German. For the last couple of years I’ve been kind of trying to sort of learn German with Rosetta Stone. I think Rosetta Stone is good; it uses the direct method and doesn’t attempt to teach language by teaching the grammar of the language first. It’s not a linguist’s vision of a language learning system and, between us, linguists are a few notches distant from language users.

It’s a debate I had all the time when I was teaching ESL. Many of my colleagues were linguists. At the same time, most of my students had been taught English in that way. Learn grammar then use the actual language which made most students too afraid of making grammatical errors ever to open their mouths. I ran into it again when I studied Italian in Verona. It was maddening. I would attempt to express myself in response to a teacher’s question and be corrected before I got out the whole idea. I think it should be let the student express the idea, respond to what the student has SAID, then correct the student and have the student repeat the corrected statement, but… No one teaches a child to speak by teaching them grammar first… Everyone knows how to use a language by the time they’re ready to study it so why???

Well, German.

German is a strange language. It’s very very very similar to English, and more similar if you’re familiar with older dialects of English. In many ways it comes across to me as an English that never evolved, you know? A backwater version that never went out into the world. German speakers will take offense at that thinking I mean that German is a primitive language. I don’t think so at all (after all, my favorite writer in the world ever is German), but German definitely did not get “out and about” the way English has.

German has a lot of strange elements. Other languages have gender and I speak/read/write those languages (French, Spanish, Italian) but German seems to have no “system” for that. All the Romance languages have distinctive endings (with some exceptions) for male, female and neuter gendered words. An exception in Italian is the word “problem” (problema) has a female ending but it is a masculine word. That exception is completely rational to me — many of my problems have been male. 😉 But with German there’s really no way to know.

And German has weird little “particles” such as “an” which appear whimsically at the end of some sentences for reasons I can’t figure out (are there any?). There is also the fact that German — like Greek — has declensions. The articles in German are (naturally) related to the gender of the word to which they refer but they also reflect singular or plural.

Learning Chinese was actually easier. For that matter Homeric Greek was easier.

So at the moment German is the thing I’m just NOT learning, partly because I understand it already without knowing it. Amazing how that has turned out to be an obstacle.

4 thoughts on “Deutsch.

  1. LOl and LOL again. Oh dear Martha, I have been speaking German for 47 years and I still have not learnt really what is der, die or das. Swiss German has an advantage, it is reduced to a “de”, the endings not sounding very much, at least for my english ears. I learnt it in England for two years and since it has all been learning by doing. We have lots of declinations. I could never work out why it was “das Madchen” when it was feminine but apparently because it was diminuative with “chen” at the end it becomes neutral. Uf alle Fall du lernscht es scho, da bin ig sicher. Das wäre jetzt schwiizertütsch, aber ig cha scho Schrifttütsch wenn ig muess. Schöne Abig wünsch ig dr.

    • I heard some Amish speaking their dialect not long ago and it’s related to Bernese Schwitzer Deutsch but of course it’s mutated over the centuries. Of course, the German I really WANT to learn is Schwitzer Deutsch. I don’t know if I’ll ever go to Germany, but I know I will go to CH.

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