Fluent in Denglish

Denglish: If you are an expat in a German-speaking country, you’re probably pretty fluent at it. It’s the combination of the two languages of Deutsch and English, and your fluency doesn’t really depend on how good your German or English is. Or even how committed you are to improving your German. Or how disciplined you are speaking one language with your kids, if you have kids. The fact of the matter is is that you often might not be able to to think of the passendes Wort for whatever you are trying to say quickly enough. Then both languages start to collide into one another in your brain and maybe oddly enough a latent language that you might have once spoken or learned like your high school French unhelpfully pops into the mix, and then the easiest way to express yourself is to just use the German word you were just trying to übersetzen. Akin to what Hyde has written regarding the Death of the German Language, employing Denglish certainly doesn’t do your German any favors and leads to the deterioration of your English, encouraging a lazy linguist. Continue reading

The Death of the German Language

The reports of its death are premature

Lately, the Germans have had more important things to worry about than the death of their language. But once they have dealt with the collapse of the euro and the resignation of their flaky President Köhler, they’ll get back to worrying about the demise of German, one of their favorite things to worry about.

As I wrote in my book, The German Way, it is no accident that the term “angst” comes to us from German. Worrying is a national pastime in Germany. Next to soccer (Fußball), worrying is the number one German pastime. To be sure, there are sometimes truly serious things to worry about. I think the endangered euro falls into that category, since it also has to do with European unity, the EU and all that. (By the way, Angela, you really could be more of a cheerleader for European unity.)

When it comes to their native tongue, Germans are terribly conflicted. On the one hand, they take immense pride in what a difficult language Deutsch is, almost daring foreigners to learn it. Continue reading

“On Se Won Händ”

Ripped from the headlines in Germany, YouTube has shamed and ridiculed yet another public figure, this time former Baden-Württemberg’s Minister President and now Germany’s European Union Commissioner, Günther Oettinger.

The widely circulated video is of Oettinger painfully stumbling through a speech clearly neither drafted nor rehearsed by him. The point of the speech, recently held in Berlin at a Columbia University hosted event, and Mr Oettinger’s main message as the new EU Energy Commissioner are unfortunately lost, overshadowed instead by Mr Oettinger’s inability to pronounce many of the more “challenging” words such as “justifiable,” “interference,” and “initiative” and making other words such as “does” and “otherwise” unrecognizable. Already known for his rather distinctive way of speaking in German (read here: he has a very heavy Swabian accent), Oettinger managed to “swabianize” English. The well-known Baden-Württemberg tagline, “we can do everything except speak high German” has been refashioned by commentators to, “wir können alles außer Hochdeutsch – und Englisch!” along with the terms “schwänglisch” and “Spätzle-Englisch.” What made this all the more humiliating perhaps is that the YouTube video included footage of Mr Oettinger emphasizing how all Germans, regardless of their profession, must be able to speak and understand English.

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Raising a Native “Shpeaker”

My daughter Vera is now a few months older than two, and like many parents, my husband and I have been marvelling and taking delight over her speech development. Like so many German Way readers, we are doing our best to raise her multilingually and have gone the route of one parent one language (OPOL).

Unsurprisingly, Vera’s first words were in English, her mother’s mother tongue, followed by a smattering of German. Progressively though, her dominant language has become German.  She attends a German day care (Kindertagesstätte/Kita) every morning, so along with speaking with her father, she gets a lot of input auf Deutsch. And not unusually, she mixes her languages frequently. When she discovered infinitives, she made up her own. I offered to cut her food for her, and she responded, “Cutten!” Continue reading

Save our Deutsch! Can the German language be saved by a sentence in the Grundgesetz?

If you’re an American expat living in Germany, you’ve heard this debate before — in the U.S.

It’s such a simple little sentence that some people want to insert into the German constitution: “Die Sprache der Bundesrepublik ist Deutsch.” (“The language of the Federal Republic [of Germany] is German.”) Who would have thought that five German words could provoke such a debate? This quote from Berlin’s Tagesspiegel sums it up pretty well: “Die Idee der CDU, die deutsche Sprache im Grundgesetz zu verankern, hat eine heftige Diskussion ausgelöst: Läutet der Beschluss einen ‘Anti-Einwanderer-Wahlkampf’ ein oder die Rettung der deutschen Leitkultur?” (“The CDU’s idea to anchor the German language in the German constitution has set off a vigorous discussion: Does the resolution herald an ‘anti-immigrant campaign’ or the rescue of the German core culture?”)

When the German language gets mixed into German politics, the results are rarely good. Continue reading