Those literal Germans

This post was inspired by a conversation I had with Linda of Expat Eye on Germany on her blog. It’s been buzzing around in my head for a while, and now I’m finally getting around to writing it.

We all know that Germans like to shove words together to form new ones, often resulting in crazily long constructions that seem to exist for the sole purpose of putting off learners. One example has been going round on Facebook… a photo of a Fussbodenschleifmaschinenverleih with the caption “The reason Germans don’t play Scrabble…” (here it is). If you break the word down into its component parts, it actually makes perfect sense: Fussboden = floor, schleifen = to grind or sand, Maschine = machine (Schleifmaschine = sanding machine) and Verlei = rental service. So it’s a floor sanding machine rental service. Where English uses five words, the Germans stick them all together to create one giant word. This can be done with almost any combination of words – Musik + Schule = Musikschule (music school), Plastik + Tüte = Plastiktüte (plastic bag), Schwarz + Tee = Schwarztee (black tea – what we Brits would simply call “tea”) Woll + Mütze = Wollmütze (wooly hat), Holz + Kiste = Holzkiste (wooden box/crate).

Even when it's got milk in, it's "Schwarztee"
Even when it’s got milk in, it’s “Schwarztee”

The examples above would still make sense if you exchanged some of their parts – they’re mostly just used as descriptions. So instead of a Musikschule you might have a Kunstschule (art school) and if your box was made of cardboard, it would be a Pappkiste.  In other cases, two words are put together to form an entirely new word, which can be a lot of fun when you stop to consider what the individual words mean! (And also useful for learners who can work out the translation from the very literal German word). Here are a few of my favourites:

Der Handschuh (literally hand shoe) = glove

Die Nacktschnecke (literally naked snail) = slug

Der Selbstmord (literally self murder) = suicide

Der Fingerhut (literally finger hat) = thimble (and also Foxglove, as in the plant – presumably because the flowers look a bit like thimbles)

Der Büstenhalter (literally bust holder) = bra

Der Kühlschrank (literally cool(ing) cupboard) = fridge

Der Staubsauger (literally dust sucker) = hoover/vaccuum cleaner

Das Katzenklo (literally cat toilet/loo – I always imagine a tiny flushable toilet for cats) = cat’s litter tray

Das Stinktier (literally stinky animal) = skunk

Das Zahnfleisch (literally tooth meat) = gums

And finally, my absolute favourite: der Vorschlaghammer. It means sledgehammer, but the component parts are der Vorschlag, meaning suggestion, and der Hammer, which means exactly what you think it means. That’s one hell of a suggestion…

Do you have any favourite literal words, in German or any other language? Let me know in the comments.

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So you want to learn German?

As someone who has been living in Germany for slightly longer than most of the expats I bump into, on more than one occasion, I’ve found myself giving tips on learning German to my fellow non-native speakers (especially the interns that come to my work for their semester abroad!).  I know there are a few people out there in bloggy land who are living in Germany and striggling to learn the language, so I thought I’d gather some of my tips in one place. You never know – it might be useful to someone! Please note, these are coming from an English-speaking perspective, so any notes on pronunciation come from the English way of pronouncing such things and are more “close enough” than “absolutely 100% right”.

  • In German, the letter “z” is always pronounced the same way as the “z” in pizza… so like a ts rather than the sound a bee makes. For example, zu (meaning to) is pronounced like, tsu not zoo!
  • Meanwhile, the letter s sometimes is pronounced like the sound a bee makes. So the word zusammen (together) is pronounced “tsoo-zammen”. Double s is pronounced the same way as in English.
  • Articles are confusing! Even after more than 7 years here, I find it impossible to guess whether a word should be der, die or das. But here’s one small tip… most two-syllable words that end in the letter e are feminine, for example die Kerze (candle), die Sonne (sun) and die Sahne (cream). When I told this rule to a bunch of Germans, they spent all night trying to come up with exceptions and ended up finding exactly two: der Käse (cheese) and der Name (name). So when in doubt, go with die! It’s pronounced dee, by the way, nothing to do with ceasing to live 😉
  • A potential exception to the above rule is animals. Here, the article is based on actual physical gender, so der Löwe (lion) is not feminine because a lion is male (a lioness would be die Löwin). Die Kuh (cow), on the other hand, is feminine because a male cow would be der Stier/der Bulle (bull) – by the way, Bulle is also an impolite colloquial word . The same goes for people… der Kunde (customer) is masculine because one assumes a customer to be male (if you want to make clear that a customer is female, use die Kundin).
  • Words ending in -chen are diminitives and therefore take the neutral article das. This is why it’s das Mädchen (the girl), even though girls are clearly female! In case you’re wondering, it comes from die Magd (maid or maiden), so a girl in German is basically a “little maiden”. Hmm.
  • Nouns ending in -ung, -heit, -keit and -tät are feminine. Examples: die Bedeutung (meaning), die Dummheit (stupidity), die Schwierigkeit (difficulty) die Universität (university). There are no exceptions that I’m aware of.
  • Nouns ending in -ion are also always feminine, and all the letters are mostly pronounced. So die Religion is rell-i-gee-ohn and die Situation is zit-you-att-see-ohn
  • Again with the feminine… all nouns ending in -ik are die, and the -ik is pronounced eek, not ick. die Logik (logic) = loh-geek, die Mathematik (mathematics… yup, it’s singular in Germany) = ma-tuh-ma-teek
  • Most German rivers are feminine… die Donau (the Danube), die Mosel, die Elbe. But because this is German we’re talking about, there natually have to be exceptions, so it’s der Rhein (the Rhine) and der Main.
The deutsches Eck in Koblenz, where die Mosel und der Rhein meet.
The deutsches Eck in Koblenz, where die Mosel and der Rhein meet.

 

  • There are two ways to pronounce the -ch ending in German – voiced and unvoiced (yeah, it’s a technical term. Don’t  ask me!).
    1. If the ch is preceded by an o,  an a, a u or an au, it’s pronounced the same way as in the Scottish “loch”. Examples: auch (also/too), noch (still/yet), nach (after, to, according to), das Buch (book)
    2. Otherwise, the ch is always pronounced a bit like the h in huge. Try doing the Muttley laugh (say “hehehe” sort of breathlessly). That sound where the “ee” ends and the next “h” starts is the sound of a German -ch. Examples: ich (I), mich (me), die Milch (milk). The ch at the beginning or in the middle of words  is usually also pronounced like this (for example in die Chemie (chemistry) or das Märchen (fairy tale, myth)), but in some exceptional cases it’s more like a K. The ones I can think of are das Chaos (chaos), der Chor (choir), das Orchester (orchestra) and names beginning with Ch, like Christoph, Christian and Christina (so Christina and Kristina are pronounced the same).
  • Sch is always pronounced sh, so das Schiff (ship) is pronounced shiff, schottisch (Scottish) is pronounced shottish and der Tisch (table) is tish.
  • Qu is pronounced like kv, so die Quittung (receipt) is a kvittung. You will often hear Germans talk about die Kveen… that’s Queen Elizabeth II, to you and me.
  • The letter e at the end of a word is pronounced, so the name Christine is kris-tee-nuh, not kris-teen and die Linie (line) is lin-ee-uh.

OK, that’s all for now because 1) I don’t want to bore you (yeah, I know… too late) and 2) I can’t think of any others right now (also, that’s 13 tips and I like the number 13). And please don’t ask me how to pronounce a German r or what the difference in pronunciation between u and ü is because I can’t help you there! (What I can tell you is that e and ä are pronounced basically the same… some Germans say they’re not, but plenty of others can’t actually hear the difference, so you’re perfectly safe pronouncing der Käse as if the ä in the middle were an e…)

Are you learning German? Have any tips for fellow learners? Leave a comment and help the rest of us out!

Fun with DuoLingo 2

You’re probably all pretty sick of hearing about my wisdom teeth operation now – I know I’m sick of posting about it! But when you’re stuck in the house ill, nothing blogworthy tends to happen… so I thought it was time to share some more odd Duolingo sentences with you. To see my first round, click here.

DuoLingo is a free language learning website. The basic idea is that you sign up and the site has you translate sentences to practice various areas of grammar and vocabulary, starting with basics and moving on through things like food, animals and adjectives. I’ve been collecting the ones that I found particularly strange or amusing, and now I have enough for a whole blog post again. Here they are… enjoy!

  1. Papa Smurf
    Papa Smurf (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Der Hund isst den Vogel – The dog eats the bird (Because it wants to be a cat?)

  2. Sie kennt die komplette Feuerwehr – She knows the entire fire brigade (Is she an arsonist… or does she just have a thing for firemen?)
  3. Das sind keine normalen Äpfel! – Those are not normal apples! (I bet Snow White wishes someone had said that to her…)
  4. Eure Kuh ist schön – Your cow is nice (Just making small talk…)
  5. Der Bär trägt Ihre Kleider – The bear is wearing your clothes* (… and now they will never fit you again!)
  6. Ein roter Hund trägt weiße Kleider – A red dog is wearing white clothes (A red dog, you say?)
  7. Ich bin der Bär – I am the bear (And you can talk…)
  8. Der gesamte Kopf ist blau – The entire head is blue (It’s a Smurf!)
  9. Die öffentlichen Toiletten sind normal – The public toilets are normal (Well, that’s a relief…)
  10. Ich danke einer Katze – I thank a cat (It’s only polite, after all…)

That’s all for today. I hope you got some amusement out of them…

*Assuming the bear is female this could also translate as “The bear is wearing her clothes”, but the translation here is the first one that came to my mind and was accepted as correct. *edited to add* As someone pointed out in the comments, it only means “your” if Ihre is capitalised, but when it’s being read out there’s no way to tell whether they mean “ihre” or “Ihre”.

Fun with DuoLingo

www.duolingo.com (appen) är min nya lilla hobby.
The Duolingo owl (Photo credit: Emanuel Hallklint)

A while ago, I read another blogger’s review of a free-language learning website called Duolingo (I believe that blogger was Sherbet and Sparkles). I was on the look out for a new resource for learning Spanish, so I decided to check it out. I signed myself up for Spanish and, after a bit of thought, decided to use it for German as well – my German is good, but by no means perfect and I thought a few grammar lessons would do me some good.

In Spanish, I’m still at a fairly low level, so the software still has me working on basic sentences like “Él escribe libros” (He writes books). But as I progressed through the levels in German, I started to notice some fantastic, amusing, or just plain weird sentences cropping up. Naturally, my immediate reaction was to start collecting them, and now I have enough for a whole blog post. So here – in no particular order (because arranging them would involve effort) – are my top ten favourite sentences that Duolingo has made me translate.

  1. Sie schläft in seinem Bett – She sleeps in his bed. (Ooooh, the intrigue.)
  2. Sie ersetzt das Baby durch einen schwarzen Hund – She replaces the baby with a black dog. (She… what?!)
  3. Natürlich bin ich besser als du – Of course I am better than you. (And soooo modest as well!)
  4. Meine Frau ist nicht schön, aber sie ist reich – My wife is not pretty, but she is rich. (Oh well, that’s ok then…)
  5. Der Grossvater isst den Vogel – The grandfather eats the bird (I am picturing him biting the head off a live bird! :-/)
  6. Wir schwimmen, falls es Regen gibt – We will swim if it rains (How much rain are you expecting?)
  7. Er isst Menschen – He eats people. (Wow… thanks for the warning Duolingo!)
  8. Weiß man je, wohin man geht? – Does one ever know where one is going? (Oooh, very philosophical!)
  9. Ich will nicht gegen dich aussagen – I don’t want to testify against you. (Well, I’m glad to hear that!)
  10. Wo sind die Hosen des Jungen? – Where are the boy’s trousers? (That’s a very good question…)

One thing’s for sure, sentences like these will stick in your mind forever! Although I sincerely hope I never need to use the phrase “I don’t want to testify against you” in German…

The incorrect multiple choice answers can be pretty amusing too...
The incorrect multiple choice answers can be pretty amusing too…

¿Habla Español?

For those who don’t know that means “do you speak” Spanish. In my case the answer would be no, no I don’t. Or at least not more than a couple of words. I would like to b able to speak Spanish though. SO last night Jan and I signed up for a Spanish course at the local Volkshochschule (adult education centre). It starts at the end of November and it’s an intensive course, so only seven sessions but each one runs from 6pm to 9pm! We have 5 classes in November/December, then they close for Christmas and the final two lessons will be in January. I can’t wait to start!

Oh, and autumn is definitely on its way now. It’s currently 5.1°C. Brrr, cold!