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No Time To Hibernate!

20 Dec

2010 has brought a lot of change.  New country, new language, new apartment, and a new climate.  Life seems to keep pushing me northward, and living in a cold and snowy place for the first time takes some adjustment.  

I have had to figure out a few things that seem obvious to some.  For example, always assume you need at least one more layer before walking out the door, the warmth of snow boots is more important to me than having cold feet in chic shoes, and last but not least, it will inevitably snow on the day when it is my turn to shovel.

This naturally piqued my curiosity on how to talk about certain essential topics with my neighbors. I wanted to be able to ask things like: Do I have to shovel that part of the sidewalk too? or Is it ok if I build a big snowman over there?.

After a quick look in the dictionary, here is a quick list of essential snow-related words:

der Schnee – snow

Schnee schippen – snow shoveling

der Schneeball – snowball

eine Schneeballschlacht machen – have a snowball fight

der Schneeman – snowman

einen Schneeman bauen – make a snowman

die Schneeflocke – snowflake 

der Schneepflug – snowplow

der Schneefall – snowfall

I think that’s enough for now!  I hope you will be able to put this info to good use and have some fun! Viel Spaß!

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.