Mother Tongue Tuesday: German

Topics: AdventuresBlogMother Tongue TuesdayUncategorizedwords

I once was quite certain I would be a German teacher. I knew like I knew that German was fabulous, and I had spent plenty of time already studying it (like 2 years). I transferred from the University of Washington to Western Washington University with the more than rather dour Herr Brockhaus because I was so certain I wanted to study to be a teacher. The UW said to wait on the teaching courses until I had my German most of the way finished. (The perils of the UW would make another story, but I now think 18 years into teaching that they were were right.)

Without writing The Story of My Life in one blog post, it’s hard to explain how I landed in ESL. It’s simplest to say not nearly as many people want to learn German as they do English. Thinking of offering tidbits of this language, I studied more than any but English overwhelms me (not least because I’ve forgotten so very much. I don’t use it except lately on a little language app). But in the spirit of the students I have known both here and for a short time in Germany, I’ll give it a go.

German Tidbits from my Memory and from Ethnologue 

  • It has a 60% lexical similarity with English, meaning many of the words are the same in English and German. (Studying German made reading Old English understandable. German and English, I like to say, are close cousins.)
  • There are several varieties aside from the standard Hochdeutsch (High German). These are often known as Plattdeutsch (Low German). High German translates refrigerator as Kuhlschrank. The Plattdeutsch speakers in my German friend’s kitchen laughed as they told me refrigerator is something that sounded like Hooheehoeshrank with plenty of sounds from the back of the throat. (I can’t verify this so maybe they were just joshing my young self. I did, however, find Plattdeutsch translators like this and wasted a lot time looking for that word, so it looks like their refrigerator joke lives on in my older self.)
  • Over 41 million of the almost 70 million native German speakers also speak English, which explains why I’ve had so few German speakers needing my ESL classes. I have several friends and relatives from Germany but their English is so good I feel foolish using them to practice my German.
  • German has crazy articles. To learn the language well, you need to memorize male, female and neuter articles and then know subjective, accusative, dative and genitive forms of those articles. These make the a, an and the of English look as easy as playing patty cake.

Famous American German Speakers

  • Theodore Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) had German immigrant grandparents and many sources I’ve found say he grew up speaking both German and English.
  • Sandra Bullock grew up in Germany for many years. This video example of German has her speaking it quite well (to my ear).

About the author: Karrie Zylstra Myton is a blogger, essayist, and aspiring author who writes for the wild joy it brings on the best days and the hard lessons she learns about life on the worst. After crafting stories in the ridiculously early morning hours, she chases her two sons, cuddles with cats, and laughs with her husband about how crazy life can get in middle age.

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