Friday, March 25, 2016

Learning German

Fortunately or unfortunately I am in Germany these days. Why? Because I got a scholarship to do my PhD at a German university. Bravo! That was a great achievement. But it also included four months of German language learning. I will not write my PhD dissertation in German, nonetheless it was kind of compulsory to avail the offer from German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). So I spent last four months in a language school here in my university city M√ľnster at a very good German language school Kapito. It was a great experience to learn a foreign language (a little hard at first because I used to be an English language teacher in Pakistan and it was difficult for me to accept myself as a student of a foreign language). For about four months, I and my class fellows did our best to enjoy and have fun in our class and our teachers tried their best to teach us German. So after all these months How do I feel? What is German like? Is it easy to learn? Is it like English? A lot of questions can be asked. Let me try to answer and share my observations about German.

  • At the beginning I wanted to learn German Phonology because I am trained in English Phonology using Phonetic charts and tables. I was wrong, you cannot learn to pronounce the sounds of a new language simply by knowing place and manner of articulation. It needs a lot of practice which I still lack to be frank. But it is good to know that German is a lot more phonetic language as compared to English.
  • I thought German is like English. I tried to understand German grammar w.r.t. English grammar. Resultantly I failed badly. German grammar is awfully more complex as compared to English grammar. The inflection system, the articles and grammatical gender, the case system, pronouns (and their case specific forms) and the word order (a lot more fluent due to rich inflection system) is a nightmare at the start. All of these things are bombarded on the beginner on A1 level, and one has to cope with it, because it is the base. I still only know about half of it by heart.
  • German has a lot of similarity with English and Latin (and other European languages). But these similarities can only be traced in etymology of words and some general grammatical concepts (prepositional phrases for instance as opposed to post positional phrases in my mother tongue Punjabi and Urdu). German gives a lot of importance to Verb at second position in main clause. Conversely verb(s) in a dependent clause are put at the end (in reverse order if an auxiliary is involved as well). Having been trained in English Linguistics, I find it (after 4 months) easy to learn German syntax.
  • German verbs have a lot more forms (inflections) because of more complex pronoun system (distinction in singular/plural and formal you). German does not have a progressive tense (but there are adverbs to fill in the gap). I am not sure how many tenses, but I just know Present, Perfect, Past, Past Perfect and a kind of future tense using verb 'werden'. German modal verbs are more or less like English but they are confusing as well (Subjunctive mode has different verb forms, 'will' in German is 'want to').
  • German loves to make compound nouns with just putting various words together (no dash or indication of sub parts). One has to be familiar with the sub parts (sub words) to pronounce and understand the noun. These nouns can be quite long sometimes.
  • Germans love their language. They encourage foreigners to talk in German and they become very happy when you do that. So I am also trying these days to do the same, as being a linguistics student I know that language cannot be learned without using it properly.
  • Lastly, German is easy if you give it some time, hear FM in German and watch German TV, read German newspapers and websites and try to use it (even if it is wrong). My biggest flaw being a student is I like to listen or read (and write with the help of dictionary) German but does not speak. Perhaps it is because I learnt English the same way i.e. a lot of years without speaking. My teachers also asked me to break the barrier and speak even with mistakes, in simpler words and not to look for sophisticated vocabulary and (after failing to do so) switch to English. I hope to be able to do that in coming days.
So if you want to learn German, it just needs some dedication, motivation and usage to learn a language. You provide these ingredients and just within six months you will see the positive results.