November 6, 2017 - 2 comments

Der, Die, Das… Was?? Or, My Journey to 22% Fluency

Two weeks ago, I finished the A1 level of German language learning at the Anglo-German Institute in Stuttgart. That’s about 8 weeks, or 38 days, or 161.5 hours of intensive German learning! With half of each weekday filled with German class, and the other half surrounded by German speakers, German signs, and... well, Germany, it's no surprise my German understanding has completely taken off!

According to this webpage, it’s supposed to take 750 hours to learn the German language (although it doesn’t actually specify how fluent you are after that time) as an English speaker. It’s a Category 2 language, so a bit more difficult than Spanish or Norwegian, but not as difficult as Russian or Arabic. So going off of that number, I am approximately 22% of the way to fluency! These past two months of language learning have seen me increase my comprehension and language skills so quickly and so vastly, that I can’t imagine how much I’ll be able to communicate with 750 hours! In just two months, I have gone from forgetting what the six German pronouns are (they’re: ich (I), du (you casual), er/sie/es (he/she/it), wir (we), ihr (you all), sie/Sie (they/you formal), to being able to have basic exchanges with store employees, help people asking for directions in the train station, and converse with very little difficulty with classmates who don’t speak English! That being said though, German is still a HARD language. True to German fashion, there are lots of rules (which you pretty much just have to memorize as best you can), a couple new letters that you have to remember how to pronounce (ü, ä, ö - see here), and then once those are mastered, you still have to be able to decipher the various regional dialects which don’t always follow the rules and pronunciations of high (or proper) German!

Unlike English, which has one form of a noun article, German has EIGHT. Yes, that’s right, eight different ways to say “the”. And, to make it even more complicated, depending on the type of sentence, the article of any given noun will change.

To start, there are four basic forms of noun article to begin with:

  • Masculine nouns are “der” (der Mann - the man)
  • Neuter nouns are “das” (das Baby - the baby)
  • Feminine nouns are “die” (die Frau - the woman)
  • Plural nouns are “die” (die Menschen - the people)

But, it’s not that simple. For example, if I want to say, “The bed is next to the wall.” I first have to know which article is the correct one for “bed”. Bed is a neuter word, so “das” is the correct article in the basic nominative form - you would say “das Bett”. “Wall”, however, is a feminine word, so it would be “die Wand”. So, you would think that you could say, “Das Bett ist neben die Wand”, but no… That sentence is in Dative form, which means that “die” changes to “der” because of the placement of that specific noun in the structure of the sentence. That’s right, the feminine noun now takes the article form thats usually associated with a masculine noun, and if it was masculine or neuter noun in that place it would take on a whole new article - dem!

I’ll now stop with the explaining of this, because I’m even confusing myself with trying to write this and honestly don’t want to write anything that’s actually not correct! I’m still working on just remembering what all of the different articles are, let alone, which form goes with which type of sentence (and how to tell the different sentence structures apart)! Here’s a little chart that lays it out a bit easier for you:

I’ve also been learning a whole bunch of vocabulary in my classes and in my day-to-day life. I’m sure this is also true in English, but sometimes it’s just really confusing when there are a lot of words that sound similar or have the same prefix, but don’t really have anything to do with each other.

For example, when I was first learning some vocabulary, all these words kept getting all jumbled in my head:

  • Die Kirsche (the cherry)
  • Die Kirche (the church)
  • Der Kuchen (the cake)
  • Die Küche (the kitchen)

You technically could say “Ich habe den Kuchen mit Kirschen für meine Kirche in meiner Küche gebacken” or in English, “I baked the cake with cherries for my church, in my kitchen”. Now that’s a German tongue-twister for you!

Last but certainly not least, the German language is hilariously famous for its extremely long words! In English, most of the time compound words are rather short - something like “dishwasher” or “flowerpot”, but in German, sometimes you get a couple already long words, or several normal length words strung together into one long run-on word. For example, if you wanted to say “independence declarations” in German, you would say “Unabhängigkeitserklärungen” or, broken down, die Unabhängigkeit (independence) and die Erklärungen (declarations). Another great one is “insurance companies providing legal protection”, which, in German, is “Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften”! It’s pretty funny in class when someone is reading aloud and comes upon one of the big compound words (luckily ours are usually much simpler than those examples) because without fail, the reader will pause for several seconds, then giggle to themselves, then proceed to attempt, and botch, the massive word’s pronunciation.

Throughout this whole language learning process thus far, I am so thankful that I am in a country of people who are a) accepting of foreigners and internationals and the steps it takes to integrate and learn how to live in Germany, b) willing to repeat themselves and speak slow when you ask them too because you didn’t understand them the first time, and c) are very forgiving when it comes to language mistakes because they know you are learning! Germany, you’re great and even though your language is hard, I’m glad I’m here and learning it.  

PS, I was super excited the day I walked past this sign and realized that I had just learned how to read this type of sentence in class a few minutes before! It's the little things that really make you feel the progress you're making!

Published by: abbycham in Uncategorized


November 17, 2017 at 5:01 pm

Very interesting and really funny😂👍👌

Paul H
January 11, 2018 at 7:19 pm

Nice post Abby, I know your struggle..! Learning German feels like rehab. One-Day-At-A-Time and don’t forget the 12(000) step program to fluency.

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