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About umlauts

I hope the IPE people don’t read this, as they’re going to discover that I lied on my application. I told them I planned to listen to Nathan’s “Learn German” tapes before the trip to prepare myself; maybe I actually intended do so, but I never did. I didn’t even buy a German-English dictionary until last week. Learning to speak German was never high on my list of priorities when planning my trip to Vienna – I would say it ranked somewhere between “making out with foreigners” and “finding a good gyro place”. I’ll let you folks sort out which one of those was higher on the scale. In any case, all intelligence on the issue informed me that speaking German is strictly optional in Vienna, and they were right: everyone speaks near-fluent English or can point at one of their coworkers who does. Because of that lack of necessity, I decided not to worry about it and concentrate on the gyro stand.

My first few weeks in the introductory Deutschkurs at IKI reinforced this view. The class was absurdly easy and I learned quickly, but it’s not like I could use the powerful constructions I was taught (‘the man is fat’, ‘the woman saw the flower’, ‘my apartment is small and clean’) to communicate in a meaningful way with a German-speaker. Things were moving so slowly that I would have asked to be moved up a level, were the lessons not the first German I’d ever learned.

Instead, I asked my instructor if she could give me some more advanced work to muddle through on my own, in hopes of skipping the next level or two and getting to fancier grammar and such. She has come through in spades, and as a result my interest in learning German has skyrocketed. I’m finally at the critical point where I can communicate my thoughts, albeit crudely and with only one verb tense, on enough subjects to make speaking to people worthwhile. Suddenly, I can’t get enough Deutsch; I crave it like caramel apples.

I loves me the German, but the grammar makes me want to rip my teeth out by the roots just to feel a different sort of pain. I’m sure I’m not the first person to feel this way. For Wayne’s sake, they’ve got three genders – more than you’ll find in nature – which change the pronouns, articles, and prepositions in every sentence, and are furthermore a purely grammatical construct – in no way related to the noun (“skirt” is masculine). This is to say nothing of the plural for nouns – there are no rules! Unlike English or Spanish, knowing how to say “the dog” in no way enables you to say “the dogs”. It’s frustrating to say the least. Every time I think I’ve learned all the articles and pronouns, the instructor whips out another case I wasn’t even aware existed, and my friends in higher levels assure me it only gets worse.

I’m thinking about drafting an open letter to the Austrian and German governments, something along the lines of, “It may please you to know that, after careful consideration, I’ve made the following improvements to your language. Please consider incorporating them into the next public release.” That’s right: 5,000 miles away from Sieg II, and I’m still making GPL jokes. I mean, come on: how many articles do they really need? Isn’t a dozen enough?

I think I’m going to go fashion a whip out of my German book and beat myself around the face and shoulders until I finally understand the difference between dative, nominative, and accusative. I might be awhile.

Umlauts are my favorite part of German, by the way. They just make me feel good; it’s hard to say why. This keyboard is full of them too, check it out: ö ü ä. Ah, that’s the stuff.

Posted in Musings.


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