WRITERS COMBINE WORDS so they flow well together. It becomes so natural that we forget how our language operates. I have to admit that pronunciation was never something I thought about until I met ‘the German’—my husband. Now that I am venturing into learning a new language, I’ve become more aware of the enunciation and grammatical aspects of my own language.
In 2008, my now husband and I met. We never thought we’d find our soul mate, sitting 5,000 miles away on the other side of the computer screen, typing out the words we felt in our hearts. But that’s a whole other story. My husband was able to speak and write English, but we didn’t hear each other’s voices until six months later.
During our getting to know each other phase, and even now, I realize how much language guides us on how we pronounce a word. Germans enunciate every letter of a word, even the words that are similar or the same in English. In the English language, the ‘k’ is silent in knee. In German, knee is Knie (Ka-nee). The stress is in the beginning of the word. German words also have a tendency to be quite long. The English word ‘probably’ is wahrscheinlich (Vahr-shine-leek) in German. The ‘W’ is pronounced as a ‘V,’ the ‘sch’ is pronounced as ‘sh,’ the ‘ein,’ is pronounced as ‘ine,’ and ‘lich’ is a soft leak with a furious cat sound at the end.
Maybe I’ll get some giggles when I give a few examples of how my husband mispronounces English words. My husband has read this and is a good sport about it. This is about showing how languages guide us.
One day, my husband was talking about some colleague he worked with and as he was telling me about this colleague, he happened to say, “We had a Diss-cra-pansy.” Because I couldn’t decipher the English word, I stopped him and asked, “What is a Diss-cra-pansy?” He told me it’s when someone has a difference of opinion from another. When someone doesn’t see things the same way as the other person. A light went on followed by a laugh. I said, “You mean Discrepancy (Diss-cre-pin-see).” In English, we do enunciate all these letters, but the stress is different and it changes the word. We had a good laugh with that one. I still use his pronunciation when we have a difference of opinion.
Here is another example of language dictating words. In Illinois, there is a town south of Chicago called Kankakee (Cane-ka-kee). When my husband first said it, he pronounced it with the stress in the beginning as (Con-cocky). There are some English words, not used often, that he still approaches in a German way.
It was my turn to learn another language, and being a native English speaker, German is difficult to learn at the tender age of *clears throat* forty-four. I was living in Germany for three weeks when I enrolled in a class that met twice a week for three hours—TOTAL IMMERSION! This meant that the entire lessons were in German. If I was confused, I had to figure it out myself or ask my husband. So I sat every Tuesday and Thursday, like a deer caught in the headlights, with others from around the world. Sri Lanka. Poland. Russia. Afghanistan. Ukraine. Romania. And the American. After two semesters with my teacher, who wouldn’t allow people to absorb what she asked, would laugh at them, or would tell me to ask my husband to explain, I decided to do it on my own. I already had been learning it on my own, so I joined a free language-teaching site called Duolingo.
To show a little of my suffering, I thought I’d touch on a few basics. The English language uses three articles with nouns: a, an, and the. I have to admit that I forgot these were articles. I use them in everyday language, in writing, and it never occurred to me to refresh my memory as to what ‘a,’ ‘an,’ and ‘the’ mean. German has three articles also: das (neutral), der (masculine), and die (feminine), but they all change to ‘die’ when the noun becomes plural.
In this sentence, one girl eats vegetables. The article for girl is ‘das’ (neutral) and the verb is ‘isst.’
The girl is eating vegetables. Das Mädchen isst Gemüse.
In this sentence, there are many girls eating vegetables. Since there is more than one girl, the article changes to ‘die’ and the verb changes to essen.
The girls are eating vegetables. Die Mädchen essen Gemüse.
Every verb changes with the singular and plural forms. Here’s a quick breakdown of the verb essen (to eat):
Ich esse I am eating.
Du isst You (informal) are eating.
Er/sie/es isst He/She/It is eating.
Wir essen We are eating.
Ihr esst You (many) are eating.
Sie/sie essen You (formal)/They are eating.
Another snag I’ve come across are cases. Cases? I thought those are what attorneys work on. English has rid most cases, but the three that exist function for the noun and pronoun. We have the subjective/nominative (he), and then the objective/accusative (him), and the last is possessive/genitive (his). German has four cases: nominative, accusative, dative and genitive, which change the ending of the noun, and of course, the article adding a few new ones along the way (dem, den, dessen, etc). Since I’ve lost the whole notion of cases, and assume I know my sentence structure, I now have to remind myself what is the subject, direct object, possession, and the German dative, which is the indirect object. So not only do I need to learn the articles of nouns, the six verb changes, but I also have to remember what the function is of each word. The only thing I have going for me is spelling. I was always a great speller, and it seems to have rubbed off in German too.
My name is Denise and I am from Chicago. I write books.
Meine Name ist Denise und ich bin aus Chicago. Ich schreibe Bücher.
Please feel free to share an experience you’ve had when it comes to learning a new language.
Permission to use the images in this post must be granted by Denise Baer.
What a lovely post, Denise! I too use Duolingo – discovered it about a month ago and i am on a 35 days streak as of today! 🙂
I am using it with my Spanish though and although it’s not a great teacher, it is great for practicing. Actually, it’s an awful teacher, it does NOT teach anything (it doesn;t explain rules or anything) – but it sure helps you practice… it is based on repetition and getting phrases imprinted in your mind forever. Great tool indeed!
I LOVED German grammar – maybe because it is so clear and everything has its place and rules to follow. I have forgotten a lot and can still have a basic conversation in German, but if you ask me something about grammar, i most probably will be able to explain it – that’s how much i liked the rules and structure int hat language 🙂
I am not a native English speaker (Bulgarian is my native, which is awfully complex language). And with time and languages learnt (now fluent in English, good Spanish, basic German and a little bit of Greek) – i must say that native English speakers are at a great disadvantage when it comes to learning languages because English is extremely easy language (for daily usage, i mean – writing for a living or being a best selling author is a whole other level of English 🙂
If you speak any other language since you were born, chances are you’ll learn English easily. But if you speak English, you may or may not be able to learn another language – depending on how interested you are in acquiring that skill, of course 🙂
Thanks much, Diana. It’s nice to meet another Duolingo member. I agree it isn’t a teacher, but when I come across something I don’t understand, I read the descriptions of the lessons, discussions and comments or I ask my husband.
I think it’s great that you love German. Although I wouldn’t go that far with how I feel about German, I can honestly say it’s interesting and has opened my eyes to language in general.
It’s amazing how many Europeans speak several different languages. I can understand why they need to, but I also wish I had learned a language when I was young and not just in school. When I was about 5 or 6, my siblings and cousins went to Lithuanian School to learn Lithuanian. Unfortunately, I was too interested in running around and playing.
I know many people love learning other languages. English is definitely an easier language than many others. We’ll see how well I do. It’s important I learn it since I’ll be here long term. It’s tough learning the language properly when local dialect is thrown in along with having to decipher botched up German from other nationalities.
oh, oh, wait – i do NOT love German (i hate how it sounds LOL) – i love how well structured it is and how clear the grammar rules are (like everything in Germany hahaha).
I know what you mean about the dialects but learning a language in its country and original context, that is the best (and easiest) way to learn it. So i am sure you will do just fine – Duolingo will also help 😉
Denise, this post brings back so many memories. I took German classes for three years in high school, and then in college I was able to test out of the lower-level classes and took German for two more years. The thing about learning a language in a classroom setting is there are so many approaches the instructor can take. Immersion classes can be quite overwhelming, but provide the most benefit in the long run. I once knew two line cooks who spent all of their working hours teaching each other English and Spanish. It was fun to watch their progress. I got hooked on Duolingo too for a while, but have fallen off with my practice which is crazy since I’ll be in Germany in about a month.
Herr LeRoy was my German professor. He was a really interesting guy who spoke at least seven languages. However, he only really embraced speaking German to the student in class who had spent time in Germany as an exchange student in high school.
Language learning also depends a lot on how high a person’s affective filter is (so named by the linguist Stephen Krashen). I’m proficient at reading and writing in German, but speaking is another matter because there’s the pressure not to mess up, and yet that’s what all of language is: a negotiation for meaning.
Jeri, You really do have German under your belt. You’ll do fine here, because I’m sure it will all come back to you. You are going to have an awesome time.
I think there is some debate about total immersion. My husband thinks it is ineffective for beginners learning a new language. In talking with my Polish hairdresser and the owner of the salon, they said it’s good to just talk German as much as possible, read German newspapers and watch German cartoons. Many found it easier to learn it that way. I asked my hairdresser how long it took her to learn German. She works with the public, so I was curious. She told me it took her 5 years to somewhat understand the clients, and 10 years to be able to speak it fluently. YIKES!
Denise, there are so many approaches to language learning that much is for sure. Lately, I’ve been trying to convert sentences I say around the house into German and I’m sure they’re hideous, but a good deal does indeed come back even after all these years.
If I had any facility at all with languages beyond English…. I keep trying and will, no doubt, try again. (Otra vez…)
Candy, I keep trying too.
Wie geht es ihnen?? Like Jeri, I took German in school but that was a looooong time ago! 🙂 I did get a big smile on my face seeing a familiar foreign language text! You so vividly reminded me of my teacher emphasizing the enunciation of words. That is so awesome about the evolution of communication with you and your husband too. Those classes would be daunting but kudos to you for persevering! Great guest post, Denise, and thank you so much for sharing her with us, Jeri! 🙂
Mike, Danke, mir geht es gut. It’s great to hear that someone else has learned German. I don’t even think it was offered at my high school. Thank you for letting me know my emphasis on the enunciation of words was vivid. I wasn’t quite sure if I effectively got it across. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
I am glad your husband has a good sense of humor about things.
I remember taking German in high school, I am passed too! I am someone who has had problems learning a new language; I keep on trying and failing.
William, Humor was one quality that drew me to my husband. I’m having difficulty with German, but I’m not giving up!
How do you like Duolingo, Denise? I’ve downloaded the iPhone app but haven’t used it yet. Good work on the lurnin’! I like to blame my language learning difficulties on my left-handed/right-brained-ness, but it’s something I really need to get over!
Laura, I really like Duolingo. I have it on my android, but I use it more on my computer because I can maneuver around better. Plus, I haven’t been able to get to a few tabs or the immersion portion of it. The immersion allows you to transcribe lines of articles and/or stories. And it’s okay to lay blame on something else. I’ve been blaming my husband for owning a manual car. I just got my German license but I have to learn how to drive manual. Learning! It never ends. 🙂
It never ends, and it keeps us young!
Denise, this was such a wonderful post. I’ve heard that immersion is the way to go when learning a new language. I took 2 years of French and 2 years of Spanish and never did get the hang of it:( I think some folks have an ear for languages and I fear I am not one!
Jacqueline, Thank you so much. I think immersion would suit me better once I understand the basics of the language. I’ve been watching German television and talking to neighbors in German, so I’m hoping that mixed with Duolingo will help me learn it fluently.
Learning another language can be a tough slog. I think your attitude is the right one, a little humour goes a long way when you’re learning how think in a completely different way, which is essentially what is required. I’m always amazed at speakers who pick up English with little effort, it’s my native tongue and I have found myself floundering on occasion. 🙂
Debra, I have to keep laughing or I’d probably cry. 🙂 At this stage in my life, learning another language is a big step for me.
I’m from Illinois too, and it drives me crazy when people pronounce Joliet “Jolly-et” (it’s Joe-lee-et, for you out of towners) and Oswego as “Ahs-way-go” when it’s “Ahs-we-go.” Of course, it drives me the craziest when they leave the S on Illinois. I admire your brain for having the capacity to learn another language when the English language is hard enough to get a grasp on!
Amy, I would drive you crazy. I’m one of those that says Jolly-et and Ahs-way-go, but no way to the ‘s’ in Illinois. I don’t know if it’s my south side upbringing. Many of my pronunciations are off. I pronounce Sausage “Sa-sige” where many say “Saw-sige” along with Chicago “Shi-cago”. And I can’t remember the last time I’ve pronounced the entire word for remember. I usually say, “Member that time we took a road trip?” Sorry Amy.
Great post! Hi Denise, I too studied German for three years in high school and lived in Germany. However, alas, my German friends tell me it was a waste of time!
Jan, I have to disagree with your German friends. Studying another language and living in another country is never a waste of time. I’m sure you remember some words. 🙂
German is one of the hardest modern languages to learn… (at least for me)
Last summer I bought a book…
But basically started learning through a YouTube channel called DeutschOnlineLernen (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZAWygYoN30)
The four cases are complex even to me as a native spanish speaker who also can do it well with english french and alittle bit of italian!…
I felt identified as I read along the lines of this post. So clever and ready-witted.. I guess the best way to speak german properly is being german.
Viele Grüße und vielen dank hierdurch!,
Aquileana, I saved the youtube link. Thanks much for that. My husband’s parents live in Spain, and they complain how hard it was learning Spanish. They’ve been living there for 20-years, but still struggle since the northern part of Spain has changed Spanish to Catalan. Danke Schön.
My husband and I have had many foreign exchange student from all over the world. Your confusion over “diss-cra -pansy” cracked me up. When people that speak 2 different languages are trying to understand each other there are many moments for amusement. I know we had lots of laughs over the years.
Susan, I bet that was fun having foreign exchange students stay with you. I’m glad you found the diss-cra-pansy funny. My husband and I still laugh about it, along with other misunderstandings.
That takes some serious dedication. I, like some of the others here, tried at one point in my life to learn Spanish. It wasn’t to be. Even after 6 months of 2 hours a day 5 days a week. I can find a swimming pool and get a beer and some other pretty useless sentences but that’s about it.
Tim, You know one of the most important things to get in Germany. Ich möchte ein Bier!
As English speakers we don’t have to worry about conjugating verbs. But we do have the inexplicably silent letters like the k in knee that must drive people who are trying to learn the language crazy.
Ken, My husband says our language has some inconsistencies, and I told him German was created to annoy the rest of the world. When he points out the English silent ‘k’, I point out the German pronunciation for ‘j’, which is pronounced “yot”. Of course, we say this all in good fun.
I have to share this with my husband Jeri. He so wants to learn German. Before one of our early trips to Italy we signed up at a local college to learn Italian. Just before introductions, the instructor went through the typical kind of housekeeping statements – we start and end at…, the restrooms are located …., all that kind of thing. Then she asked how many of us were 40 years old or older? About 1/3 of us raised our hands. “Well, you probably won’t be able to learn this or any other language at this late stage.” We were humiliated and never went back. We’re still trying to get over it.
Patricia, That instructor is completely wrong. I just turned 46-years old, and I am learning German. Slowly, but I’m learning it. For a teacher to say that to those willing to learn, shouldn’t be teaching. My husband’s parents learned Spanish when they were in their 50s. If your husband wants to learn German, good for him, and I wish him the best.
I love clicking over here…
because it’s like taking a FREE on-line Class.
My Inner Chick, Danke schön
I always thought German seemed like a hard language to learn, but good for you, jumping in and finding a way that works for you. Learning a second language truly does make you realize how much you’ve learned and forgotten about your own! My husband lived in Germany (on a military base) for 2 years in high school, and the only thing he still says is Ausfart! Speaking of pronunciation… 🙂
Meredith, Thanks much for the support. Your comment made me laugh because every time I see an Ausfahrt sign it makes me laugh. Yes, I have immature moments in life.
German is fascinating and frustrating at the same time. The gender-specifics are somewhat maddening to me.
Being an ESL Teacher in Korea has exposed me to a whole plethora of differences between speakers of these two distinct languages. Korean is a language, to me, where mistakes are very easy to make for non-natives. I am able to read somewhat easily but speaking is another battle. I guess what it tells me is that there are so many nuances within each language that take lots of practice and training to overcome. It sounds like you have quite a fun challenge learning German and speaking English with your husband.
Carl, I agree with you about German. Kudos to you for knowing Korean. I couldn’t even imagine learning an Asian language. They come across as very difficult languages.
I think German isn’t a forgiving language. A mispronunciation or incomplete sentence makes Germans twist their heads and scrunch up their faces. With English, we can usually figure out what a foreign speaker is saying in English even when they mispronounce or say half a sentence.
I took German classes through junior high and high school. I was never good at speaking but learned to read it fairly well. Sadly, I’ve forgotten most of it now. One phrase keeps coming back. “Jetzt geht ein Licht auf.” Literally translated as “Now a light goes on” meaning I get it or I see the light. I’ve since taken a few French lessons and a few Spanish lessons – not enough to know anything other than a few words. I find understanding the tenses, conjugations, and sentence structures in other languages difficult.
Donna, I bet some of that German would come back to you if you had to read something. I also congratulate you on taking French and Spanish lessons. It’s always great to expand our horizons.
Learning a foreign language sure is tough. It is one thing to actually learn it on paper and it is so much more difficult to actually use it. In school I took 6 years of french, 1 year of spanish, 1 year of latin and a bunch of hebrew through my temple. Guess how many languages I can actually speak? Only english. Good thing you have someone at home to practice that german with. I’m sure you will have some laughs along the way, but I’m sure you will get it eventually!
Erica, I was speechless reading your comment about all the languages. WOW! It’s amazing that you took all of those lessons because you will always be able to understand some things when traveling. I wish I could say I’m getting practice at home. My husband only talks to me in English. I tell him all the time that he needs to start talking to me in German, but he says it’s just easier to talk to me in English. One of these days I’ll get him to switch to German.
I am fluent in gibberish.
I have tried in the past to learn French and Spanish (separate occasions), still haven’t quite gotten it. At some point I will work on learning new words again. It could be fun to be scary in several different languages.
Jon, Gibberish is awesome! 🙂
I had signed up with DuoLingo, but my real passion is Japanese–which they didn’t have last time I checked. I even have the Rosetta Stone software for it. I have no practical use for it though, so anything I learn I tend to forget because of disuse.
Japanese grammar is fun. Yoda uses Japanese grammar.
Loni, I’ve read that some people have requested Japanese, Chinese and Mandarin in Duolingo. Maybe they’ll add a curriculum.
Love the post Denise, and good to hear about your struggles with a different language. I really enjoy learning other languages though I’m not proficient at any of them. I’ve spent the most time with Italian, which I totally love, but over the past year having been struggling with Spanish. But I confess sticking with is hard I find with out the motivation of a regular class. That said Duolingo is great and got me on a good start with spanish. Must be quite a challenge having a relationship with someone whose language is different from your own. I can only imagine it add to the initial excitement too though. Thanks Denise:-)
A.K., Thanks much for stopping by. I think Italian is such a beautiful language and I love the country too. It is hard to follow and stick with it. I’ve come up with a schedule that I hope to follow. Duolingo is important so I HAVE to make time for it. My husband speaks English fluently, which makes me sometimes forget he’s German, especially since he talks to me in English. But the differences are exciting… and I love his accent, which I think is more British than German. Take care.
Jeri, being a foreigner myself, I totally “get” this post. Inspite of being educated in convent schools all my growing-up years, pronunciation is something I struggle with everyday. My Americanized kids make fun of my pronunciation every day:-(
Anoop Ahuja Judge, Pronunciation is tough. I get nervous talking German because I know I’m not pronouncing all the words correctly, but I gotta keep on doing it.
My mother tongue was Hungarian, which is a rather hard language to learn, but if you learn it as a baby, your brain is forever after able to distinguish different ‘sounds’ without too much trouble. So I learned English at 4, French at school and then while working as an au pair in Paris. German I picked up while travelling around Germany with my boyfriend at the time who had learned German at school and university. Then finally a bit of Spanish, a bit of Mandarin and a tiny bit more of Japanese at university.
It sounds like a lot but really isn’t because I can only speak, and write properly in English. -shrug- But I love the sound of other languages. 🙂
A.C. Flory, I’m impressed. You really have had experience with other languages. If I can recall correctly, I think I read something about young children can learn about five different languages.
Learning a new language can offer a lot of humor. I’ve taken French and Spanish classes over the years. And I think I prefer the pronunciation Con-cocky. Might have to start saying that, but only around people I know and trust. I’m an American living in England it has taken some time to get used to the fact that they stress different syllables than we do. I swear we speak the same language but a lot of it sounds so foreign to me.
TBM, Hello to another expat. When I’ve been to London, I had difficulty understanding what they were saying because of the accent.
Jeri — I have a grandniece in the Navy who is currently in the military’s linguistics school learning German. It’s a total immersion system that has obviously worked well for them. She was tested first and found to have an aptitude for learning a foreign language. After several months she will be fluent in German and her next assignment will be teaching military ordnances at the German Military Academy — in German! She’s only in her 20’s and I think at that age your brain is still malleable enough to be rewired.
Jeannette, that’s great to hear that your niece has an aptitude for language is doing so well with it 🙂 Immersion can work wonders, otherwise people tend to use their native language as a crutch. Some great programs are bilingual though and switch back and forth between the two languages in such a way that constant positive reinforcement is always being giving. I think I’ve responded best to TPR (total physical response) both as a student and as a teacher. I want to try to speak German when I’m in Germany, but from what I’ve heard, the Germans will probably answer me in English anyway.
Enjoyable post, Denise. German is a language I never had exposure to, though it was one of the electives offered through highscholl. Thanks for the sneak peak. In Canada, with French as one of the two official languages, I should likely be more fluent. C’est la vie! My two daughters learned French through a total immersion program starting in kindergarten, which was so effective, one of them now teaches it. Sounds like you are well on your way as well.
Derrick, Thanks! Nice to hear that your daughters are teaching French now. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to speak more than one language.
Denise, Ah yes German would be a difficult one to learn. And I have heard that it’s more difficult to learn a new language as an adult than as a child… Is that true? Great post!
Christy, I’ve read something regarding children can learn many languages. It’s much more difficult as an adult. Since you heard and I read it, I’m going to say it’s true. 🙂 The one good thing about learning German at my age is that I get to enjoy a few beers when I get frustrated. Thanks so much for stopping by.
I enjoyed the post. I don’t have any stories about language. I know that I have taken courses several times trying to even learn spanish with no success. my screen reader didn’t properly pronounce any of your german words. thanks for sharing, max
Maxwell, I appreciate you joining in the discussion. Until now, I didn’t have any language stories to share either. I wish I could say I speak two languages.
Hi Denise – I am originally dutch and we came to Canada when I was in grade 2. I remember learning english which I thought was such a weird language – example, dear(affection), dear (costly) deer(same pronunciation). I guess every language has its oddities. I am going to check out Duolingo though and maybe learn some french.
Hi Lenie, My husband says one of the confusing things about English is the different meanings for a word and the example you gave. I hope you enjoy Duolingo.
This was a funny post. I love how Germans pronounce words, like wegetables! Duolingo sounds like a good way to learn a language. I must check it out as I am very rusty when it comes to Spanish. 🙂
Hi Christine, LOL! I became friends with a woman here who speaks English, and she does use ‘w’ quite often. It’s cute.
Bravo to you! I can barely handle English sometimes and do not think I could master another language completely. I did learn Russian when we traveled to adopt my youngest daughter who was five at the time and didn’t know a word of English. I have since forgotten most of it. It’s nice that you and your husband can laugh about the mispronunciations and I envy you for becoming bi-lingual.
Laurie, I apologize for the late response. Thanks for the vote of confidence. Russian is probably another difficult language to learn, so good for you learning it even if it’s faded. And I love that you did it for your daughter.
When learning Spanish, I remember the surprise of the notion of feminine and masculine and matching adjectives accordingly. I was telling my host family in Costa Rica about Mt. St Helens and how it was famous for erupting. I later told the story to my teacher and she had a bit of a giggle. The verb I used meant “to burp” rather than “to erupt”.
Christina, I apologize for the late response. That is funny. As English speakers, we forget that one of our words could actually mean something else. In German, the word ‘gift’ means ‘poison.’
My husband is fluent in 4 languages. Me? None. I do understand the language differences and how words are pronounced. We had a French student stay with us when I was in high school. Boy did I learn a lot about pronunciation then! I have also found that due to the way my husband pronounces certain words, I now pronounce them the same way causing me to get strange looks from people at times. LOL My husband uses Duolingo. I have not tried it, but may now.
Cheryl, I apologize for the late response. How awesome that your husband speaks 4 languages. I do the same thing in regards to pronunciation. Some words come out a bit more on the German accent than the English.
Thanks for sharing these experiences.
I think it is only when you start to study another language that you learn about grammar and how your own language actually works!