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To Learn a Language (like German) FIRST Find the Similarities

Even if you don’t know a single word of German, you can probably read and understand the following German text. Did you know that English and German descended from the same language? (Proto-Germanic) Many words in both languages are the same or similar.

A link to this story’s translation will be provided at the end of this article.

* GERMAN STORY *

Guten Tag! Mein Name ist Monika. Ich bin Autorin. Ich habe einen Bruder namens Bob. Bob ist auch Autor. Ich bin Bobs Literaturagentin. Er schreibt interessante Artikel und Bücher. Er schreibt im Moment ein neues Buch. Der Titel ist: «Das Telefon klingelt für Dich.» Letztes Jahr hatte er 2 Bücher auf der Bestsellerliste.

Bob lebt in Kanada – in Montreal. Er ist 30 Jahre alt, mit blondem Haar und blauen Augen. Er hat ein altes Auto. Freitags fährt er mit dem Auto zum Supermarkt.

Im Supermarkt findet er Kaffee, Tee, Mineralwasser, Milch, Zucker, Butter usw. für Mutter. Er findet auch Frucht wie Bananen, Äpfel, Orangen usw. Dann geht er zur Bank und wartet eine Weile auf Mutter. Er fährt danach mit Mutter nach Hause und parkt sein Auto.

Das Haus ist weiß und blau. Es hat einen Garten mit wundervollen Blumen und luxuriösem grünem Gras.

Im Haus sitzt Bob auf dem Sofa und trinkt oft ein Glas Bier oder Wein und hört Radio (laut). Mutter sagt: «Bob! Das Radio ist zu laut!» Bob lacht und geht in den Garten.

Im Sommer, wenn die Sonne scheint, sitzt Bob im Garten. Wenn Mutter will, mäht Bob das Gras.

Im Winter schaufelt er den Schnee oder sitzt im Haus beim Feuer.

Meine Mutter hat eine Katze namens Löwe. Löwe ist braun, grau und orange. Sie miaut, wenn sie Bob sieht, springt auf Bobs Knie und schnurrt laut. Mutter hat auch einen Hund – namens Bär. Bär ist ein Dachshund.

Ach! es ist spät – Mitternacht. Ich muss zu Bett gehen. Gute Nacht! Ich schreibe mehr morgen früh.

* MORE EXAMPLES *

Winter kommt im November.

Sommer kommt im Juni.

Die Toilette ist beige.

Das Papier ist weiß.

Meine Hand hat zehn Finger.

Mein Arm ist gebrochen.

Wir haben eine Party!

Bring den Salat hier!

Der Mann tanzt und singt.

Der Wind ist eisig.

Die Tomate ist reif.

Das kostet 5 Dollar.

Komm hier!

Er hat Hunger und Durst.

Der Film beginnt um 8.

Sie fotografiert die Familie.

* HOW DID IT GO? *

Maybe you didn’t understand the German text completely. Read it a second – and then a third time.

If you are observant, you will notice a few details:

*German usually uses a ‘K’ instead of a hard ‘C’: Canada=Kanada, Monica=Monika.

*The English ‘ph’ often becomes ‘f’: telephone=Telefon.

*Nouns are capitalized: fruit=Frucht, milk=Milch, butter=Butter, sugar=Zucker.

*Possessives are not formed with an apostrophe + s: brother’s=Bruders.

*The English ‘sh’ becomes ‘sch’: shines=scheint, shovels=schaufelt.

*Many words are exactly the same: Winter, November, Finger, Party, Wind, Hunger, Film.

Now that you have a few hints, you can probably read the German text again and understand even more. Think of the words in context, and allow your mind to fill in the blanks.

Related words, like the ones above, with common ancestral roots are called ‘cognates’. There are many, many more than those presented here.

Over the years, however, many words that used to mean the same thing in both languages have evolved and have acquired different connotations. For example, the old German word for ‘wife’ – ‘Weib’ is nowadays generally applied in a deprecating manner. It might be used in a phrase that means ‘you crazy woman!’ or in instances where an English person would say ‘broad’ or ‘dame’.

The German word ‘Gift’ does not mean ‘gift’ – it means ‘poison’.

The point that is being made here, however, is that you should actively search for similarities. Over time you will discover the exceptions. You will feel comfortable with the similarities and form a foundation on which you can build. The learning task then becomes less daunting – and even enjoyable.

Over the centuries the world has become a melting pot of cultures and languages. Many words and phrases have crossed borders. Globalization – spurred by newspapers, radio, TV, the internet, and jet travel – has accelerated the process. We often use foreign-derived words without even realizing – angst, soup du jour, cafe au lait, poltergeist, bona fide, carte blanche, nom de plume, savoir-faire . . .

Every time you come to a new text passage, scan it to find what you already know (or can guess) for a general sense of what it means. Then tackle the unknown parts.

Your learning will progress more quickly as a result.

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