As I mentioned in my first post, I took four years of German in high school. Unfortunately, my first three years, Frau S. gave free time to play Euchre or engage in other activities more often than she administered assignments. What she did teach mostly focused on vocabulary lists rather than how to tie what we were learning into conversations and written communication. I could listen to a German conversation or read a sentence and tell you the general topic, but for the most part, I couldn’t tell you the context unless it was one of a few basic situations such as ordering food, asking directions, or exchanging pleasantries.
We got a new teacher, Mr. D., in my fourth year. He thought we’d be able to hold conversations and write short stories in German. He was disappointed to find out we could barely even translate a story from German into English, much less write one in German. He said something to the effect of, “Only in American schools can students can take three years of a language and hardly know anything.” The funny thing is, the original teacher was from Germany; the one who actually knew how to teach German was American. I probably owe most of what I have retained to his teaching. Unfortunately, I only had a year of it, and then several years for any skills I had to dwindle.
Shortly after finding out we were moving, I started trying to refresh my memory of the German language. I looked up words and phrases I might need using various internet sources and tried to recall things before looking them up. I had started, at different points in the past few years, to learn Japanese and Spanish using various resources such as podcasts, Rosetta Stone, and online resources. In both cases, whenever I didn’t know a word in the language I was learning, if I had learned the word in German, I would think of that before the English word, sometimes surprising myself.
My retention has served me well again, as I have been able to recall a number of things without having to look them up and started remembering more the more I practiced. Of course, as was the case the first time, a vocabulary list is only the start to actually having a vocabulary. I still need to build on it, and learn to properly use it.
Since someone failed to return the Langenscheidt Pocket German Dictionary I’d let him borrow, I ordered a new one. A common joke with Langenscheidt books is to call them Langenscheiße, not just because their name sounds so close to the German word for “shit,” but because they aren’t the best quality, leaving out a lot of words one might need to use. That being the case, when it came time to replace it, I chose to upgrade.
After a little research, I decided on Collins Pocket German Dictionary (5th Ed.). I also decided I would need a larger dictionary and a grammar book and chose Collins German Concise Dictionary (5th ed) and Schaum’s German Grammar (4th Ed.). I was able to find all of them in excellent condition on half.com.
When they arrived, I could tell the Collins Pocket German Dictionarywas a better book to my previous Langenscheidt. In addition to 555 pages of definitions, it includes 31 pages of verb tables and a 31 page section called “German in focus” which goes over some of the countries that speak German and their regions, tips for improving your fluency, words to use in correspondence including text messaging abbreviations, common translation difficulties, and more. As this will be the dictionary I’ll likely carry with me, I am pleased that it has such a wealth of information in addition to the words I’ll need.
The Collins German Concise Dictionary has 873 pages of definitions and a 241 page Grammar/Grammatik section. I think when I start practicing reading and writing German, this will be the dictionary that I will most refer to as it will have more extensive assistance. Collins also has a free online German dictionary which one does not have to purchase a print book from them to use. It has over 40,000 German words and references. I think that dictionary will be useful when I am on the computer and don’t have the time or inclination to drag out one of the books.
I haven’t gotten to use Schaum’s German Grammar yet besides flipping through it, but I think it will be a helpful addition to my studies. It has 10 Chapters with several sections each: “The Sounds of German: A Key to German Pronunciation,” “Nouns and Articles,” “Prepositions,” “Pronouns,” “Adjectives and Adverbs,” “Numbers, Dates, and Time,” “Verbs,” “Negative Words and Constructions,” “Interrogative Words and Constructions,” and “Word Order and Conjunctions.” Each section explains the rules and gives examples. Throughout the book, there are 420 exercises with answers in the back. There is also a verb chart and an index.
My original intention was to start using those books, the internet sources, and Rosetta Stone to at least have down some of the basics before we went over. I figured since I wasn’t going to be working before we moved, it would be a productive use of the time. Then, I learned that when I get to Germany I will be taking a three-week class in German language and culture and have opportunities to take further courses. So, I decided to hold off on the more intensive plans, and just do some occasional brushing up.
[Update: This turned out to be misinformation. It was a four day class, mostly on life in Germany, which I blogged about. While the teacher did focus some on German, it was mostly basic phrases I already knew and some relevant vocabulary words. There are German courses available through the USO, but I doubt I’ll have room in the budget or schedule. Update 2: I have since learned that Kaiserslautern ACS offers free 10-week courses in beginner and intermediate German.]
I hadn’t been writing as much as I’d like nor submitting work to publications as often as I’d like, so I took the opportunity the time off afforded me to focus most of my energy on those two things. As it turned out, that decision had a positive impact as far as my writing is concerned. I had work accepted for Psychic Meatloaf Issue 4, Wicked East Press‘s anthology Fresh Ground: Coffee House Flash Fiction V3, and Evolved Publishing‘s anthology Evolution 1: A Short Story Collection. I also still have some work under consideration and have written several new pieces. Whether the decision will have a negative impact on learning the German language remains to be seen, but at least I remember one phrase I can turn to until I get a better foundation: “Es tut mir leid, mein Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut.”
What language (if any) did you take (or wish you would have taken) in high school?