Language barrier

ubahnDo I plan on learning German? No. In fact I make a point to say “thankyou” instead of “danke”. I’m using it as an apology, as in: “sorry if I appeared simple in the previous conversation; I only speak English”.

A few people are disappointed by this… they’d appreciate it if I actually made the effort. There is one thing I’d love to improve though: my pronunciation. Think of all of the boilerplate you use: ordering at a restaurant, you just need to say the name of the food; taking a taxi, you just need the address. Pronounce those word correctly and you’re gold.

Most of the German I can read I’ve picked up from context. [Disclaimer: this is my interpretation and definitions are most likely imprecise] Words like strasse, allee, tor, and platz are all on street signs for streets, ways, circles, and squares. The prefixes ein and aus are used for beginnings and ends, entrances and exits. I can even read signs for “don’t block the fire lane”, not that I need to know that.

I know many different words for meat so that I can avoid it. Menus have a pretty standard vocabulary that make them easy for context learning. You know you’re going to see common groups: hot drinks, tap beer, bottle beer. You’ll also see portion sizes: klein, mittel, and grosse.

Hmm… looking back, a post on first semester German isn’t that interesting. I guess the key take away is this: if you ever find yourself down and out in Germany, look for the nearest exit. It will be labeled ausgang or ausfahrt and mispronouncing those words just warms my heart.


5 thoughts on “Language barrier

  1. I forgot to mention that I get into trouble if I don’t lead off with English when ordering. For example just saying Kartoffelgnocchi without any English lead the waitress to tell me that they were out, in German.


  2. reposting this comment just so other folks can see it too:

    I kinda of agree though I’ve been trying to say “danke” when I pay for something or am ending a transaction. I’m not concerned about the conversation picking up from that point so ending it on a localized note seems nice. I know in the states I appreciate it when someone says “thank you” even if I’ve not understood anything else they’ve said. And the truth is many interactions can happen without saying anything other than specific items like you mentioned. In a coffeeshop I can order an espresso without knowing German and thanking them for bringing it doesn’t seem to bad to me.

    That said, I’d love to be able to say, flawlessly, “Sorry, I don’t speak German at all” and “Is there any chance you speak English?” and “I’ll have one of these” (then I’d point at something)

    German is one of the few languages that I never studied at all so it’s really hard for me try and grasp the bits and pieces. I didn’t notice it really until I was in Paris (I failed French twice I think) and I could immediately pick up the topics of conversations around me, even if I couldn’t respond in kind, I at least knew what people were talking about. German still sounds too similar for me to figure out different words, though I am picking up some of the written parts like you mentioned about.


  3. i think it’s fabulous that you are not just visiting the country, but also hanging out in places where the waitress might not speak much english (the one who was speaking german to you really didn’t speak english, but the other waitress did). you are a step ahead of the typical tourist who only hangs out in parts of town that guarantee english comprehension. i’ve been dragging you to restaurants that are actually in places where the waitstaff may have never had non-german speaking people before i showed up (our thai restaurant, the italian place on the corner, our pizza shop, the cuban place). fellas is a bit more popular but it just goes to show that you are where the locals hang. i used to find the lack of english incredibly frustrating at the beginning when i couldn’t even order food, but now i find it annoying if someone switches into english for me because i want to practice my german. that said, we mostly have german speaking friends as you may have noticed. it helps me to feel less like an expat when i am invited to an event where the default language is german. oh and the trouble with “Sorry, I don’t speak German at all” (Entschuldigung, [aber] ich spreche kein deutsch) is that it’s freaking hard to pronounce for a beginner. “I’ll have one of …” is easier: Ich hatte gerne dass (the polite way of saying “I would like that”) or Ich hatte gerne einmal von diesen (“I would like one of those”). the tricky thing is that even with those basic phrases i’ve found that people will rattle off speedy slang german expecting you to understand. sometimes it’s better to stick with “Ich verstehe nicht [deutsch].” (I don’t understand [german]). i love it here though and my german has improved exponentially since moving here (i spoke zero german when i arrived).


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