Out with English and in with German?

11 Nov


I can definitely feel my brain cells scrambling around more trying to grasp the subtleties of learning a new language in my late twenties than they did in my late teens.  Sometimes I even have the impression that German is pushing English right out of my head!   Luckily, I have still never found proof of someone forgetting their native language.  However, language learning can cause some grammatical turbulence.

Language mix-up syndrome…

When learning a new language, the danger of making spelling and grammatical errors in your own language definitely becomes and issue.  For example, compound words are suddenly giving me trouble.  German, like English, has a bunch of them, and I have found myself constantly wanting to attach or detach words in English that I should not. Capitalization has also become an issue.  In German ALL nouns are capitalized, and this has totally skewed my perception of what simply looks right when writing in English.

…a chronic condition?

Most people’s knowledge of their native language is intuitive, and when confusion strikes we have to dig deeper.  There is unfortunately no remedy for this muddle other than a trusty dictionary and a quick grammar review.

So, in the hope of finding some easy rules to put an end to my confusion, I have spent the last hour or so scouring the internet and flipping through grammar books.  What did I find?  There is indeed no easy answer.

Mixing and matching in a seemingly arbitrary manner

Some German words are so long that they have a perspective.

– Mark Twain

Compound words seem to follow complex and even somewhat arbitrary rules in any language.  German is famous for having very long words compound words.  However, compound words in English can be confusing too.  You can classify and analyze them for hours, but no handy little rule exists to tell you if you should be writing “raincoat” or “rain coat.”  Native speakers just learn to connect the two words, and when we forget, the easiest thing to do is crack open a dictionary or Google it (a less reliable, but more modern solution).

Capitalization, however, seems much more straightforward to me in German than in English.  You just capitalize all your nouns.  In English not only do you have to think about whether or not it is a proper noun and where it is placed in the sentence, but you also have to consider a whole slew of quirky little rules: do not capitalize the first letter after a colon, do capitalize words derived from proper nouns (English grammar – English is derived from the proper noun England, but grammar is just a plain old noun), titles should only be capitalized when followed by a name or when referring directly to the person (The President, president, President Lincoln),….  The list goes on, and varies from one side of the Atlantic to the other.

The truth is that most people probably do not pay very close attention, especially when reading online, but glaring spelling or grammatical errors can be fatal in a professional context. So, the battle is on, as I set out to learn German, and possibly relearn a little English.




3 Responses to “Out with English and in with German?”

  1. Fritz November 12, 2010 at 2:25 am #

    A very thoughtful and thought provoking piece.

  2. sannekurz December 26, 2010 at 9:49 am #

    LOVE this post.
    LOVE your drawing…
    Very very lovely.

    I lived in Melbourne for five years and to my German/English happend exactly what you are describing. Only the other way.
    My mum was a teacher German second language all her life. And my partner is learning German right now. Well – he’s trying to.
    During his first lesson I for myself kicked back with Mark Twains “The Aweful German Language” – which I believe your quote to come from – and made a little blessing to destiny, that I have been raised with a language I never would have had the patience to learn when being an adult.

    • bavariaundercover December 26, 2010 at 2:22 pm #

      Thanks for stopping by! I love learning languages, but German is tough. I don’t think I’ll ever master it, but I’ve had fun trying so far! And yes, you’re right about my source for the Mark Twain quote! Viel Glück to your partner!!

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