cake to begin with. Indeed, for a language lover like me, it is very frustrating to hear people talk in a language I don’t understand at all. There was nothing else for it, so I took a deep breath and concentrated really hard trying to learn a few useful things to get by, but also to be able to say “hey, I do know some German now!” on my return to France.

Of course, after 4 months I am nowhere near fluent, but there has at least been some improvement. I am still not able to make actual sentences and get the grammar right! Irregular verbs, noun genders, sentence structures do not make German the easiest language to learn. Frankly, it’s a nightmare. Even though I had brought a dozen books of German grammar and vocabulary, the grammar in particular is not going in. However, I am proud to say that I did learn a few things, not from books but by living the German life. As I discovered, there’s a lot to learn from just absorbing a language by observation and listening.

Let’s start with the vocabulary. Well, when you live in a foreign country, it is technically impossible not to come across some useful words written all over the place. Just by taking the train, the words like “Ausgang”, “Zug”, “fahren”, or the numbers (thanks to the metro lines) become familiar to you. When I am comfortably sitting on the train on my way to work and bored to death, I enjoy taking a glimpse at the newspapers people are reading, and once again it is a great way to learn some basic words after a dictionary check. Nevertheless, my greatest source of vocabulary was undoubtedly the restaurant menus, even though I am not sure that knowing the words “Schinken”,“Huhn” or “Bier” would be very helpful in a basic conversation about the weather. Going out with German-speaking people also taught me how to order a drink (very important!) and how to ask for the check.

Hearing German 24/7 has certainly been a radical learning method and now I am happy to say that I won’t leave Germany without picking up at least some German… Even though my spoken German is still a bit shaky, my understanding of German has greatly improved (at least, I think so). My vocabulary has grown bigger (that was not really difficult actually), and understanding German has become easier for me thanks to the key words I’ve been learning. Even if I can’t get the whole meaning of a conversation, spotting these famous key words gives me a clue as to what it’s about. This is a great step towards fluency, or at least getting you past the “not looking like a complete idiot when people talk to you” stage. And that is certainly a great success, because I had been looking like an idiot. A lot. For instance, on my first month here, when they asked me if I wanted to “mitnehmen” (take away) at the bakery, I just stood there looking blank, completely helpless, almost crying for help… Those days, thankfully, are over! Now I just have to work on my pronunciation – my French intonation just won’t leave me alone…

[Français]

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2 thoughts on “Ich Kann Kein Deutsch Sprechen”

  1. I can relate to this! I’m currently on an intensive German mission myself 🙂 But I find a positive attitude can get you around the most complicated grammar.
    I’m also still relying a lot on my French pronunciation of R for example… hope to get over it soon 😀

  2. It is excellent news that you are learning a foreign language in the best place to do so – in a country where it is spoken. I can say for sure that you are likely learning a lot more than you think you are learning. The brain gets acclimated to a new environment and begins taking in information from all around, consciously and unconsciously, so that one ends up being amazed by how far one has come in such a short time.

    One thing that is for sure is that German is not an easy language. Since I am a native English speaker I thought I might have some advantage in learning a fellow Germanic language, but I found that not to be the case. Although I took two introductory university courses in German and found it very difficult, I loved learning the language. One reason why Spanish has been easier for me is that there appear to be many more cognates in English for Spanish words than for German words – because of the Latin/French influx into English.

    I found German difficult for several reasons. One was the gender of the words. In Spanish, it is easy to guess the gender 99% of the time. In German, you usually can’t guess and have to memorize gender while memorizing vocabulary. I have found the sentence structure challenging, not the least because verbs and participles are often at the end of the sentence. English speakers learning German can be served well by taking a look at the end of a German sentence before reading it.

    I visited Berlin, Munich and Konstanz in 2006 and enjoyed it immensely. It made me want to learn German even more. I wound advise anyone learning German to continue working hard because it is very much worth it. Interacting with the people and cultures of German-speaking lands makes it all worthwhile.

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