Questions Project

This is the question corner: Please email me your question on daily life in Germany, language, litterature and culture to martina@sprich-mit.com . I’ll do my best to answer it!

1 – What would be good souvenirs from Germany to give to my family and friends? – Parvinder from India
There are many options. Let’s first think about the inexpensive ones in case you want to bring more souvenirs. You could bring Leibniz cookies in a nice box if available in your supermarket, a bottle of beer, little pretzels also available in the supermarket. Marzipan sweets from Lübeck or Werthers Echte bonbons are quite popular.
According to the season you can bring nice chocolate Easter eggs or chocolate Santa Claus.
If you are travelling, you have the possibility to buy regional specialties like Spätzle noodles, Hamburg miniature ships, a captain’s hat, Aachener Printen cookies and other cloth or food specialties – every town and region have their own.
If you’re okay with spending more money, you could bring a tankard, a cuckoo clock, leather trousers or a Steiff teddy. If you’re a wealthy guy, send a Mercedes Benz or a BMW.

2 – Why do you have articles in German language?Jakas from Lithuania
“Der”, “die” or “das”, “ein” or “eine”?!?
Articles, but actually their declination according to gender, case and number they carry are challenging and annoying to many learners of German and a constant worry, including Mark Twain who grumbled a lot about them in his book “The Awful German Language”.
So why (the hell!) do articles exist, these annoying little words, were they invented to tease you?
I don’t think so. Or at least I hope not and I know: articles do not only exist in German language. Most of the major world languages like Spanish, French, Portuguese and English have them. Like in these languages, also in German they are “companions” of nouns like “Auto”, “Buch” and “Frau” (car, book and woman) and clarify the meaning of a sentence. There are definite and indefinite articles, such as “der” and “die” or “ein” and “eine”. As companions, they clarify e. g. whether something is appearing for the first time, like a friend telling his mate “Ich habe eine Frau kennengelernt”, just telling that there is a woman in his life; whereas he would say “Die Frau ist einfach toll!” after having told about her before. If you are an experienced user of German language, an article helps you understand very quickly what is meant. The described one is just one of several examples for their function.
One most difficult point about German articles is the genders. Most of them do not make sense in fact and there is no logical explanation. “Der Tisch” and why not “die Tisch”, “das Glas” and why not “der Glas”? This is similar in lots of languages, like Spanish, French and Portuguese. They all have genders expressed in articles which do not make sense, either. But it is special to German and some other languages that there are not only two but three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter.
The true reason why a lot of words have a certain gender where it does not make sense is to be searched in the language history. Apparently the Indo-European original language, out of which most European languages developed in the last 5000 years, did not have the articles. As I read, Greek language is the oldest language that had articles. Appartently it made sense to our ancestors to use articles.
Looking at other languages, articles are not the only way to express gender, number and case of nouns. The Balkan or Scandinavian languages for example do not have articles, but affixes; this means they express gender, number and case by adding certain endings to the nouns. Others, like Japanese as an example, do not have any of these.
Using articles with their declinations is the German language’s way to “transport” three pieces of information at once – you have little “bombs of information”. Maybe it fits to German people or at least to their reputation – Germans are to be very exact and detailed. German is a “low-context language”. This means, Germans are said to learn from childhood to communicate directly and say what they mean. “Yes” means “yes” and “no” means “no”. You want to describe things as exactly as possible. You can describe things in a very detailed way and “there is a word for everything” as I heard Abbas Khider an Iraqi-German writer say in a public reading. There is not too much room left for a doubt what the other person means. In this language and culture, articles and their declination fit in well, don’t they?
All in all, articles developped in language history of German and are there to transport meaning. The tough nut to crack when learning German is that when using an article you have to be very careful and think of three different points which are number, gender and case. But do not let these little words tease you! Luckily there are some mnemotechniques that make life easier.

3 – Why do German people like drinking beer? – Chi To Tang from Hong Kong
Beer is Germany’s national drink. There are more than 1300 breweries and 100 liters per person are drunken per year. Germany is the beer country number three in the world, only citizens in the Czech Republic and Austria surpass the Germans. Usually Germans like beer from their region most. In the North, people have the rather bitter Pils beer, whereas in the South people prefer wheat beer which is lighter and fresher.
But why is it so popular?

Already the Teutons drank beer. Findings of beer amphoras from around 800 BC have served to verify this custom. To that time, beer was brewed by the women.
In the early middle age the art of brewing beer was particularly refined by monks in the monasteries, because even during lent they were allowed to drink beer, as liquidities were not forbidden. The monks brewed beer on the larger scale and became competitors of the local breweries.

Beer had the reputation to be healthy. Hildegard von Bingen, a famous Benedictine abbess in the 11th century, expert on illness and remedies, said “Drink beer!” Adults and children followed her guidance.
Hygiene was a constant issue until the 20
th century, water was often contaminated and not drinkable. This was why beer was a better alternative to drink. Also factory owners adviced their staff in mines and steel plants to drink beer. Beer is rich in calories and contains lower alcohol than other drinks that had been drunk and influenced the workers’ performance.
Also the famous poets and philosophers praised and enjoyed beer.
This is why Germans like drinking beer so much.

Sources and further reading:
http://goo.gl/YBu5cs, http://goo.gl/KI83uG, http://goo.gl/w8FFoo, http://goo.gl/lhW8

 

4 – Why do Germans split verbs? – Motaz Mohammed from Palestine
Right, very cruel! In German, there are lots of verbs which can be split, called “separable verbs” and “trennbare Verben” in German. These verbs consist of two parts: a verb and a prefix. Most prefixes are prepositions, but they are occasionally adverbs, nouns, or adjectives. The prefix adds a sense to the verb or often change the meaning it completely. This is why to many learners of German they mean a stumbling block and cause confusion or panic.

First of all, here are some examples:

Ich fahre.=I travel/drive. – Ich fahre um 8 ab.=I depart at 8.
Ich
stehe im Zimmer.=I’m standing in the room. – Ich stehe auf.=I get up (out of bed).
Ich
mache Sport.=I do sports. – Ich mache mit!=I participate!
Ich höre Musik.=I listen to music. – Ich höre jetzt auf. = I stop/finish now.

But “why do Germans split verbs?”, Motaz Mohammed asked. The “why” is to be searched in language history. It is a heritage of our ancestors. They developed this grammatical phenomenon as splitting the verbs made sense to them and we still use them today.

Not only German language uses separable verbs. Also Dutch uses them.
And think of phrasal verbs in English, it is a similar occurence. In English, you add a particle to a verb and change the meaning completely. “I get a piece of cake” and “I get out of the bus” and “I get up at 5.30”. In the latter sentences, the meaning of “get” becomes an absolutely different one compared to the first sentence.
We cannot understand the meaning of the sentences unless we know the meaning of the combination verb
particle. I remember a talk to a collegue from the US some years ago. She was using so many phrasal verbs that I hadn’t studied – I couldn’t understand her very well.
Same for German. The way to understand “trennbare Verben” is to study and recognize them, bit by bit by bit. I created a list for you.

Some of the most common prefixes are:
ab-, an-, auf-, aus-, bei-, da-, ein-, her-, hin-, mit-, nach-, vor-, zu-, weg-

These can also be combined further to create further meanings, e.g:
dabei-, daran-, darauf-, davor-, dazu-; hinzu-, voraus-, vorbei-, vorher-.

 

5 – Why do Germans insist on wearing these bloody house shoes? – Daniel from England
Thank you for the question, David. It was coming at the right time because I went to a family party that weekend. So I had the opportunity to ask my whole family about the Hausschuh matter. I already knew my dad’s answer as whenever I am barefoot and not wearing house shoes when it is colder he will say “Wear house shoes or do you want to catch a cold?” or sometimes even “…or do you want a pneumonia?” The answer is not difficult, of course. “Pneumonia? No!” Being houseshoe-brainwashed I will never forget why to wear houseshoes of course. Nevertheless, today and at my home I prefer to wear socks (Sorry, Papa!).
So cold feet is the main reason to wear house shoes. In winter walking barefoot in the flat really makes cold feet and is uncomfortable. But there are two other reasons I know why Germans wear house shoes. Keeping the house clean is another important reason. This is not only for Germany by the way. Right now I am in Japan (hello from here!) and here it is impossible to enter a house with your street shoes. For the bathroom there are extra slippers (don’t take them out of the bathroom!).
Another reason for German houses to wear house shoes would be to prevent a wooden floor such as parquett from wearing.
How about your homes, does anybody else wear house shoes or is it really so strange and exotic?

6 – How to learn German the fastest way? – Andrey from Bulgaria
A. You should marry a German (and other preconditions)
B. How to become a Hero (training and methods)
C. German Language Monsters (and how to befriend with them)

A. You should marry a German (and other preconditions)
At least, a popular saying goes “If you want to learn a language, find a romantic partner that speaks the language you wish to learn and you’ll speak it very soon.” Probably true! Well, maybe you don’t want to choose that way…But there’s a truth lying in that saying. There needs to be curiosity to learn a language.
I heard the same from brain scientist Gerald Hüter in a speech about learning in which he said that if an 80-year-old man fell in love with a Chinese, there’s no obstacle – he will learn Chinese. Emotion makes us learn.
So the vernacular and Hüter say one thing: you need a curiosity, a motivation, an emotion to learn a language. This is the clue.
Why do you want to learn German? Does your wish come from deep inside?.
Be curious and know your reason why you want to do this trip (which is like life not a bowl of cherries), is what you should both confirm with a loud “yes!”.

Next one, in my opinion and experience, is to surround yourself with German language and culture. If you are in Germany, Austria or Switzerland already, you have a real advantage. You will learn lots of words just by hearing them again and again and have the possibility to try out what you learnt. If you aren’t in one of the DACH-countries yet, you can go to a German course, German culture institute in town, find a German-speaking circle in your town via Facebook or meetup.com, indicating keywords like “Tandem Partner German”, “speak German+your town” or “German conversation+your town”. Hope they will spit out good results. I do the same for learning Japanese: I go to a culture Institute once a week, have individual lessons and meet a tandem partner from time to time. It is important to keep in touch with the culture, language and people.

This is the next one: persistence! Be stubborn, disciplined, patient. Stay tuned. It will be easier if you have a regular appointment with other learners or a teacher.

 

B. How to become a Hero (training and methods)
Before I go on to talking about methods, one question to you: How did you learn your first foreign language? Did you read a lot, translate a lot, use concept cards, take part in a school exchange, listen to the radio or maybe fall in love? If you can figure out what really helped you in the past, you could already use these methods for learning German.
And: what kind of person are you? Do you love numbers and lists, do you like singing, do you enjoy reading novels or comics, do you like to play games? This is what you can take into consideration when choosing appropriate books, learning material and courses.
In my opinion and experience applying rapidly, regularity in learning, repetitions and your vocabulary play a great role in terms of understanding and being able to speak. And there are four skills that you need to train: listening and reading comprehension, speaking and writing. Which are the most important for you? What is your aim?

 

My more detailed hints go here:
Applying immediately: Learn dialogues you find in textbooks and most important phrases, first ones you can find here. Learning whole sentences or chunks instead of just words is a good way to learn more at once: vocab, grammar, in which context to use a word. You will memorize it much better than just a single word.

 

For your understanding, your vocabulary is an essential point. So this is what you should spend time and efforts on. Learn new words and built up your vocabulary bit by bit. It will help you understand and be able to express yourself better. First of all the basics and then extend it.
Make groups of words and collections like “in the supermarket”, “writing emails in German”, “at the party” or whatever is interesting or important for you. If you draw little pictures and use colours this might even work better. Put post-it notes with words into your house and remember the words in the house. Then take verbs and combinations like “kochen”, “abwaschen” or “Gemüse schneiden” with their conjugation and put them in the appropriate corner of your kitchen. Seeing them whenever you wait there until your water is boiling or lunch is cooked will help you remember the words.
You can also read little texts, listen to the radio, watch TV, YouTube and others. In the beginning, it will be hard to get the whole sense or maybe anything at all of course. Nevertheless, listening to the news will make you get a better sense for the pronunciation of German language. Or you will simply get the one or other word that you know. Lower your expectation of wanting to understand everything, don’t panic and be modest with yourself.
But you can also use some of the resources with simplified German. There are lots of books for beginners of German language in the “Deutsch als Fremsprache” corner of public libraries waiting to be read. There are also magazines like “Deutsch Perfekt” or online magazines offering simplyfied articles (please have a look at my page news-in-german.com).
For listening comprehension, there is one slowly-spoken podcast I like to recommend which is slowgerman.com or you have a look at the Deutsche Welle page dw.com and listen to the slowly-spoken news in German.
Or watch a DVD in German. Maybe an exciting or romantic film you’ve already watched before or a new one. You can use the subtitles or have a try without.
I asked some learners of German about their hints here in question number 6. Most of them said that practicing speaking is one of the most important points. It gives you a reason to go on learning when you feel that all the stuff you were learning is really used and applied in real life by real persons and you can feel like a hero when you had your first little conversation (like me when I had studied numbers in Japanese and understood the price the sales assistent said to me. Yeah and juhu, the work was worth it!  Speaking and applying the language can be like an adventure and every minute invested in learning can give you the power to come home from these adventures with pride. So overcome your fears, go outside! You can start in the supermarkt, little store, café. What I recommend is to join a group that shares the same hobby as you do. To find friends. This is again the curiosity and motivation point we talked about in the beginning.

 

C. German Language Monsters (and how to befriend with them)

Now we are moving on to the core of German language. There are little monsters in German language causing nightmares and panic. Remember what I said in the beginning, that this trip is no bowl of cherries, “kein Ponyhof” in German? There are some tough points about German language most learners of German dislike and would like to press “CTRL+D” to delete them until all eternity. These grammar monsters are genders and articles, the cases accusative and dative, plural formation and splittable verbs.
Let’s have a look at them.Monster 1- Genders and articles of nouns
Most of them do not make sense. Nevertheless, you need to know them because you’ll need them for putting the cases and the plurals correctly. When seeing certain endings of nouns you can be nearly sure to tell whether a noun is feminine, masculine or neuter.

Copy and paste this little overview, print it out and use it as crib:

-chen, -lein, -ment, -tum and -um —>endings of neuter nouns
-anz, -enz, -ei, -heit, -ie, -keit, -ik, -in, -ion, -ität, -schaft, -ung, -ur —>endings of feminine nouns
-ant, -ent, -ich, -ling, -ismus, -ist, -or —>endings of masculine nouns
Times of the day, seasons, months and days of the week (except “die Nacht”), directions, weather (except “das Eis, die Hitze, die Kälte, die Wolke”), alcoholic Drinks (except “das Bier”) and car brands are masculine.
Names of motorcycles, ships, cigarettes, substantiated numbers are feminine.
Names of colours and substantiated verbs are neuter
For examples google “Genusbestimmung durch Nachsilben”.)For all other genders of nouns that do not make any sense I’d recommend you to use a mnemotechnique. For example, link the three articles to three colours. Die=red, der=blue, das=yellow and try to link them with a couple of nouns. Imagine a yellow car, a red bottle, a blue shoe, a yellow house and so on. Or you use three objects or person like dinosaur=die, der=deer, das=dance. Imagine you see a car and a man dances on it, a bottle eaten by a dinosaur, your shoe being stolen by a bambi deer in while you are swimming in a lake, the dinosaur destroying all trousers in a fashion store with its brutal power and a house where a deer comes in and eats all the cakes on the table. Might be crazy, but serves as a good way to memorize things that do not make sense to you. There are many techniques like that, the most advanced might be memory palaces.
Try your own ones and then please tell me about them.

 

Monster 2 – the cases dative and accusative
“Der” Frau? What’s that, wasn’t it “die” Frau? Usually yes, but that’s the dative.

Accusative and dative object are need to be used after certain verbs and certain prepositions. You need to learn these as well the articles used to express the accusative and dative. To do so, you also need to know the gender of the noun as well as well if it is plural or singular.So, in short, when you want to make a correct sentence, you need to answer these questions:

-Does this verb/preposition require the accusative or dative?
If so, you go on:
-Is the object in singular (just one) or in plural (several)? If so, you only need to use “den+object in plural+”n” (definite article) or “object in plural+n” (indefinite article)
-Which gender does the object have – feminine, masculine or neuter?

So, as you see, there are three different pieces of Information you have to put when dealing with nouns: case, number and gender.

Please find an overview on the verbs and prepositions requiring the accusative and dative typing the keywords “Verben mit Akkusativ/Dativ” and “Präpositionen mit Akkusativ und Dativ” into a search engine of your choice.You need to ask for these three pieces of information, be aware of them and learn them bit by bit and apply them when necessary. Others have done so before you, so there is no doubt you can do the same.

Monster 3 – Plural Formation
Welcome Monster No. 3! The problems of forming the plural in German language is that there are eight different plural endings and you cannot tell when to use which one.

Let’s have a look at them:

Tisch -> Tische     -e
Hand -> Hände     -“e
Tante -> Tanten   -(e)n
Kind -> Kinder      -er
Haus -> Häuser    -“er
Tiger -> Tiger       -nothing
Apfel -> Äpfel       -“+nothing
Auto -> Autos       -s

This looks complicated. Please learn whenever you learn a new noun it’s plural form as well. There are rules and tendencies when to put which but I do not want to mention all of them here, the list is too long. Please research them or ask me for the list and I’ll send it to you.

You’ll get along best with this monster if you learn the plural form right in the beginning when you learn a new noun.

Monster 4 – splittable verbs
Yes, in German we do split verbs, very cruelly! This is only done with verbs having prefixes. Some of the most common prefixes are:
ab-, an-, auf-, aus-, bei-, da-, ein-, her-, hin-, mit-, nach-, vor-, zu-, weg-

Here are some examples:
abfahren (=to depart): Ich fahre ab. Ich fahre heute um 13:30 ab. Ich fahre heute um 13:30 vom Hamburger Hauptbahnhof ab. Wann fährst du ab?
einkaufen (=to buy s.th.): Er kauft ein. Er kauft um 10 Uhr morgens ein. Er kauft um 10 Uhr morgens im Supermarkt Getränke ein. Was kauft er ein?
aussteigen.(=to get off): Wir steigen aus. Wir steigen am Hauptbahnhof aus. Wir steigen in zehn Minuten am Hauptbahnhof aus. Wo steigt ihr aus?

As you can see in these sentences, the first part of the verb goes in the second place, the prefix in the end. This is the most common way to split verbs. There are others, learn them with patience.

If you know the prefixes that belong to splittable verbs and can recognize them in articles or when listening to something, you can look them up in your dictionary when meeting one of them. Or you know them already, that’s even better. Also here it is learning them bit by bit, like phrasal verbs for English language.

I talked about splittalbe verbs in the answer to question 4.

Marriage, methods, monsters and some others. For the moment, these are my thoughts on how to learn German in a faster way. No need to marry, as you see, but stay curious and know why you are taking your time to learn German. Alles Gute!

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