Embracing Adventure “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” ~~Hellen Keller

Es Tut Mir Leid, Mein Deutsch Ist Nicht Sehr Gut (I’m Sorry, My German Is Not Very Good)

Page from a vintage German dictionary

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.

A Langenscheidt German dictionary

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?

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13 Thoughts on “Es Tut Mir Leid, Mein Deutsch Ist Nicht Sehr Gut (I’m Sorry, My German Is Not Very Good)

  1. I’m enjoying reading through your blog (thanks for stopping by mine). Wow! So much involved in the preparation of the move–especially as you have pets! Good for you wanting to learn the language, or improve the German you do have. And of course living there it will be so much easier to learn as you can practice all the time when you go to shops and out and about. Whenever I’ve travelled through Germany I always seem to encounter Germans eager to practice their English!

    Good luck with all of it!!

    • Thanks. Glad you like it. You’re welcome. :) Haha I know, and this isn’t even all of it. I hope so, although if they always want to practice their English that might make it a little harder lol. But I have at least three years there, so I’m hoping between classes, conversations, and independent study to be fluent by then. Thank you :)

  2. Your German will probably come back/improve really quickly once you’re there, especially since you’ll have a course to get you started. Immersion is the best way to learn any language, but I think it’s especially true for German — the reason it never stuck for me is because I was never forced to speak it every day. Looking forward to reading about your adventures!

    • I hope so. My German teacher had said the best way to learn a language is to go to a country that speaks it and surround yourself with people who won’t speak English to you. That could be difficult as many do speak English there, but I would ideally like to start off in German, then take it to English if I just don’t have the vocabulary for the conversation. We’ll see how ti goes though. In addition to if you aren’t forced I think it’s probably also to do with opportunity. If you don’t have people around who speak it, don’t have easy access to books, movies, etc. in the language, it’s pretty hard to create an immersion environment. Thanks. I look forward to sharing them :)

  3. German is a difficult language to learn, and too bad your teacher in high school didn’t do her job right, but I am sure you’ll get back into it and improve. Maybe the Volkshochschule offers courses to teach German, I know many of my friends from other countries have taken it to improve, but probably a more private lesson is best. Or you could try to find a German who wants to brush up on his English and in exchange be taught German?
    Good luck in learning, albeit you don’t really have to be able to speak it, as there are many Americans in that area and the locals are used to speaking English (more of the younger generation…).

    • Me too. I figure I will see how far I get with whatever intro course they’ll have me take and then I imagine there are either courses through post or a nearby school. Exchanging teaching with a German might not be a bad idea either though. Thanks :). Yeah I know I probably don’t *have* to. Even my friend in a less populated area had no trouble finding English speakers so it took her awhile to get around to learning. But I don’t want to be “that American” that refuses to learn just because I don’t *have* to. Besides, when I was in Florida and found myself, in my own country, unable to understand anyone around me in a store because even the non-Hispanic cashier was engaged in a Spanish conversation, it was disorienting and somewhat isolating. I think even just being able to properly exchange pleasantries and put in a restaurant order in German will go a long way to feeling more at home rather than always having to ask someone if they speak my language.

      • Very well said! I understand your points – sometimes I have the urge to polish up on my introductory Spanish skills here in NY, too, as the Hispanic community is large! And yes, it will ease your way into feeling a bit more home, if you get to know the language and its traditions… Well, that being said, it is still a challenge to learn it, so all the best of luck to you! :o)

        • Thanks. It’s not a bad idea, and might not be that difficult if there are many around you who speak it. In Orlando, all the signage in the stores was in Spanish and English and most of my coworkers spoke Spanish such that I was more likely to hear “¿Cómo estás?” than “How are you?”. It would have been hard not to have some of it rub off even if I hadn’t been trying to learn. Random people used to also teach/quiz me on things. I had a coworker who used to ask me questions about things I like and ask me to answer in Spanish. To “What is your favorite food,” I told her “pollo y arroz” (chicken and rice) not really my fave but something I knew how to say, although it turns out that usually it would be said “arroz con pollo” (rice with chicken). I also ran into a guy in the gym at my condo complex who illustrated the differences between some of the things that Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and Mexicans would say. He taught me some slang Domicans tend to use, most of which I don’t remember and wouldn’t use if I did. One was “oye mi pana” which I believe is slang for “Listen up, friend,” followed up by something I don’t recall. But even what I do remember I wouldn’t be comfortable just saying to someone who wasn’t, in fact,a close friend. Anyhow, lol, got a little side tracked with that. Thanks for the luck. About to see how I do with Chapter 2 of this Schaum’s German Grammar ;-)

  4. “the best way to learn a language is to go to a country that speaks it and surround yourself with people who won’t speak English to you.” This is dead on. There are a lot of people who know English some shy to use it. But you will hear a lot, sorry my English is not so good and listen to them talk and their English is excellent. I always have to smile when they tell me that. But most German that know German is not your mother tongue or can hear the grammar off. They will reply to you back in English even though they understand what your saying.

    My neighbor who is also a great friend told me when they do that breathe and go back into Deutsch sprechen. She said it is my benefit to learn the language since I live here not there’s. Learn to take control of the conversation. Same thing to when two Germans or more are speaking. Learn to cut into the conversation because they talk so fast it it hard to find breathing room to cut in. Been practicing that but by the time I figure out how to say something they moved on to another conversation, lol

    The language I learned in high school was 4 years of French. I use to be a bad butt. But what is that saying. You don’t use it you lose it. Which sadly is so true. My hubby surprise me to Paris 9 years ago and my French was so limited speaking, hearing, and listening. I felt like wow all those years and it felt like a waste of time because I had no one to practice it with or even use it!

    • Yeah my second teacher had mentioned usually if you ask someone directions in German and they can tell it’s not your native language they’ll give them to you in English.

      I think most people would be okay with you continuing to try to talk in German rather than going to English on your own side. I have been asked to get into a conversation with people who speak German and I didn’t know what to say lol. It’s funny that you mention them talking fast as people tend to think I speak too fast in English yet I wonder if they ever listen to people speak in Spanish, Japanese, German, etc as I often find people to speak much faster.

      I don’t think it was a waste of time. You had limited understanding, which is better than none at all. And if you had advance notice of the trip you could probably practice. I haven’t really used the German I learned but I feel like at least I’m not starting over from scratch.

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