January challenge: learning German

You may remember I recently announced my intention to learn German this month, partly for a work competition, partly for a personal challenge. Well, I’m pleased to report that not only have I not yet given up, it’s actually going ok. I don’t imagine I’ll be holding a full conversation in German any time soon, but I do at least now recognise quite a few of the words that might feature in it. Which is a start.

As per the rules of the competition, I’ve been using the app uTalk (available from the App Store – just saying) for most of my learning, and it’s been really fun. I’ve picked up some brilliant new words; my early favourite was this one:

die kokosnuss - coconut in German

but it’s just been replaced by this:

der Regenbogen - rainbow in German

Now all I need is to be in Germany, eating a coconut and looking at a rainbow, and I’m laughing.

The nice thing about German is that for the most part it’s quite a logical language. Numbers, for example, look terrifying at first but once you know how to put them together, they’re dead easy. And I’m now starting to get the hang of what order the words go in for different kinds of sentence, which is always a useful thing to know before you start trying to construct your own.

There have been some challenges, of course – this word has had me tying my tongue in knots:

der Schragstrich - slash in German

Just to be clear, after my sister saw this the other day and expressed some alarm, this is ‘slash’ in the context of a web address, not the murder-y kind. That’s in another section.

(I’m joking. It’s not.)

There are two things I’ve particularly struggled with so far. One is telling the time, which I have to think about so hard that if anyone ever asks me the time in Germany, I’ll have to add five minutes to my eventual answer. Whereas in English we say ‘half three’ to mean 3.30, in German that means 2.30 (‘half of the third hour’, I guess). And to say ‘2.25’, you say ‘five to half three’. Just writing this explanation was a struggle, so trying to translate it into another language is giving my poor little brain quite the workout.

The other challenge is knowing whether to use ‘der’, ‘die’ or ‘das’ with nouns. Unlike lovely straightforward Spanish – where in most cases you know whether a word’s masculine or feminine by looking at the ending – in German, that means nothing. Nichts. In fact there is no real way of figuring out the gender, so you just have to learn it as part of the noun. Half the time I’ve been getting the word itself right, but putting the wrong article on it, which is more than a little frustrating.

I’ve now completed the listening games within the app, which weren’t too trying, because – like in real life – once you’ve picked out a word or two of the sentence, you can generally figure out roughly what someone’s saying to you. Because I spend so much of my day sitting on a train, I got through these games reasonably quickly.

And so now I’m left with the speaking games, which are really useful as a learning tool (you have to not only remember the word, but also know how to pronounce it correctly) but much more difficult – and I can’t do them on the train for fear of looking like Colin Firth in Love Actually. So that’s meant my progress has slowed considerably, because I’m having to fit in the games around the rest of my evening, once I’m home and nobody can hear my laughable attempts at saying things like ‘Schrägstrich’. Seriously, I can’t do it.

But I hope to complete the app before the end of the month, as per the plan. Whether I’ll remember any of it once we get into February and beyond is a whole other question, of course, but I like to think at least some of it will stay with me, and hey, one day I might even get to use it on a real German person! Who will hopefully not laugh and/or say ‘Huh?’

By the way, if you’re thinking about learning another language, another great resource (besides uTalk, obviously) is Flashsticks. These are cool flashcards on post-it notes, which you can stick on things around your house, office etc, to help you remember the vocab. Helpfully, they’re also colour-coded by gender, which might come in handy with the whole ‘der, die or das’ dilemma. I picked up a pack of Flashsticks the other day and have been having fun with them – although it’s not always clear what I’m supposed to stick them to. This one, for example, is easy:

Flashsticks German

Whereas this one, not so much:

Flashsticks German

And as for this one – well, chance would be a fine thing.

Flashsticks German

Check back next week to find out if I completed the challenge! (Learning German, I mean, not sticking a post-it note to the sky. Or a man.)

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