(In-) Convenient

A few years ago while chatting with a friend who, like me, has a German spouse, I had a mini-revelation:

“There is no German word for convenient,” I said.

After a pause, my friend the English teacher says, “Well that explains a hell of a lot.”

Both fluent German speakers but without a dictionary in front of us, we racked our brains for a potential German equivalent to the English word convenient. Or convenience. Or conveniently.

Fitting to our search, we brainstormed the antonym: Inconvenient = Umständlich. My go-to translation website leo.org gives this word circuitous, cumbersome, laborious and involved, which are all certainly inconvenient, but it does not mention inconvenient as a translation. This is interesting, and perhaps an example of different usage of the word. Or perhaps an example of misunderstanding by a foreigner! Continue reading

German – from Berlin to rural Hessen

Being a Yorkshire lass at heart who, despite many years in the south of England, has never managed to say a ‘barth’ instead of ‘bath’ or ‘grarss’ instead of ‘grass’, I am sympathetic to local dialects. In London, I loved hearing true cockneys with their staccato banter in taxis and across market stalls. And now, living in Germany, my interest persists, though admittedly in a somewhat limited way: so far I’ve only really been exposed to Berlinerisch (which I hear daily) and Hessisch (which I hear when we visit my parents-in-law close to Frankfurt am Main in Hessen).

The Berlin dialect – ‘Berlinerisch’ – is a melting pot of linguistic influences, much like the history and culture of the city itself. In it, you hear traces of High Germany, Saxish, Yiddish, Dutch, Slavic languages and French. It is littered with words from all of these sources. You hear ‘Bredullje’ instead of ‘Schwierigkeiten’ for ‘troubles’ from the French ‘bredouille’, and ‘Bulette’ for a small beef burger, also from the French; ‘Kiez’ for neighbourhood has Slavic roots; and the Yiddish ‘meschugge’ instead of ‘verrückt’, meaning ‘crazy’.  Continue reading

Expat children

I am struck, watching my two small children grow up in Berlin, how different their childhood is from mine in England’s industrial north in the 1980s. We are very integrated here – most of our friends are German. the nursery the children go to is German, and the places we frequent are almost completely German. Instinctively, my children say “guck guck” instead of “peepo” and “Aua!” instead of “ouch!”. They drink fruit tea with their afternoon snack and heavy dark bread is nothing unusual. Yes, for now, it would seem that my children are German, with only a streak of English.

I don’t really mind this, though I sometimes feel nostalgic for the things they can’t know: the jangling bells of the ice-cream van on a long summer’s evening; the feeling of a school uniform tie tight around a buttoned up shirt neck; grubbing around the back garden in a private kingdom. They will be city children, who remember going to public spaces to play out their fantasy games (parks and playgrounds), who slouch around grandiose nineteenth century city school buildings in jeans and the latest trainers, and only think of ice-cream as being from the organic ice-cream parlour across the road – if we stay here, that is. Continue reading

The Best Apps to Help You Learn German on the iPhone or Android Phones

Guest Blog: Simple tools to improve your fluency and comprehension

Germany is a friendly, accommodating place, and you might be able to get by on your English for a while; but if you want to be feel at home and independent there, learning the language is essential. Here are some smartphone apps to get you started.

1. Speak German Free (Android)
This is a great app to get you started speaking and learning German before you leave home. It only includes 100 essential phrases, but it’s enough to start training yourself in the sound of spoken German, and give you the words to ask native speakers for help improving your language skills. Any experienced language learner will tell you that your skill will improve dramatically once you start using the language on a regular basis, and this app will give you the tools to do that. Continue reading

Losing Language

It was inevitable. Our German was bound to get worse upon departure. The first year, mine seemed to remain intact. I was still feeling pretty German, and I spoke German almost daily with our German preschool teachers, with other German-speaking parents, and with our German babysitter. Sometimes even with my German husband. We’re in the second year though, and after spending the Christmas holidays with my non-German speaking family, I finally felt that the Yanks had won. Throw on top of that, a struggle to integrate a third language (Korean), and the quality of Deutsch in this house has worsened. Continue reading

Max Raabe in Reno

Max Raabe in Reno

An illuminated sign inside the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno announces coming attractions, including Max Raabe.

Although his first big hit song in Germany, “Kein Schwein ruft mich an,” was in 1992, I didn’t become fully aware of Max Raabe and his Palast Orchester until I was living in Berlin in 2007-2008. After hearing him on the radio, I bought one of his CDs and enjoyed listening to tunes from the 1920s and ’30s – and Raabe’s wry, light-hearted approach to a repertoire of songs rarely heard over the last 80 years or so. He regularly performs live in Berlin and other German cities, although I missed his June 2008 open-air Waldbühne concert in Berlin.

I knew that Raabe and his orchestra had also performed outside of Germany in places like New York and Tokyo, but the last thing I ever expected was to see him on stage in my hometown of Reno, Nevada. Las Vegas or San Francisco maybe, but Reno?

So a few weeks ago, while watching a PBS TV broadcast of a 2009 concert by Max Raabe and his Palast Orchester at Berlin’s Admiralspalast theater, I was a bit stunned to hear that Raabe was going to perform in Reno on April 10, 2011. I immediately went online to buy tickets for my wife and me. Continue reading

Lernen, Studieren and German as a Foreign Language

I consider myself rather lucky. I’m an American, I speak English which is the international business language, and I moved to a country that has a relatively strong English-speaking background. The part of Germany that I live in, Bavaria, was (still kind of is) occupied by the Americans after the war. This means that along with the German requirement that students learn English in school because it’s the ‘international language’, the people of this region got to practice it because of the troops that were stationed in the area.

So I understand that just about everyone my age (I’m 29) around here knows at least a decent amount of English words, even if they are scared to use them.

I’m an English teacher here. And let’s be obvious, that’s pretty much the ONLY thing I can do as a Beruf until my German is pretty flawless, which it is not. I’m a high level 2, an intermediate, but as I said in an earlier post, I didn’t learn Yoga or Graphic Design German in my integration course. Continue reading

Losing my German

We have been in Ireland for about three months now, and every time I speak to my closest German friend, I notice words slipping away. I was “home” this weekend, so I am feeling better about that again, but it is amazing how quickly it happens.

When we arrived in Ireland in August, our youngest, who was almost two, spoke mostly German. He had started in German Krippe in February of that year and was speaking it all day. His dad speaks German with him as well, so his only English tended to come from me, and sometimes from his older sisters, who mixed languages with the best of them, but were more likely to come out with English than German after seven years in Heidelberg. He did have some English, and understood everything I said, but his first tendency was almost always German.

Continue reading