16.7.12

Why Studying German Sucks

It's that time of the month again, when I get to complain about something.

(I was looking forward to this moment.)

As I mentioned in my last entry, I have been incredibly busy as of late. I have been working, writing my novel and training in order to volunteer in the prison service. I've also been setting up a website for my webcomic, Ignore Him Street. (LIKE IT!) Finally, I just resumed studying German and began studying Spanish.

Ever since I was a child, I've loved learning foreign languages. I am a native speaker of Greek, I speak English quite fluently and I can hold a conversation in German. I quit German two years before I graduated from sixth form, because my parents insisted I should focus on getting into a good university if I want to get a real job someday. (Insert laugh somewhere around here.) I have regretted this decision ever since.

(This has nothing to do with this blog entry.)

Which is why I recently booked a summer course, picking up from where I left off, and I decided to be bold and start another language as well. (¿Qué pasa, pendejo?)Both courses started last week, and that brings us to today's topic.

Before I start, let me get this out of the way: I am quite aware of the irony in complaining about a language being too complicated when my native language is Greek. I get it. "It's all Greek to me" -- yes, haha. The difference is, Greek is basically useless. It's a language spoken in two tiny countries and it's not an asset to anyone who speaks it, unless they're applying for very specific jobs. (Like, "primary school teacher in a Greek school abroad" specific.) The same cannot be said for German, however, which is one of the top ten most useful languages. (English, French, Spanish, Chinese... Maybe Arabic, I guess? I can't think of any more.)

(Gaelic?)

So yes, Greek is difficult, but nobody has to learn it except Greeks. (Ancient Greek is also difficult and a lot of people learn it, but they don't learn to speak it. There's a difference.) And yes, nobody's forcing me to learn German -- I want to, because I love the language. But I can still complain, because that's what I do.

So, let's start.

1. Der, die, das.

I blame ancient Greeks for this. I can just imagine them sitting at the agora in their chlamydes, coming up with words to express concepts.

- Freedom feels like a she, doesn't it?
- Yeah, I concur. How about truth?
- Oh, that's a she as well. God?
- Oh, that's definitely a he. But we can have a she version as well.
- How about journey?
- Hmmm... Tough one. How about neutral?
(Assholes.)

2500+ years later, here we are and many modern languages have two or three articles. For German, it's three: der, die, and das. Unfortunately, unlike with other languages, for a big percentage of German words it's simply impossible to guess what the article is. Sure, there are rules, but they're so fucking complicated that even grammar books concede that you just have to learn most articles by heart. That's 12.000+ words. By heart.

2. Dativ and Akkusativ.

All right, so the article thing applies to Greek as well. I don't know if it's easy to learn the Greek articles, but since the most common mistakes immigrants in Greece make in Greek have to do with the articles, I'm guessing not. But here's another remnant from ancient Greek: dative and accusative. In Modern Greek, we got rid of dative around the 1970s. You see, the language was quite complicated as it was and dative basically served the same purpose as accusative, and we just had to learn when to use each, so we decided that fuck that shit. Somehow, Germans being the overachievers that they are, they kind of skipped that memo.

And there you have it now: when there's two objects in a sentence, one takes dative and one accusative. When you use prepositions, specific prepositions require dative and others require accusative. Then there are the prepositions that are cool with both, and you just have to check the verb to see, does it imply motion? If so, you use accusative. If not, you use dative. (Usually.) Then there are prepositions that mean one thing with dative, and another with accusative. Has your head exploded yet? Imagine trying to finish a sentence when you have to pause and think, "Shit, does that verb imply motion?" or, "Fuck, does hinter take dative, accusative, or both?"

(Here's an image from Ignore Him Street to take your mind off things.)

On behalf of all German language learners everywhere: Gee, thanks a bunch, ancient Germans!

("Bitteschön!")

3. Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän.

You know how sometimes in most languages you want to describe something complicated so you end up using a lot of words to get the point across, like "danube steamship company captain"? Yeaaaaah... Apparently Germans don't really like long sentences, so their solution is to just stick words together like train wagons. So this is how you end up with words like the one titling this paragraph. Of course, it doesn't help that many German words are naturally long, so sticking them together makes a bad thing even worse... but 41 letters? Honestly? That's about 10 letters short of twice the alphabet.

(Well, I just googled "longest Greek word" and it's apparently 170 characters, so... AT LEAST WE INVENTED SOCIETY! [/typical Greek person's response to criticism])



4. The Schmetterling Effect.


There's this meme going around online that makes fun of German words:



Personally, I find it kind of tasteless. There are a lot of Greek words that sound ridiculous (ochaderfismos = nihilism, peripatodromos = walkway, skupidodenekes = rubbish bin, etc.), but nobody considers the Greek language ugly. On the other hand, most people I've told that I study German over the years have responded with: "To me, German sounds awful!!!"

I will concede, however, that many words are so... schmetterling, that you cannot memorise them. I mean, when I was younger I always forgot what "buchstabieren" meant, it took me years to get used to it. (It means "to spell".) Or "Gemüse". (Vegetable.) Or Geheimnis. (Secret.) It certainly doesn't help that many words are so similar. (I always confuse Geheimnis with Gefängnis. One is secret, the other one is prison.)

And finally...

5. Y U NO GREEK? OR LATIN!

For all the influence it's had from ancient Greek, you'd think that German would at least have a respectable amount of ancient Greek words, just to make it easier for us Greeks to learn their language. Alas, it seems that Germans hated us long before the economic crisis, since the amount of Greek words in the German vocabulary comes down to I-don't-know-how-many-but-not-many.

According to research I just found online, German (like English) is a Germanic language (no shit!) which has "borrowed heavily" from Greek and Latin.

Nevertheless, unlike with English where it happens all the time, I very rarely read a German word and think, "ha! That's actually Greek." You know what that means? More words to learn.

(Woe is me.)

Aaaanyway, I wish good luck to you all German language learners. I know it's tough, but we'll make it through. Klar?

6 comments:

  1. Paradox...:
    How is <> in "Deutsch"?
    How is <> then....?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice post, I really enjoyed reading. :D
    I would like to add 6.

    6. Pathological correctness.


    Germans tend to be overly correct.

    Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän
    There is missing one f.
    It's: Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän
    The words are "Schiff" and "Fahrt". If you put them together, there for real are three f.

    Sorry,
    I know it's ridiculous. :D:D

    ReplyDelete
  3. Manchmal denke ich , dass die Deutsche ist einfach und manchmal finde ich es schwierig .

    ReplyDelete
  4. Manchmal denke ich , dass die Deutsche ist einfach und manchmal finde ich es schwierig .

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm glad my one-year-old article is still bringing fellow victims of the German language together. :D

    Maybe I should do one for Spanish as well.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I found this article by googling "German sucks" :P

    ReplyDelete