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Saturday, 7 December 2013

DEUTSCH/GERMAN AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE

‘Linie vier Garbsen’- A lady announced in the tram platform on my first day to my institute. I was instructed to take tram number 4 from where I live. Without understanding anything, I was just following signs, praying secretly I understood well where I needed to go. Until that time, I only knew ‘Nein’ and ‘Gutan Tag’: words I learnt from my all time favourite British comedy ‘Mind your language’I could only thank God that Germans use same alphabet as English. 

German is an official language in six countries: Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and Belgium. According to this source, 90 to 120 million people worldwide call German their mother tongue and another 80 million learn it as a foreign language. This makes it the most spoken mother tongue in the European Union and one of the most popular languages in the world.

On our first class, our teacher told us that there are three articles in German:
DIE means Female
DER means Male
DAS means Neutral
Every noun is divided into either Die or Der or Das. That means everything (either living or non-living thing) is male, female or neutral. Confusing right?

Look at some examples in the table below:
English
German
Category
Household work
Die Hausarbeit
Female
Professor 
Der Professor 
Male
Bread
Das Brot
Neutral

My housemate and I thought of a way to remember household work as a female and professor as a male. We came up with a trick that woman does most of the household work so it is female and men are more common in professor profession. But honestly, If we try to use this technique for everything, we will be here forever.

On the same day, the teacher gave us a transcript of two people having conversation in German. She told us to read it and ask her any vocabulary we didn’t understand. I had no idea what to do because I didn’t understand a single word there. So, I raised my voice- ‘Isn’t it better to go through line by line together and you tell us what each line means?’
She said-‘I don’t think that’s a good idea because sentence is not same when we directly convert it into English’.

On 2nd week of the class, we learnt numbers. After learning from 0 to 1000, our teacher asked, -‘What do you call 555?’
After seeing everyone struggling, she wrote on the board-'fünfhundertfünfundfünfzig'
Yes! They write without a space in between. One of our colleagues joked –‘ I think I will go back to my home country because of this word’.
We all laughed for a while but that man didn’t turn up for next class. I seriously thought he went back to his country but good that he came back in following one.

Although workload was heavy, I was actually enjoying learning it. I also noticed myself getting better with every class. Slowly I started understanding the announcement in tram station. Walking on the road and waiting for the tram, I started figuring out what the big advertisements on the wall are trying to say. My supervisor said- 'Its good practice to listen to people talking in German’
I forced myself to listen to my colleagues while they were talking in German. I could only pick up one or two words but most of the time it was easier to understand because of the situations and their body language. One day at lunch, I asked one of my colleagues- ‘How do I know which one is male and female? There are just too many things’.
He replied-‘It comes with an experience but if you are not native speaker, you will always make some mistakes’.

I asked the same question that evening to my German teacher. She gave us simple tips: Every plural is female! So, father is Der Father but when I have to address many fathers, it becomes Die Fathers. Oh! Family is female too. That confused me and I asked my teacher-
‘Why is it Die family? Because in family, there are both males and females. So I would have thought it would be Das Family?’.
She replied- ‘Family is female, just like table is male. There is no approved theory or formula for it and we cannot do anything else than quietly accept it and memorize it’.

One day, my housemates and I were about 20 minutes late for the class because our seminar overran. After we came in, our teacher said – ‘Seite öffnen zwanzig’ (‘Open page 20’)
I couldn’t understand. I quietly whispered to my housemate – ‘What is she saying?’
My housemate replied in same tone- ‘I think she is saying we are 20 minutes late’. I didn’t think about anything else but said – ‘Actually we had seminar and it lasted quite long’
Everyone was giving me a weird look. Then suddenly, I realised I was talking something nonsense.

Learning new language is fun as well as embarrassing. I have to admit, my pronunciation is still lacking. When I start speaking in the class, more than myself, I feel sorry for those who are listening to me. My teacher probably felt the same way so she doesn’t ask me to read anymore. That is sad but nothing to worry about. I don’t care how long it takes as long as I become fluent in 3 years.

Trying to think Positive!