It’s a rainy day in Munich, which is appropriate because I like to listen to the sound of rain when I’m writing. It’s a good day for Neil and I to stay inside (for a little while, anyway) so he can work and I can do what it is I keep saying I’m going to do (write, blog, edit pictures).
I haven’t finished the Marseille posts yet, but I am jumping a little out of order with this post because I feel inspired today to write about the German language. I hope it doesn’t get too confusing.
We arrived in Munich last Friday. Neil declared that he already loved Germany even as we were still making our way from the airport to our apartment. There’s definitely a shift to be felt as you’re transitioning from France to Germany. The streets are wider and cleaner. There is more green space. There are more people riding bicycles. The climate is cooler (we’re definitely not in the Mediterranean anymore!). Unlike French, the language is consonant heavy, but both languages have their own musicality. German is like the percussive beat of a marching band whereas French is like a swaying lullaby.
Neil and I are both studying the German language and building our vocabulary, even if we’re still a little shy with actually using it to speak with others. In France, I was painfully conscious of how very little French I actually knew. I have a basic grasp of French vocabulary, but I had great difficulty with constructing my own sentences or understanding what others say. If I am given some time (and I also have the patience) I can slowly piece together what is being said or what has been written down, but anything at the speed of actual life exceeds my comprehension.
In Germany, I know even less! I find myself wishing I had even half of the knowledge of German that I do of French. On one hand, it makes me feel better about my French. On the other hand, I have a lot of studying to do.
But it’s exciting! Almost a year ago, I started listening to a podcast called “The History of the English Language.” With this podcast, I am learning about how English is a blend of German, Latin, Norman French, and Old Norse. After the Romans withdrew from Britain in the 5th century, Germanic tribes invaded Britain. The Angles and the Saxons were the most dominant of these tribes, and the language spoken by the blending of these two groups (Anglo-Saxon) is known as Old English. Consequently, Old English is very Germanic. Later invasions by the Norman French and the Vikings would also heavily shape the English language. But those early Germanic influences are at the heart of the language we still speak today. The podcast suggests that one think of the English language as an oak tree. Germanic influences make up the roots and the trunk of that tree. The earliest words that we learn as children (and therefore the most basic, everyday words that we use) have German as its source. The top 25 words used in the English language (I, the, and, a, to, is, have, you, that, he, it, of, in, was, for, on, are, as, they, at, be, from, with, his, this) have Germanic origins. In fact, of the top 200 words that English speakers use, 183 are Germanic. It’s not until number 42 on that list, the French-influenced word “use”, that we encounter a non-Germanic word. So the rest of that oak tree, the branches and the leaves, come from Latin, French, Old Norse, and other languages. These words supplement our basic everyday vocabulary. In fact, English is remarkable for the sheer number of supplementary words that it has absorbed.
So what does that have to do with us being in Germany and learning the language? Well, it’s interesting for me to see some of the discussions I’ve been listening to in the podcast come to life. Also, English and German have a lot of cognates; cognates are words that are the same or similar between languages.
A book I’m studying suggests that if you’re trying to translate a certain English word into German, use the less formal version of that word. It’s highly likely that this more basic version has a German cognate.
For example, to translate the phrase “I consider” into German, think is the less formal version of consider. Denke is German for think. It’s spelled a little differently, but sounds similar, so it’s still considered a cognate. The similarity of cognates make it easier to remember when you’re learning German and trying to beef up your vocabulary.
Interestingly, referring back to the oak tree example of the English language, “comprehend” is a supplementary word that comes from French. It’s a leaf!
It’s nice that Neil and I are on the same level when it comes to learning German. It could be a little disheartening trying to practice my French because it seemed to me like Neil was miles ahead. He was always very kind and patient when trying to help me improve, but we were definitely not at the same skill level. But now with German we can help each other learn at the same pace and practice with each other. Neil is a little obsessed with German, and he’s very excited to learn it. It’s a little fun to see him out of his element (sorry, Neil) because he so rarely seems to be there.
In Europe, you meet a lot of people who know multiple languages. For instance, the flight attendant for our flight from Marseille to Munich gave instructions in French, German, and English. At Oktoberfest, we sat down with a group of Portuguese men who lived in Switzerland. They knew Portuguese, German, French, and English. I think it’s really cool to know more than just your own language and I hope that I can enhance my language skills, even just a little. I’ve heard that learning German is like a stepping-stone into learning Swedish. I would really like to learn some Swedish for when I go to visit my family there!
One thing that is nice about German is that it is very phonetic. French and English have mysterious and vague rules about what letters are pronounced in a word when. German words can be long but they are matter of fact. If the letter is in the word, you pronounce it!
Some words look like English, and some words look like they come from outer space. One thing I do know about the word in the picture below is that you would probably pronounce every single letter.
Spaß mit deutsch!
Fun with German!
(Pronunciation notes: the ß letter indicates a double “s”. Straße (street) is said like strasse. The letter J is pronounced as a Y, so if you’re familiar with my family name, you’ll know why I appreciate that! The letter W is pronounced as a V. The letter F is pronounced as a V).
Das ist eine guter hund.
That is a good dog.
(I looked this phrase up while we were walking through a park and I was falling in love with everybody’s dogs).
Ich liebe dich.
I love you.
(I looked this one up after I looked up the phrase about the dogs, but meant it in reference to Neil. Honestly).
Apfelwein means apple cider. (Apple wine!). Blumen means flower!
Wer bist du? (Who are you?)
Ich bin Leah.
I am Leah.
Ich komme aus Kanada.
I come from Canada.
Wir reisen für ein Jahr in Europa.
We’re traveling for a year in Europe.
Ich lese gern und schreibe.
I like to read and write.
Ich mache gern Fotos.
I like to take photos.
Ich lerne Deutsche.
I am learning German.
Ich möchte pizza essen und apfelwein trinken.
I like to eat pizza and drink apple cider.
Warum willst du Deutsch lernen?
Why do you want to learn German?
Ich möchte Deutsch lernen, weil, na ja, es macht spaß!
I would like to learn German because, well, it is fun!
Ich möchte die deutschen historischen Stätten fotografieren.
I would like to photograph the German historic sites.