Umlaut Hell

As part of a relocation package, Max’s company will place us in intense German language classes before our move date. The training hasn’t started, but I decided to get ahead of the curve by working with a tutor over the summer. Luckily for me, I found Megan, a bright and diligent college student, who is home for the break and willing to visit me every Monday for the next several weeks.

Despite being 20-some years young, Megan demonstrates remarkable patience as I wrestle with unfamiliar sounds and the guttural tones of this new language. She tries to assure me that German isn’t difficult to master, and in fact comparable to English. But other than the fact that the alphabet looks a lot like the ABCs of my native tongue, I’m not seeing many similarities.

“No, no,” Megan says softly. “You must pronounce the W like a V, and the V like the F.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” I think to myself. “I like my Ws the way I’ve been saying them for the last 39 years. How am I supposed to remember these changes?”

Megan reads my mind, or more likely my facial contortions, as I struggle with the pronunciations.

“You’ll get used to it,” she says trying to reassure me.

I’m not so sure. This new language is filled with tongue twisters. For example, if I wanted to say “Nice to meet you” in German, I would need to exclaim “Nett Sie kennenzulernen,” which almost doubles the syllables needed. In fact, many every day words seem all too complicated. For example, “clothing store” translates into “bekleidungsgeschäfte;” and grocery is “lebensmittelgeschäfte.” Could you picture me trying to say “Honey, I need to run to the lebensmittelgeshäfte to pick up some milk?” The milk would be spoiled by the time the words made it out of my mouth—seriously!

Finally, for a culture known for strictly adhering to rules, German language seems to have more grammatical exceptions and oddities than English. Quite literally, there isn’t an hour of the day in which you could avoid these oddities. When it comes to telling time, you could say the German equivalent of quarter after three (or 3:15), but you would never say two thirty (2:30). Instead you say, “Es ist halb drei,” or, in the Queen’s English, “half before three.” Talk about a brain strainer!

In summary, folks, if I ever do learn this language, you can bet that I’ll be memorizing the swear words first. But for now, all I know is “Heck”… I mean Zum Teufel or, literally translated, To the Devil!


utenzi said...

Wouldn't 3:30 be half before 4, Diane? Good luck with German...I've never had much luck with languages. I had 3 years of French in high school and I learned a little Greek before going over there for a month during college. Believe me--nobody has ever mistaken me for a native speaker in either language!

running42k said...

Try watching Hogan's Heroes reruns. You can pick up a bit of German there.

Diane Mandy said...

Good catch, U. See how confusing it it?

Vespertine said...

Diane and U-
As I recall, the Queen`s English and German do it exactly the opposite way. "Um halb sieben" = Half seven, which means 6:30 -- in the morning that is. By contrast, Queen`s English would have us believe that "half seven" means 7:30.

Very confusing indeed. In fact, it brings to mind one of my favorite german adjectives..."Bescheuert" (be-shoy-ert), which means ridiculous or absurd.

And just wait until you confront the slang and dialect in B.W.!

Netty said...

I spent a summer in Austria and found that I got by quite nicely with just a little German....

Give me a beer
Give me a wine spritzer
Where is the bathroom?

Have fun, and I'm sure that once you're hearing it all the time it will be a lot easier!

AmyD said...

I took two years of German in high school, and all I know how to say is...um, I don't know anything anymore! Haha! *blush*

Just stick with this site and you'll be fine: http://www.google.com/language_tools?hl=en ;o)

utenzi said...

Vespertine makes it sound even worse. I think I'd prefer to stick to American English for the time-telling stuff, Diane. Other languages think weird!

Just a trumpet player said...

I had to take German in College as part of the music curriculum.. For some reason, the Professor kept laughing every time I managed pronunced something.

Could also be because of all those beers that where consumed before the class...

Have you tried drinking a few martinies before class ? I swear it really helps with the pronunciation !

Me said...

I am a German. Let me know if you need any assistance ;) Of if you need crap explained...like why we sweep our sidewalks in the rain and stuff like that.;)