Nearly everyone says that German is a difficult language to learn.
However, you never really know until you try – and there are plenty of reasons why this is not necessarily the case!
For instance, English speakers have an advantage when it comes to learning German, as German and English belong to the same language group, which is called the Germanic family.
Of course, learning German is just like learning any foreign language: it requires motivation and dedication.
So take ownership of your education and learn to speak like a native German!
If Footballers Can Learn How to Speak German, Why Can’t You?
It may surprise you, but French football star Franck Ribéry has managed to master the language of Merkel.
When you know the footballer as football fans do, this really can give anyone hope.
Flashback to 2007, when young Franck was a star in the making, playing for the Olympique de Marseille team and when people would often comment on his approximate knowledge of his mother tongue, French.
So, there was surely no sign that this boy could be a linguist – let alone be fluent in German!
Following his transfer to Bavaria, to the amazement of his fans, Ribéry quickly learnt how to speak German fluently. Some would even go as far as saying his German is better than his French.
Another footballing example is that of Pep Guardiola.
The former coach or FC Barcelona spent some time as a coach at Bayern Munich (before his current club, Manchester City) in 2013.
Even though the Spanish aren’t known for being polyglots, Guardiola managed to overcome this stereotype.
From his very basic German in his early press conferences, he has now managed to improve his proficiency and fluency to an excellent level.
Genders in the German Language
If this subtitle appears slightly ambiguous, don’t worry – all will become clear.
For people who speak English as their first language, gendered nouns are often frightening at first.
This is simply because nouns in English don’t have a gender and a simple ‘the’, ‘a’ or ‘an’ is enough, whereas, in German, they could have one of three: masculine, feminine and neuter.
This sort of classification of nouns may seem illogical to native English speakers, but it is an essential part of learning most major languages including French and Spanish too.
For example, the phrase “the word” is “le mot” in French and “das Wort” in German. The translation of “the” in each of these cases tells us that "word" is masculine in French and neuter in German.
It may seem odd in the beginning that there is no rhyme or reason to the gender of each noun, but you will quickly get used to it.
German is unique in that it has 3 genders, compared to just 2 in French:
- Feminine: die Rose (the rose), die Schule (the school), die Backerei (the bakery)
- Masculin: der Sommer (the Summer), Der Wind (the wind), der Wagen (the car)
- Neutral: das Feuer (the fire), das Kilo (the kilo), das Museum (the museum)
Most of the time, German genders match those of other languages – giving you an advantage if you are already a linguist.
However, when learning a new language, it is advised that you cover 100% of the grammar rules to ensure you don’t miss any important points.
This also means moving away from what you already know of the language and not relying too heavily on similar grammatical structures or cognates.
Although the similarities between German and English can be helpful in the beginning, bear in mind that there is a good amount of ‘false friends’. These are words that appear the same in both languages but are not, in fact, related in meaning.
To get the hang of all these rules and exceptions, you need to be diligent in your revision and above all, you need to learn how to learn.
Learning a language requires dedication and effective revision skills from you as the learner.
Don’t let laziness get the better of you: it is essential that you master the basics of German to access the more complex notions.
Why English Speakers Have a Head-Start when it comes to Learning German
If you speak English as a native language, it is a fact that the knowledge of your mother tongue will help when you begin to learn to speak German.
Nearly 97% of the most commonly used words in English are of Germanic origin.
Besides the German alphabet being identical to the one used in English, there are much deeper similaries which make German so easy for English speakers to learn.
Ethnologue, an American linguistic organisation which has been researching languages and their uses since 1951, has created a method to determine lexical similarities between languages.
After assessing the links between English and German, the review concluded that English is 60% similar to German.
So it’s no coincidence that so many German words are easy for English speakers to recognise.
Some examples include:
- Schule = school
- Sommer = Summer
- Museum = museum
This is because both German and English belong to the family of Germanic languages, which are all rooted in ancient dialects spoken in Northern Europe.
So already being able to speak English (a Germanic language) fluently means that you will quickly get used to a large part of German vocabulary.
From Latin to German: Cases
As a continuation of the reasons why German is not as difficult as it may seem, let’s take a look at Latin.
Not everyone has the opportunity to learn Latin, and those who do rarely see a reason to continue to develop their knowledge of the dead language.
This really is a shame, as a knowledge of Latin can help when it comes to learning German!
This is because of what these languages have in common: cases.
Latin has 7 cases, whereas German only has 4.
Naturally, if you have already put in the work and properly understood cases and their function, it will save you a shock when the topic comes up in your German lessons.
The 4 German cases are called the nominative, genitive, dative and accusative, and each one has its own purpose.
Cases work by altering the construction and spellings of words such as adjectives, nouns and articles in phrases and expressions to get across the relationships between words.
At first, this can seem tricky, but just like anything when it comes to language learning, it will become instinctual.
German: A Phonetic Language
If you are interested in the inner workings of the English languages, beyond how it is used in everyday conversation, you’ll have noticed its troublesome phonetic situation.
You may have even taken pity on non-native learners of English, who have to learn that through and trough are only one letter apart but yet they sound completely different, even though thorough and borough rhyme.
With the horrors of nonsensical English spelling in mind, you’ll be delighted to know that learning German phonetics is nowhere near as difficult as English ones, as German words and phrases are spelt as they are pronounced!
So, each time you learn a new word, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about the spelling or how to pronounce it, and you'll have a better shot at improving your German accent!
If, as a child, you wished you could spell ‘although’ as ‘oltho’ and ‘because’ as ‘becoz’, then by learning German, your wish will come true!
This simple phonetic spelling and easy German pronunciation does a lot to help you improve your conversational German, reading, writing and oral language skills, and makes for another reason to learn German fast!
If you’ve learnt another foreign language such as French or Spanish, you’ll know all about how tricky it can be to conjugate verbs.
For those for whom this idea is completely new, here is a basic definition:
The creation of derived forms of a verb from its principal parts by inflexion (alteration of form according to rules of German grammar). Conjugation may be affected by person, number, gender, tense, aspect, mood, voice, and/or other grammatical categories such as possession, definiteness, politeness, etc.
As an example of conjugation in English, let’s look at the verb ‘to bring’.
The basic form of the verb ‘bring’ (called the infinitive) changes depending on who the action relates to:
- I bring
- You bring
- He/she brings
- We bring
- They bring
Present tense conjugation is relatively simple in English, but this becomes more complex with a different tense when the verb can end up looking nothing like its infinitive. For example, the past tense of ‘to bring’ is ‘brought’.
You can this how this could be a nightmare for people learning English as a second language.
However, if you’ve learnt either French or Spanish, you’ll be able to appreciate just have easy native speakers of English have it.
Thankfully, people learning German can get away with not having to revise hundreds of verb tables – as the conjugation is so easy!
Just like in English, speaking German in the present tense is pretty simple, and even the future tense doesn’t require too much extra work.
So, by now you should be convinced that German really isn’t as difficult as people say it is!
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