I thought I’d learn German in about 12 months. I figured that seen as I lived in a German-speaking city and had decent motivation (desperate need to order coffee without stumbling on my words) it would simply come to me in good time. Presumably in the night, like a lightning strike, or a giant slap to the side of the head. One year seemed, to my naive ambitious self, a perfectly reasonable amount of time to pick up the intricacies of conversation.
I’ve since discovered 3 things;
1) I’m not a patient person
2) 12 months flies by when you move to a new country
3) Learning a language is not as easy as movie montages make it appear (damn you Colin Firth in Love, Actually!)
I’m now two years into my Expat life in Vienna and still at a beginners level of German. I can follow conversation in a group of Deutsch speaking friends, thankfully coffee & brunch ordering is now possible too. But the true art of expressing myself fluently still eludes me.
I’ve tried intensive courses at IKI, which were challenging but got me the building blocks. I’ve experimented with reading children’s books with S to reach the language the same way I learned English – through a love of reading. Now I’m enrolled at the Deutschinsitut, a slightly slower paced course better suited to full-time work schedules.
The kicker in Vienna is – everybody speaks English. Including my entirely English-speaking workplace. With such a flood of tourists and International organisations in the city, you could actually get by without learning a scrap of Deutsch. But I’m pretty sure that makes you an Expat arsehole.
Never, ever, be this guy
So here are a few ways I’m trying to force myself to speak more Deutsch everyday – if you have any language learning tips to add please let me know in the comments!
– Talk and talk and talk at home. I wuss out of talking Deutsch at home. All. The. Time. I’m like a 1950’s housewife avoiding sex, with my standard lines of ‘I’m just so tired today’ ‘Its been a really long week’ ‘Do you really want to? Right now?’. It’s the biggest challenge, but should be one of the easiest to overcome – it just takes discipline from you and your housemates.
– Text message auf Deutsch. This is an everyday activity that will sharpen your writing skills. I can follow conversation face to face, but my spelling and conjugation when writing Deutsch isn’t great. Texting gives you some everyday practice. Just make sure you only try this with your native German-speaking friends – group Whats App messages in German with the English-speaking family don’t go down so well.
– Read the free papers & familiar magazines. The U-bahn daily metro papers are filled with small, easy to follow articles with pictures. I can’t understand every word, but the gist of the article can be pieced together with regular reading to extend your vocab. I’ve also had a go at purchasing the Deutsch version of Cosmo. Even when written in another language the articles about ‘This seasons hottest Winter Coats’ & celebrity interviews are the same format as in English, making it easier to follow along.
– Ask for help. When you’re talking to a native speaker and they say a word you’ve never heard, ask what it is. Yes, it will be excruciating, yes it makes you feel about 10 feet tall, but if you don’t ask, your friends can’t help and you won’t learn. Suck it up and ask for help (still my biggest challenge!)
Lastly, there’s a few different language schools that offer courses at varying price levels to get you on your way to comfortably speaking. Courses aren’t for everyone – some friends have learnt German from reading comic books or spending time deep in the countryside where there is no other option – but for me, the structure of a school and deadlines keep me honest. A few of the better known ones are:
www.berlitz.com – One of the most expensive. Strictly only apply if your workplace can afford to cover the costs. They have 1 to 1 sessions, small groups and private office tutoring available.
www.IKI.com – My first Deutsch Kurs experience, it’s very thorough, moves at a decent pace and they offer intensive day time courses and 8 week evening courses. Your certificate from the OIF is included in the price, which is worth keeping in mind when you compare to other cheaper schools.
www.deutschinstitut.com The current option I’m trialling, these guys are reasonably priced, in the central 6th district and use the same workbooks as IKI. Their evening courses are particularly popular.
www.deutschakademie.at These guys are the budget conscious option in Vienna. When I first moved here and money was super tight we looked into courses here. To be honest, their offices and setup put me completely off when I went to enrol – everything felt cramped in, they were using old computers despite their location on the Ringstrasse it just seemed, well, cheap & nasty. Friends have studied there and liked the additional materials but I’m not sold on it myself.
My Deutsch is still a work in progress, but I’d love to hear anyone else’s tricks to picking up a language – if only to give me hope that I will one day conquer the dreaded German Grammar!
Although I’ve been in Wien for over 18 months now, I’m slightly ashamed to report that my Deutsch levels are probably not where they should be. I can follow conversation in groups of friends just fine, but spitting out phrases in return I’m still a bit clunky and basic. However, in my efforts to continually learn more I’ve collected quite a few phrases that when translated into English are brilliantly adorable and fun.
This is by no means an extensive collection and its likely the sayings are quite regional to the groups of people I spend time with. So, apologies for the dominance of Tirolian and Pfalz-ian phrases – they are what I’m regularly surrounded by. If you’ve got some equally brilliant and amusing translations please feel free to share and add to my collection. These are a few select favourites of mine that I encourage you to integrate into your every day lingo….
Ich glaube, mein Schwein pfeift!
Translates to: I think my pig is whistling!
Real intention: I think I’m going crazy!
Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei
Translates to: Everything has an end, only the sausage has two
Real intention: A philosophical phrase, spoken when something sadly comes to an inevitable end
I have no idea what is happening here, but it is hilarious
Das ist großes Kino
Translates to: That’s real big cinema
Real intention: That’s really, really impressive/cool
Es ist gut Kirschen essen mit dir
Translates to: Its good cherry eating with you
Real intention: I’m thoroughly enjoying this conversation with you
My sister and close friends enjoy some seriously good cherry eating at Christmas!
Das Leben ist kein Zuckerlecken
Translates to: Life is not a sugar licking
Real intention: Life isn’t always easy
Sadly life is not always cupcake…
Geh dahin, wo der Pfeffer wächst
Translates to: Go where the pepper grows
Real intention: Kindly, er, rack off!!
To round out, these are three of my favourite sayings, guaranteed to always make me giggle because I adore them so much!
Du alte Wursthaut
Translates to: You old sausage skin
Real intention: Ah, you reliable old friend of mine. This became a catch-cry of our family over Christmas once the English speakers found out the literal translation, so much so that nearly every sentence was being finished with ‘You old sausage skin!’ and a hearty pat on the back.
Du bist der Deckel zu meinem Topf
Tanslates to: You’re the lid to my pot
Real intention: You’re my perfect match. A very sweet phrase to use when describing your partner…..slightly cheesy but completely adorable! Who knew Deutsch could be so cute??
The lid to my pot – who will no doubt hate that I shared this ridiculous photo!
Du frech Dachs!
Translates to: You cheeky badger!
Real intention: You cheeky little so-and-so. This is now a popular phrase in our household for any number of crimes, whether it’s stealing the last piece of chocolate or ‘forgetting’ to put your shoes in the cupboard. Incredibly useful in most domestic scenarios.
One of the best things that all these phrases have taught me is how the German language (with its Austrian dialects) is always referring back to nature and food – the two great loves of the Deutsch speaking world!!
I’m sure there’s many more regional and gorgeous Deutsch sayings out there and I can’t wait to learn more. I’d much rather spend a day discussing dialect phrases than an hour in Deutsch school learning grammar rules so please, feel free to share your favourite phrases in the comments below.
Sausage image credit:
Cupcake image credit:
Note to self when I finally do start learning German….then dialect…oh dear God will need to stock up on kids books to read aloud!!!
There is nothing more frustrating than being unable to express yourself. At least, for someone like me there’s not. I’m a talker, a social creature, slightly performative (some would say a little more than slightly) and enjoy the banter of conversation with people of similiar interests, sense of humour and intelligence. In short, I love a dinner with friends, I love a picnic in the park talking rubbish and making inside jokes on wordplay. I love words. Reading them, writing them, analysing them, tattooing them on my body, i’m all about language, Words, speaking, communicating and creating meaning from that communication.
So being unable to express all that, to enjoy all of that, is infuriating.
The hardest part is, I only have myself to blame. Well not blame, I am starting my German course next month when we can afford it but it kills me that language is my barrier. The one thing I have always adored, revelled in, studied, explored, analysed, pulled apart and enjoyed – is holding me back. I’m suddenly a wallflower through necessity at the pub. I’m sitting quietly on dinner tables, responding when directly spoken to, addressing direct questions but not contributing in any meaningful way to conversations. I’m having myself spoken about, not to, when meeting new people. That’s part of the deal, I understand it, and people here have been lovely in adjusting conversations to English but for the most part, its like there’s a tiny trapped me inside the girl sitting at the table dying for expression. I can’t be myself without words. I can’t express who I am fully without understanding the conversation flowing around me. And its exhausting. Concentrating on interpreting conversation beyond the words, in catching the few words you do know and piecing them together with the gestures, laughs and reactions around you is do-able, but over the course of an afternoon or evening, difficult. But you don’t want to sit there like a moron staring off into the middle distance for hours. So you concentrate, you put the effort into interpretation and your best ‘interested’ or appropriate to the story (you think) face on. But its exhausting. I want to fast forward the part where I don’t understand and get to the middle where there’s at least a crack of recognition in conversations for me. I know it doesn’t work like that. But it feels like there’s a huge chunk of me trapped behind the language barrier. I’m not the quiet mousey type who lets her partner speak for her. But here I have to be. Not forever, but for now, and its infurating. Unfortunately the only cure is time and patience while I learn. Which has never been my strong point.
Despite the frustration, we did have a stunning weekend hike, and beyond all my expectations I enjoyed it. Weekend one of Sober October and i’m hiking in the freakin mountains, who knows what a whole month will do to me!!