Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Learning German

After we decided to take a river cruise in Europe this summer,  Rhine-Main-Danube, Jim decided that he wanted to relearn German; I think his grandparents spoke it, and it was common in Milwaukee when he was a child.  I borrowed the first book of the Pimsleur German course from the local library, and he liked it so much he sprang for the whole thing, so we've both been studying it. 

Pimsleur teaches you languages by walking you through a series of increasingly complicated conversations; I'm finding it quite effective.  It's true that languages are my strong point, I took German in college and have been singing in it for years; I don't know how well it would work for someone who's never said Ja or Nein in his life. 

All the conversations, which we faithfully repeat several times to learn them, are between a Lady and a Gentleman, so they can work in the appropriate gender endings - an American man is Amerikaner, but an American woman is Amerikanerin.  It's all done by repetition; they never tell you how the stuff is spelled, although every lesson has a "reading lesson," a PDF that shows some words on the page and has you repeat the pronunciation.  I'm remembering a lot; but I cannot learn a word if I don't know how it's spelled (a personal quirk), so I've been dodging over to Google Translate now and then to check things I'm not sure of.

But the conversational situations are - well, they're odd.  Back in the early lessons, when all the instructions were in English, we talked a lot about ordering Bier (beer) and Wein (wine); I remember thinking, my God, these people drink like fish. ("I want to order five beers," said the Lady in German, for example.)  And I was relieved when they finally taught me how to order Thee (tea) and Mineralwasser (mineral water), since my doctor advises me not to drink.  Then later the Lady kept asking the Gentleman to give her a lot of money.  And they never could agree on a time for a dinner date.

I'm almost done with Book I; I've advanced to the point where the instructions are also in German. We're learning the various words for traveling - fahren (to drive, or travel in a vehicle), wegfahren (to go away).  We also just learned zusammen (together) and alleine (alone).  This led to a really odd little conversation between the Lady and the Gentlemen, which I repeat in English because I don't want to fool with German diacritical marks.  Are you alone?  he asked her.  No, I'm here with my husband, she said.  If you're not alone, I'm going away, he said; I'm going alone.  You're going alone?  she asks.  We could go away together. Yes, he said, we could go away together.  All this was repeated several times to get the vocabulary and the word order solidly down. 

Meanwhile I'm thinking, wait a minute, lady, I thought you were here with your husband (Mit Ihrem Mann), now you're going to go away together (zusammen) with this guy?  What's going on?

I await with interest Lesson 28, and the next adventures of these two oddballs.

Of course, we'll be on a totally English-speaking cruise ship with totally English-speaking guides; but never mind.  It's useful to relearn a language.


  1. Well, Karen, Pimsleur is just getting you ready for all the odd balls you will meet on your travels cruising down the Germanic rivers. And I can tell you having been in those parts almost yearly since 1988, you will. I tried using the Rosetta Stone version of a language course and remember wondering why I had to learn in such detail about riding horses, knowing this would more than likely never come up in any conversation I would ever have. I gave up shortly after that. Good for you that you keep going!

  2. Hedera:

    Those language books are just weird.

    I took three terms of German at Berkeley, and suffered through them from beginning to end. I'd done four terms of French, and towards the end, I'd gotten pretty good at it. But that German! Yikes! I think I got a D+ on the German #Three final, but was passed out of sheer sympathy. It's a horrible language! Guttural and concussive and with suspended sentences (verb at the end) and long enjambed word contructions. Thomas Mann is supposed to be delicious in the original German but I don't feel the least remorse. They can keep their bloody tongue.

  3. Oh, these aren't books; I thought I made that clear. These are recordings. The associated "reading lessons" are merely word and phrase lists.

    I'm finding I'm actually fairly good with German except that I never have fully grasped the word endings! If I know that a word is die, das, or der, I know what the associated word endings are, but why word (Wort) is neuter (das), time (Zeit) is feminine (die), and day (Tag) is masculine (der) is beyond me! And all plurals appear to be feminine.

    Jim says they won't kick me out of Germany if I get the word endings wrong, but I'm not sure.