Oh the joys of language learning! Anyone who has traveled abroad has been there—you listen to others and wait until you feel comfortable to insert a comment or story, you temporarily feel pride in your verbal accomplishment, and then you look up to blank faces of confusion—or worse, you are laughed at for a reason you couldn’t explain.
German is especially tricky. With a grammatical structure that shoots verbs to places they shouldn’t be and words so long and playful that you’d put money down that they are fictional, it takes some humility, time, and a fair number of mistakes to wade into the waters of fluency.
Popularity of the German Language
Despite German’s infamous grammar and word length, it is the third most commonly learned foreign language in European secondary schools after English and French. About 23.1 percent of secondary students take German in Europe, according to Eurostat. This percentage accounts for millions of students given Europe’s impressive track record of mandatory language learning for youth. Nearly 96.6 percent of students within the European Union learn a second language and 60 percent learn two or more.
Worldwide there are estimated to be 95 million native German speakers, indicating that German is used far beyond Germany’s, or even Europe’s borders. There are 229 million German speakers, including native and non-native worldwide, earning it a spot in the top fifteen most commonly spoken languages.
Celebrating the Language-Learning Process via #MyDeutschFail
A popular strategy to language learning of any kind, but perhaps especially so with a more complicated language such as German, is keeping a sense of humor. Humor helps us acknowledge our shared humanity, and motivates us through our mistakes both big and small. We interviewed German language learners of all ages to ask about their funniest language mistakes that they have made.
|Early Onset Balding|
In writing to my host family in Germany before my arrival, I wanted to ask if I could buy a hair straightener in their town. However with only two years of German class under my belt I turned to Google Translate to help me with vocab. It gave me the term for hair plugs instead of hair straightener. My host family was basically awaiting a balding 16 year old to arrive at their door.
|Pancake or Flag?|
|I once was telling friends about the "Americanische Pfanne" that hangs outside many homes in the US. They were very confused, then started laughing when they realized what I meant to say was "Amerikanische Fahne."|
|I once wrote tried to write an essay analyzing an excerpt (Ausschnitt) from an Immanuel Kant work. My professor informed me in front of the whole class that I had instead written a entire essay about a cold cut (Aufschnitt) from Kant. Oops.|
|America's Animal Kingdom|
|When I was a high school exchange student in Berlin I didn’t know the difference between Eichhörnchen and Einhorn. This led to me telling my classmates about all the brown and black unicorns in my home state of Pennsylvania and the one time a “unicorn” jumped through own window and ate my sandwich as a kid. My classmates either thought America was truly magical or it was too funny to correct.|
|Rivers Are So Overrated|
|During my college semester in Lüneburg I told my host family, after returning from a trip to München with a side trip to Regensburg, that the Donau there had been “überflüssig.” Confused looks and then laughter ensued. What I meant, of course, was not that the major European river was superfluous, uncalled-for, or redundant, but rather that it was overflowing its banks. In German, it was “Hochwasser.”|
|Don't Be So Quick To Laugh|
|As a shy exchange student one of my best subjects was math, if not just because I didn’t need German language skills to tread water. I answered one of the teacher’s questions to which the answer was "drei". But instead of the back-of-the-throat, rolling r’ed "drei" of native Germans, I used my americanized "Dry’’ which caused the entire class to burst out laughing. My teacher held up his hand to the class to quickly quiet them and said, "I wouldn’t laugh if I were you, she has the highest grade in the class."|
|The Importance of Prefixes|
|In my previous position, I often had to answer the phone for the assistant to the department head. I swear, the phone rang every time she left her seat. I would usually just forward the call to the department head. When the department head didn”t answer, I’d pick up the phone and tell them, “Herr Chef ist momentan behindert. Darf ich ihm etwas ausrichten?“ to which I always received a laughing response or irritated answer from the caller. This always frustrated me, because I didn’t know why they were reacting that way. Every once in awhile, a caller would ask me, "Was meinen Sie genau, Herr Chef ist behindert?“ I would always respond that I had no idea why, that’s none of my business. Luckily, one day a colleague overheard my response and didn’t hide her laughing from me, and that was the day i learned the difference between verhindert and behindert.|
We hope that in reading and laughing together with other language learners, you too can celebrate and find the humor and a sense of pride in your mistakes. It is all part of the journey to fluency and to discovering the playfulness and creativity of the German language!
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