Friday, 19 June 2009

When Jan Comes Marching Home

In the last blog I said I need to hear things three times before I can learn them. That's why I like songs. You sing songs more than once. You sing them gently and you sing them loudly. You sing them quickly and you sing them slowly. You also sing them in your head. Here is my version of 'When Johnny Comes Marching Home'. It is one more way of learning about helping around the home.

Ich sauge Staub
Ich mache mein Bett
mein Bett, mein Bett

Ich decke den Tisch
Ich füttere den Hund
den Hund, den Hund

Ich wasche ab, ich trochne ab
Ich gehe einkaufen
Ich wasche das Auto
Ich koche das Abendessen
Ich koche das Abendessen

Bis bald

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Listen for the clues

When I was observing a German class a couple of days ago, I could see clues in sentences that some of the class could not see (they were year 7). I think they soon understand ich mache das Bett and the clue was in the title of the lesson 'what I do to help at home' and Bett is bed. It doesn't take much to work out that the sentence means I make the bed. Ich wasche ab has a clue with waschen very close to wash. You still have to know it is washing the pots and not clothes.

If you can see the clue that Auto is car then you will know that ich wasche das Auto is I wash the car. Garten is close to garden but if you don't know the verb then you have to learn the sentence 'I work in the garden' - Ich arbeite im Garten. One method of getting the class to learn the vocabulary was through mime. Later in the hour there was a game, and some of the class would mime the answers to their team members. It was great to see because I think that I can concentrate quite well but I still need to hear new things three times. The mime gave them one more chance to learn the vocabulary. There are lots of clues in German. It's just a case of hearing (or seeing) them.

Bis bald

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Separable Verbs and household chores

You can tell if a verb is separable by looking at the prefix. Then look in a grammar book and see if the prefix is in a long list of separable prefixes. Have you fallen asleep yet? There is a much easier answer. If you hear the verb and the emphasis is on the prefix then it is separable. So if you hear abwaschen and notice the emphasis on the ab then you know it is separable. This means that you say Ich wasche ab not ich abwasche. Of course it is much better to hear the sentence a few times and recognise that it means I wash up.

Why do we use the adverb 'up' when we are washing pots. Ab is normally translated into English as 'from' or 'off' but now you know in this sense it also means up. Similarly if you want to say 'I dry up' you would say ich trochne ab. I dry the dishes is ich trochne das Geschirr ab. If you want to tidy your room then we can say tidy the room or we can tidy the room up. In German the adverb is auf and the sentence is ich räume mein Zimmer auf.

Learning German makes you think about the use of English adverbs. Often they are nonsense but because we are used to them they are accepted. If a word looks strange in a foreign language then don't worry about it - there are plenty of strange words in English.

Bis bald

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

When does one dine?

I was observing a year 7 German class today as an introduction to me doing some voluntary work. The Lernziel was 'to be able to say what I do to help at home'. The pupils were keen and enthusiastic. However they do need repetition (as does everyone) to remember the vocabulary and the simple grammar.

The vocabulary included sentences like Ich gehe einkaufen, ich mache das Bett and ich koche das Abendessen. You may already know the words for 'I am going shopping'. You can almost guess the words for making the bed and I am cooking dinner. Hoever it matters whether you dine in the evening or dine at midday because in German you would have to say das Mittagessen for the midday meal and das Abendessen for the evening meal.

The good thing about learning a foreign language, apart from the obvious benefit of knowing that language, is that it helps you learn about your native language. I come from Manchester and dinner time is midday, but I also know that 'one dines in the evening'. The important thing in any language is to communicate, so as long as the person you are talking to knows what you mean then you have succeeded in communicating. Mittagessen and Abendessen are obvious in German. In English you need to make sure that you are understood when you say 'dinner'.

Bis bald

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Bis bald

In the preceding 100 blogs I have been looking at ways to motivate you to learn German. The best motivation is to communicate with German speakers and even better by living in Germany. Failing this you may be motivated by watching German films, by reading German books or by listening to German music.

Probably the least motivating factor in learning German is to have to learn it for an exam, but it is a way that many of us learn. We get motivated to pass an exam to have a piece of paper that says we can do something in German. When I got my Geman O' level piece of paper in 1977 it had precious little to do with communication but I could really conjugate verbs and decline nouns. So what? Things have changed, thankfully and pupils can now speak German.

I hope that some of the previous blogs have been helpful to you. I may add more blogs in the future but it won't be daily. If you have come across this blog for the first time then at least you have 100 to look at, but for today the only German in the blog is...

Bis bald

Monday, 27 April 2009

Blog Number 100

This is blog number one hundred and which words of wisdom am I going to choose for it. Well it isn't a special issue. I will continue with common exam phrases for GCSE.

You need to know vocabulary which is based on the school. Der Lehrer und die Lehrerin are two examples. Put them into a translation program and you get 'the teacher and the teacher' but you know this is that one is male and one is female. You need to know adjectives like schnell und langsam. If you know this then you can translate 'er will ein schnelles Auto haben'.

I think it is best to learn the words in an interesting way. This could be reading German newspapers or watching German DVDs or listening to German music. However if it is getting close to your GCSE then it may well be worth just ploughing through past papers, and make sure that you know 'schreib den richtigen Buchstaben ins Kästchen'. I asked you to look this up yesterday but if you don't know it then the exam paper will be a lot harder for you.

Bis bald

Sunday, 26 April 2009

More Common Exam Phrases

There is a common way of asking question in the reading exam for GCSE and that is to ask what someone wants. Wollen is an important verb so you can expect it to be tested. Was will ich schreiben? Was will ich trinken? In the latter case all you need to know is the name of three drinks in German. You often see the request 'schreib den richtigen Buchstaben ins Kästchen'. In fact if you don’t know this sentence then I will let you look up the words in a dictionary as this will make two times that you have seen the words. Look up a German paper on the internet and you should have new words in your vocabulary.

I have recently written about sein und haben but their importance cannot be overstated. Just think how often we use the verbe to be and to have in English. Have you any idea how often you use these verbs? You can make simple sentences with two nouns and one verb. If you know a few words then you have a chance of translating what you want to say or at least something that resembles what you want to say. Das Café ist zu teuer. Das Café ist sehr nett. Das Café ist nicht sehr sauber, and just for good measure I will tell you that to clean is sauber machen.

Bis bald

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Common Exam Phrases

It generally takes me three goes to learn anything new, so if I look at three German exam papers then I should get the hang of them. Abschnitt A, yes I know that is section A. It does help you remember if you disect the vocabulary and you also learn abschneiden. Fragen und Antworten auf Deutsch. Yes that rings a bell.

How about the verb sprechen? You should recognise it because it is a common question. Sprichst du Deutsch or Sprechen Sie Deutsch? If you want to say he or she speaks then you say er spricht oder sie spricht, and if you want to speak with someone it is sprechen mit... Now you should be able to translate Ingo spricht mit seiner Mutter

Bis bald

Friday, 24 April 2009

Die Motivation

There are lots of revision guides to get you through a German GCSE. The problem is that not everyone gets an A*. Teachers do an excellent job. Resources have improved tremendously since I was at school in the 70s. So why doesn't everyone do very well at GCSE? My answer is motivation. The top pupils will always get good marks and be praised. They have their motivation. For the rest it is about finding the motivation to learn a little bit more each day, e.g. reading a German blog. You will still have to do your homework as well.

I have written about family members. Some words you can guess without ever seeing them before. Meine Schwester oder mein Sohn are two examples. So it shouldn't take long to learn your family. In the GCSE paper that I am going through you need to know der Vater, die Großmutter, die Eltern, die Oma und der Papa. You can’t guarantee the same family members will come up but on this paper you have just gained a couple more points.

Bis bald

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Some more marks

If you know that viel means a lot then you can easily add it to simple sentences. Ich lese viel, ich spreche viel, or indeed ich habe viele Freunde, but because with friends it is an adjective it now has an adjectival ending.

If you know that der Anfang is the beginning then you can probably work out that am Anfang is in or at the beginning. I have mentioned that you need to know your tenses. You can learn them by conjugating them or you can learn them as you go along. Ich muss es tun means I have to do it. Ich musste es tun means I had to do it. Müssen is a modal verb so the verb that follows is the infinite and it in German it comes at the end of the sentence. Am Anfang musste ich eine Sonderklasse besuchen. You should now be able to guess the full sentence, and it may well be that your guess is better than a small dictionary because you know the context.

Ich habe Deutsch in der Schule gelernt is a phrase to learn. It tells people where you learnt your German and it also gives you another mark in the GCSE paper.

Bis bald

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

First couple of GCSE marks

If you want to do well in a German GCSE then you have to use the future and a past tense as well as the present tense. One of the most common past tenses to use is 'I was born' as you can use it in conversation as well as exams. Ich war in Manchester geboren or ich war in England oder in Italien geboren. You do have to learn a few countries so that you can recognise them so have a look at a list. It won't take long. You can also show off your knowledge of German numbers if you learn ich war in 1970 geboren.

Als ich dreizehn Jahre alt war... Now you need to remember to reverse the verb and pronoun after this but if you start with bin ich or habe ich and then the past participle at the end of the sentence. Prepare this kind of sentence for a few different ages and you will have a lot to say to German speakers.

Um...zu is a good thing to learn. It means in order to. Ich sehe fern, um Deutsch zu erlernen. Again put one or two personal examples together and you will easily recognise um...zu. You do have to sit down and learn grammar and vocabulary, but there are easy patterns to follow and easy marks to be gained. You just have your first couple of marks.

Bis bald

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

German GCSE

If you have followed this blog so far I think you are becoming less of a novice and can start to think of GCSE German. If you are thinking of taking this exam then stick with me and I will look at how the reading test works. Firstly look at the instructions which are in English. You have 50 minutes to complete the paper. There are some answers that just require letters to be written in boxes. In section A it says Fragen und Antworten auf Deutsch. In section B it tells you that the questions and answers are in English.

The first words in German are Abschnitt A. Schneiden means to cut. Abschneiden also means to cut but more in a sense of cutting something off (ab) something else. If you didn't know any of this then you still might be able to work out der Abschnitt A because the instructions tell you that you are starting section A. If you know that lesen means to read then you have a very good chance of knowing that lies die Texte means, without knowing anything about commands.

Going through this GCSE paper might take a few weeks but each blog only takes a few minutes to read so stay with it.

Bis bald

Monday, 20 April 2009

Sein und Haben

There are many verbs that are regular. Verbs like kaufen to buy, verkaufen to sell, fragen to ask and glauben to believe all follow the same pattern as set out in yesterday's blog. Once you know how to conjugate verbs in the present tense and once you know the translation of the verb you can say hundreds of things in German. Getting to practice speaking is another matter. However there are a lot of verbs that do not follow this pattern. The most common and because of that you must learn them, are the verbe to be and to have, haben und sein.

ich bin
I am / ich habe I have
du bist you are (informal) / du hast you have (informal)
er ist he is / er hat he has
sie ist she is / sie hat she has
es ist it is / es hat it has
wir sind we are / wir haben we have
ihr seid you are (plural) ihr habt you have (plural)
sie sind they are sie haben they have
Sie sind you are (formal) Sie haben you have (formal)

Bis bald

Sunday, 19 April 2009

The Present Tense

I started to look at the verb 'to make' last time and then talked about personal pronouns. If you take machen and take away the -en you have a stem and this is what you work with to conjugate the verb. In the present tense it is:-
ich mache I make
du machst you make (informal)
er macht he makes
sie macht she makes
es macht it makes
wir machen we make
ihr macht you make (plural)
sie machen they make
Sie machen you make (formal)

Verbs like this are called regular because they follow this pattern. If you are told, or if you look in a dictionary, or if you have a faint memory and you think that glauben is to believe, then you now know how to say 'I believe'. You follow the pattern and it becomes ich glaube. This pattern is fairly easy to learn and it means that you can now conjugate a lot of verbs in the present tense. However if you really want to learn a language then you have to translate some sentences that mean something to you and then say speak to someone in German.

Bis bald

Saturday, 18 April 2009

The Personal Pronouns

Many people are not keen on grammar. I think it is great and I am not sure whether this is because grammar has a bad press or whether I am just in a minority. Let's take verbs and the usual starting point is the present tense. It means something is happening now. Let's take the verb 'to make' as and example. In English we say I am making, I do make or I make. They all mean the same thing and they are all happening now in the present tense.

It is easier in German because you don't have three choices. You just say ich mache. Once you have learned the personal pronouns then you don't have to learn them again for any other verb. These pronouns are personal because they stand for people animals or things. I, you, he, she, it, we and they make up the personal pronouns except in German you have to learn three ways to say you. There is du for the person you know well, ihr when you are talking to a group, and Sie (notice the capital) when you are talking to someone you don't know too well. It is the polite way to say you.

So the way to learn the regular verbs is to learn the pattern for the personal pronouns. Ich, du er, sie es, wir, ihr, sie und Sie. The reason we learn the sie and Sie together is because they conjugate in the same way. If you are not sure what conjugate means then look what you have done. You look for the different ways of saying the verb in different tenses.

Bis bald

Friday, 17 April 2009

You too can sound intelligent

There really are a lot of words in English that come from the German language. One word that I was taught in a German class in the 1970s was Ersatz. It means substitute or replacement and it is a word that I have come across regularly since I learnt it - about once every five years. At least I have known what it meant which helps if you are in a quiz and it helps if someone wants to use it to sound intelligent. Now you can sound intelligent too.

A hamster is ein Hamster. I don't know if you know the blues/rock group called The Hamsters but if you translated their name it would be die Hamster. We don't tend to translate proper names but at least you know the plural of der Hamster.

Volkswagen is Volkswagen and BMW is BMW but you need to know your German alphabet to say it correctly. Doberman, Schnauzer, Rottweiler and Dachshund don't change to make English words. In the last few blogs the recurring theme has been German words that are used in English but I will stop this leitmotiv now.

Bis bald

Thursday, 16 April 2009

You know more German than you think

Following on from yesterday's blog, I was thinking about words that we use in English but come straight from the German. I live in Morecambe and very near to my house is a nursery. It's new extension has a big sign saying Kindergarten. You know what it means because I have told you, but it is also worth knowing that it is a compound word made up of die Kinder und der Garten.

I hope you don't have angst about learning German because there is another word that you know. A beer fest is a festival or beer celebration. Either word is a translation of das Fest. You don't need to translate words like frankfurter but we have lost the capital letter and the word Wurst that follows it.

Sometimes German people gave their name to words and that is why we use them. These are words like Fahrenheit, which keeps its capital letter and zeppelin which lost its capital letter. I hope you don't take too much flak if you don't know these words but in German it is an anti-aircraft gun as it is in English but usually we use the word to mean criticism.

Bis bald

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

What is German for coup?

There was a question on a TV quiz programme today that asked for the German word that is used in English which means an attempt to overthrow the government. The question may even have mentioned Hitler's attempt at revolution which was called the Beer Hall Putsch or the Munich Putsch. It means a violent blow in the sense of a coup but it made me think of the words that we use in English that come directly from the German.

The word schadenfreude means to take pleasure in the misfortune of others. If you were writing it in German then is would have a capital s, like all German nouns, but in English it has a small letter. We don't have an equivalent word and that is why we use schadenfreude. I had to use eight words where one word will do. I first come across this word on the Simpsons and it is a word used by Lisa. So you should watch the Simpsons to increase your German (and English) vocabulary.

Bis bald

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Do you have an opinion?

There are some expressions that can be used in many conversations. You will be asked your opinion and this could be on any subject. You may not have an opinion, and even if you do have an opinion you still might want to keep it to yourself. You might be a private person or you may not have prepared answers in German on this subject. Try to be prepared because if it is an exam you will loose marks and if it is a conversation there is nothing wrong with learning from it.

Your answer could be das ist mir egal which means that doesn’t make any difference to me or I don’t mind or more abruptly I don’t care. To make a stronger point you could say das ist mir völlig egal. Try not to say ich habe keine Ahnung, as it is nice to have some idea about the subject of the conversation.

If you say nicht schlecht then literally it is not bad, but just like in English you could be saying expressing an opinion on quality but you could also be saying that something is good. Did you like learning this? Das ist nicht schlecht!

Agreeing with someone is a nice way to get into a conversation, and the way to do this in German is to say du hast Recht oder Sie haben Recht. Ich bin völlig deiner Meinung. You haven’t said anything on any specific subject but you have spoken quite a lot.

Bis bald

Monday, 13 April 2009

Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren

How do you write a letter in German? Generally we write our name and address first and if it is formal we put the name and address of the recipient underneath. There is so much variation in English that it is hard to be specific but in German the tendency is to write both names and addresses on the left, and then the place where you are writing the letter and the date on the right. You don’t need to know any numbers for this because it would look like Morecambe, den 12.4.2009

You start the letter Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren which is the equivalent of 'Dear sir or madam'. If you know that you are writing to a man it is Sehr geehrte and to a woman it is Sehr geehrter. The more you learn, the easier the adjectival agreement. When I was at school in the 70s we had to learn adjectival agreements and vocabulary came second. However when you learn a native language you learn vocabulary first.

There is a convention in English that says you write 'Yours sincerely' if you have started your letter dear and the person’s name. If you start with 'Dear Sir' the convention is to write 'Yours faithfully'. At least you don’t have to be concerned with this in German. You can just write Mit freundlichen Grüßen or you can also say Hochachtungsvoll.

Bis bald

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Der beste deutsche Film?

Last week I wrote about the Edukators because it was on Film 4. I have also written about Das Kabarett. I have seen this film a few times but it happened to be a free DVD in a Sunday paper. I have bought some German DVDs including Das Boot (another blog) but this time I will write about Das Leben der Anderen from 2006. The first thing to say is that grammatically we would not say the life of others. We would say lives, and this is how it was translated for an English audience, but at least you have thought about the title even if you haven't seen the film.

It is worth seeing as ‘Das Leben der Anderen’ ist ein erstklassiger Film. It is a film about life in East Germany, in Berlin before the wall came down. It is about the secret police, the Stasi and how they carried out their duties. You can enjoy this film as a story, but you learn German by listening. Even listening to pronunciation of names will help you learn the language. Do you know the German for George? You will if you watch this film. Für mich ist "Das Leben der Anderen" einer der besten deutschen Filme.

Bis bald

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Der letzter Zapfenstreich

I am talking about the post-it notes for one more time because they are a useful resource to help with vocabulary. Im Badezimmer you can label das Bad, der Heizkörper, die dusche (and the verb is duschen), und die Toilette. To go to the toilet is auf die Toilette gehen which doesn’t have quite the same charm as one of our many euphemisms in English. I would prefer to visit the smallest room in the house or even the loo. W H Auden calls it the ‘house where everyone goes’ but the German leaves nothing to the imagination. You could always say die Toilette bitte, and hope for the best.

The next stage is to put verbs with the things in the bathroom. To have a bath is ein Bad nehmen. We do say take a bath in English but you need to practice to know that is how it is said in German. Learn things like ich wasche mich or ich putze mir die Zähne but you do need to know the words for clean and teeth before you can do this. I promise not to mention post-it notes again but even if they only last a couple of weeks you should have learnt your household vocabulary.

Der letzter Zapfenstreich - das ist ein Wordspiel auf Englisch aber nicht auf Deutsch - the last post.

Bis bald

Friday, 10 April 2009

More post-it notes

I recently mentioned my daughter's post-it notes around the house. They have increased in number. You can't walk past the stairs without realising they are called die Treppe. At the top of the stairs you will find der Treppenabsatz, and all the rooms of the house are labelled. Die Küche, das Esszimmer, das Wohnzimmer, die Toilette, das Schlafzimmer und das Badezimmer are all labelled.

There are also more labels on the furniture. Der Bücherschrank, der Sessel, die Vorhänge now have labels im wohnzimmer. There are notes on die Wand and der Teppich, but she hasn’t managed to put a sticker on die Decke.

It is one thing to know the vocabulary. It gives you the chance to understand a question. However it is also important to put a verb in a sentence. Add a few adjectives, maybe an adverb or two and some conjunctions and you are well on your way to a GCSE.

Bis bald

Thursday, 9 April 2009

The Edukators

I have written blogs on German cinema, usually because I have watched a DVD. This blog is about a film called 'The Edukators' as it is currently being shown on film 4. It is always good to hear native speakers. Get out of the film whatever you can. Sometimes a film can be seen purely for enjoyment. If it has a good plot that is prima. However you may be able to see deeper meaning. Let's face it, even The Simpsons has about ten levels of understanding. Sometimes I ask my children what the joke is, and sometimes they ask me.

The Edukators is about two anti-capitalist protestors who break into the houses of the rich and re-arrange their furniture. they also leave notes like 'Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei' und 'Sie haben zu viel Geld'. Notice that they don't use du, but I don't think they use Sie out of respect.

The film is about relationships, it is about ideologies and it has an interesting ending, so stay with it even if it is very late on film 4. I am not giving the ending away if I tell you the final note says 'Manche Menschen ändern sich nie'. It is worth making sure that you know the translation before you watch the film.

Bis bald

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

And one more verse and chorus

I am not going to bore you with the full song but I will give you one more verse and chorus. I have written some blogs on different songs in the hope that you would use a little part of a song to help you to get used to the German language. What is clear from the penultimate line of the last blog, is that sometimes you just can't translate songs and then sing them. If you can do it then that is great but only pick on the bits that work for you. Anyway, here is one more verse and chorus.

Hey Delilah,
Ich habe noch so mehr zu sagen,

Wenn jedes kleine Lied das ich für dich schreibe

Deinem Atem verschlagen würde,

Würde ich sie alle schreiben,

Du würdest dich sogar noch mehr in mich verlieben.

Wir würden alles haben.

Oh dass ist was du mit mir machst,

Oh dass ist was du mit mir machst.

Bis bald

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Hey Delilah One more verse and chorus

A couple of months ago you got a couple of verses and a chorus for Hey Delilah by the Plain White Ts. Here it is again with one more verse. I hope that you enjoy it

Hey Delilah
Wie ist es so in New York City?
Ich bin tausend Meilen entfernt
Aber du siehst trotzdem wunderschön aus
Ja du siehst wunderschön aus
Der Time Square leuchtet nicht so hell wie du,
Ich schwöre, es ist wahr

Hey Delilah
Mach dir keine Sorgen wegen der Distanz
Ich bin sofort bei dir, wenn du alleine bist
Höre dir dieses Lied einfach nochmal an
Und Schließe deine Augen
Höre meine Stimme, Sie ist ich
Ich bin an deiner Seite

Oh das ist was du mit mir machst
Oh das ist was du mit mir machst
Oh das ist was du mit mir machst
Oh das ist was du mit mir machst
Was du mit mir machst

Hey Delilah,
Ich weiß die Zeiten werden schwierig,
Aber glaube mir, mein Mädchen,
Irgendwann werde ich die Rechnungen mit dieser Gitarre bezahlen.
Wir werden es gut haben. Wir werden das Leben haben von dem wir wussten dass wir es haben würden.
Meine Worte sind wahr.

Bis bald

Monday, 6 April 2009

Die Feiertags

There is a theme to these latest blogs although you may not have recognised it. Weihnachten, der Heiligedreikönigstag Karfreitag Ostersonntag und Ostermontag sind Feiertags. I should have waited until the appropriate days but the second best option is to write about public holidays as a theme.

I will mention a couple of other holidays before I move on. Der Tag der Arbeit is a common holiday throughout the world and is usually held on the 1st May. Gemany is not an exception to this date and they also celebrate on the evening before this day. It is called der Tanz in den Mai. Now if you know that in takes the accusative when it means movement is occuring, and in takes the dative when you are describing position, then you know that der Tanz in den Mai is the dance into May. It starts on the evening of the 31st April and lasts into the following month.

One public holiday that we don't have in this country is der Tag der Deutschen Einheit, the day of German unity. Unity occurred in 1990 on October 3rd. If you remember the Berlin Wall coming down then you are remembering the wrong date. The Wall came down eleven months earlier on the 9th November 1989, but this isn't a public holiday - well it only affected Berlin.

Bis bald

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Fröhliche Weihnachten

Two blogs ago I wrote about Easter and I mentioned that I was a week early. In the last blog I wrote about the Epiphany and I am either very early or very late. There are no links between this blog and April 6th. In fact I am very early again, let’s say efficient and I will write about Weihnachten. Well there is a theme of public holidays. If you have gone through one winter of learning German they will know that Weihnachten is Christmas. Have you noticed the consistent approach to pronunciation in German? If you read ei it is always pronounced eye. If you read ie it is always pronounced ee. Ironically these sounds are like the second letter in the sequence if you think in English. Maybe this will help you remember the pronunciation.

Weihnachten is celebrated on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Germany, but you get your presents on Christmas Eve. There are slight variations in how Christmas is celebrated in many European countries, but in Germany children also get presents on the 6th December, St Nicholas’s day, but at Christmas the presents may be brought by der Weihnachtsmann. I know it is the wrong time of year but there’s nothing like being prepared to say happy Christmas. Frohe oder fröhliche Weihnachten are the words that you need.

Bis bald

Der Heiligedreikönigstag

Do you know the date of the Epipany? If you know that it is the 6th of January then give yourself a point. You get another point if you know that it celebrates the visit of the Magi or three wise men to the infant Jesus and it follows the twelve days of Christmas. Start counting on Christmas Day, and the twelfth day is January 5th. Twelfth Night is the night between the 5th and the 6th.

The Epiphany in German is the Epiphanias, but it is also known as der Heiligedreikönigstag. What looks like a very daunting word is actually quite simple if you break up this compound word. Holy is heilige. You knowq the word for three. If you didn’t know before I bet you could guess that der König is a king, and you should know the German for day. Now you know what the germans call the Magi. They are kings.

On the 3rd of March I wrote about der Dom in Köln and there is a shrine to the three kings in the cathedral. You will the sarcophagus that is traditionally believed to hold the remains of the three kings. I wonder how they found their way to Germany.

Bis bald

Saturday, 4 April 2009


I am too late for April fool but Germans do have a day for practical jokers on the first of April. the tricks are called Aprilscherze and when you have fooled someone you shout April April rather than April fool. Don't forget the German pronunciation when you say April.

I am not too late to talk about Easter. In fact I am surprisingly a week early. to mention Karfreitag, Ostersonntag and Ostermontag. These words should be obvious to you. All you need to know are the days of the week and the context, so don't think of translating Good Friday with the word gut.

Context is such a good help when learning a language. It is how we learn a native language. Just listen to educational toys and they will repeat words in context. As for learning a foreign language just look at the sign for der Fisch when you buy your fish.

Bis bald

Friday, 3 April 2009

Talking About You

When you learn about verbs in German you start with the infinitive. This is the part of the verb that you find in the dictionary and it means to do something, to play, to sing, to speak etc. In English we conjugate or change verbs depending on who is doing the action. So I speak but he speaks. It is the same in German and the verb does change. This means that you either learn by coming across the different personal pronouns, I, you, he, she, it, we or they, with the verb and you learn by practice. The more common way to learn is to find the patterns of language but there are regular and irregular verbs, and you simply have to learn the conjugations.

There is one big difference in German and that is there are four words for you, du, ihr, Sie and man. The word man is used when we would say 'one' but think it is too posh so we use 'you'. this means that it conjugates in the same manner as he or she or it. Man hat mir gesagt means one has told me, but we would normally say I was told. I will leave ihr for this blog because it is used when you are talking to a group. the big difference between German and English is when you are talking to someone, when do you use du and when do you use Sie? Well Sie is used for formal situations and du is used for people that you know. If people are saying du to you then use it back, but generally start with Sie for German speakers over 16. If you are in doubt and you would like to say du then you can always say wir können uns duzen? It is a good ice breaker, tells people that you can speak some German so they don’t just speak English, and it adds to your vocabulary, so learn this sentence.

Bis bald

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Post-It Notes

My daughter is taking her German GCSE this year and last week she came back from school asking for post-it notes. This week I am looking around the living room and everything is labelled. From where I am sitting I can see das Feuer and it is still stuck on the fire (it's a good job it is summer). Der Kaminsims is just above the fire. Der Couchtisch is right next to me as I am working on my laptop and sat on a Sessel. I can also see the sticker labelled das Fenster and if I walk out of the room I pass die Tür.

Labels are not a bad idea to help you learn vocabulary. You may know all the words that I have mentioned. One or two may be new to you. Well you are in charge of the labels and they do fall off after a few days so you will not have time to get too fed up with them.

Bis bald

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Should I use fahren?

If you want to say I am going to, then it is fairly easy in English. In German the word for 'go' changes depending on whether you are going by car or by foot. If you are not going too far then you can zu Fuß gehen, but once you use an engine then to go becomes fahren. I am going to Manchester may become ich gehe nach Manchester, but if you get in the habit of saying ich gehe zu Fuß nach Manchester then you should get it right. Unless you live near the centre of Manchester the sentence should be ich fahre nach Manchester. If it helps you remember then say ich fahre mit dem Auto nach Manchester. You could also fahre mit dem Fahrrad, mit dem Bus, mit dem Zug oder mit dem Flugzeug.

I have mentioned compound words recently. If you know fahren then you may be able to guess that abfahren is to depart. Ausfahren has a few meanings but do look out for die Ausfahrt otherwise you may miss your exit. Similarly you may want die Einfahrt if you want the entrance or the slip road.

Bis bald

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Die Nummern

You may have seen that I also write a maths blog. I enjoy maths because I think it is easy. Maybe that sentence could also be written the other way round. I think maths is easy so I enjoy it. In one blog I wrote about the importance of neatness. With long numbers there should be commas or gaps separating three digits, e.g 234 562.35

There is a difference between English and German numbers as you may have guessed from this blog. In German a Komma is used instead of a decimal point. Once you get used to this it is fairly easy, but you also have to get used to full stops used to separate large numbers into three. So £2 000 becomes £2.000 and £2.50 becomes £2,50 It does take some getting used to and I deliberately left out a full stop at the end of the last sentence to avoid confusion. Once you can write the numbers numerically then you have to say them, but this is relatively easy because comma is Komma and the full stop is der Punkt. However if you want to say £2.000 you would just say zweitausend Pfunde.

Bis bald

Monday, 30 March 2009

Was spielst du gern?

Whether you are at school and learning German or whether you are too old for school there is a link for learning German because you will be talking about yourself. It may be for an exam or it may be for a social conversation. You will still need a vocabulary which relates to your interests. If you play sport you would say ich spiele and then name your sport Fußball Rugby usw.

Don’t be afraid to use simple verbs. You need to use them precisely because they are simple and then go for the more complicated words. Ich möchte gern schwimmen. You can replace schwimmen with Fahrrad fahren if you want to go for a bike ride. Similarly use a simple construction like ich schwimme gern or ich fahre gern Fahrrad.

Bis bald

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Die Familie 2

OK it does get harder (see yesterday's blog). Some words are more difficult to guess when you are talking about your family. I’m afraid that you just have to learn these words but it is a lot easier if you put them in a sentence that means something to you and then you pass on that information to someone else. If they understand you then you really will remember these words. Words like die Schwiegermutter. I don’t think that you can guess that this means mother-in-law. The wonderful thing is that once you have learned Schwieger once then you will know der Schwiegervater, die Schwiegertochter, and die Schwiegereltern. I think that you need to get learning again with the words der Schwager and die Schwägerin because they mean brother-in-law and sister-in-law. Do notice the umlaut for the sister-in-law.

The word for brothers and sisters is die Geschwister. Der Junge is not a word that you can guess but it is common and means the boy. You will also need to learn das Enkelkind which means the grandchild, and der Enkel and die Enkelin mean grandson and granddaughter. I’ll finish with Opa and Oma, grandpa and grandma, and you should now have the words that you need for most relations. Some need learning but a lot are easy.

Bis bald

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Die Familie

If you want to talk about your family then you will need to know some family vocabulary. You can guess a lot of the words. Der Vater is the father. Die Mutter is the mother. You can also work out the links between German and English by comparing the words. There is a link between v and f. You may be able to guess das Kind if you know that kindergarten is an English word taken directly from the German and means nursery.

Der Sohn is the son and die Tochter is daughter. Tochter is not difficult to learn if you know there is a link between t and d and at least daughter is feminine unlike das Mädchen which is German for the girl. Die Schwester is really easy as is der Bruder.

Der Onkel, yes you’ve guessed it is uncle and die Tante is also easy to guess as it is aunt. I don’t need to tell you der Cousin and it doesn’t take much imagination to work out die Cousine. Who said German was difficult.

Bis bald

Friday, 27 March 2009

Der Fernseher

The last blog was about compound words. This time I'll talk about one of the nation's favourite pastimes, watching television, and I will relate this to compound words.

To watch television in German is fernsehen. It is a seperable verb which means that if you want to translate 'I watch televion' it becomes ich sehe fern. The verb joins together again if you have an auxiliary like mögen or wollen or können. I would like to watch television is ich möchte fernsehen. May I watch television is darf ich fernsehen.

Now for those compound nouns, Der Fernseher or der Fernsehapparat is the television set, and the remote control is die Fernbedienung. Die Bedienung is the shop assistant or the waiter or simply means ‘service’. It doesn’t mean remote but you can see how the word is adapted to become a remote control. Have you also noticed that the gender of compound nouns is always the same as the gender of the last part of the compound noun?

Der Fernsehfilm is a TV film, die Fernsehsendung is the TV is the TV programme. There are hundreds of compound nouns. The good news is that it makes translation a little easier because we may know part of the word and we may be half way to knowing what it means.

Bis bald

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Cognates and compound words

Last time I wrote that you only had a few thousand more words to learn. It is not as difficult as it sounds because of the words in English that have been taken from German. If you have seen the film Poltergeist then that is one less word that you have to learn. If you have der Rucksack on your back you know another German word. Abseiling may have started in Chamonix France, but it is a German word and you will know that abseilen means to lower with a rope.

There is something else that makes the number of German words to learn less daunting, and that is compound nouns. If you know that die Straße then you might be able to guess that das Straßenschild is a street sign. I mentioned some compound nouns with weg last time. So learn weg and you can have a good guess at many other words. When I was at school in the 1970s I remember two compound words. You would know them if you know the word for black, forest, cherry and gateau. Even if you know one or two of these words there is a good chance that you would understand Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. You can hog the conversation if you know these words.

Bis bald

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Weg or weg

I have written about capital letters for nouns. So you know that der Weg is a noun but weg isn't. Among other things der Weg is a path or a way, but weg means away. You often combine weg with a verb wegfliegen to fly away, wegkommen to get away or even to go missing, weggehen to leave or go out are three examples.

If you want to use weg the adverb then you can say geh weg, go away, or Finger weg meaning hands off! You can say weg da, get away from there. There really are a lot of translations for weg, and now you have a good chance of understanding weg if you come across it.

There is also a difference in pronunciation between Weg and weg. Der Weg rhymes with vague, but weg rhymes with leg. This is a simplification because you have to try to make it sound German as you do with all German words. So now you can understand and say a German word. Only a few thousand more words to learn.

Bis bald

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Word order for questions

The word order for questions is also quite specific. You start with your question, wo, wer wann, wie, warum usw (usw means und so wieter - and so on) and you follow it with the verb and the rest of the sentence follows. So in simple sentences and with questions the verb is in second place. Wo möchten Sie wohnen? Wohin fährst du mit dem Auto?

With general questions you do the same in German as you do in English. Sie sehen fern. To make this a question you change the word order to verb, subject and the rest of the sentence. Sehen Sie fern? You will understand this word order. Will you understand this word order?

Bis bald

Monday, 23 March 2009

Word order for basic sentences

There is greater choice of word order in German than in English because you get clues from case or verb endings that you don't get in English. However there are rules about word order and today I will look at word order in basic sentences.

A basic sentence has a subject and a verb and something else. In the sentence der Junge liest ein Buch, the boy is the subject, the verb is reading, and the third part is an object, a book. In the sentence Der Junge gibt dem Mädchen das Buch the boy is still the subject, the verb has changed to give, and following this there is a direct and an indirect object. You can have prepositions with nouns but a basic sentence has a subject a verb and something else, and this is also the word order.

Bis bald

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Asking for directions

How do you ask for directions? The simplest way it to say wo ist...? and add the name of the place that you are looking for. I can just imagine the title of this blog is a question on 'Just a Minute' on Radio Four. Contestants have to speak for a minute without hesitiation repetition or deviation. I should say ohne Zögern, Wiederholung oder Abweichung. I can also imagine Clement Freud answering with a list. Man kann fragen ‘wo ist die Bank, Der Flughafen, der Hafen, die Post, der Park, das Theater'. Clement never quite manages to last a minute usually because he speaks zu langsam.

In English we ask how do I get there? In German the verb to use is kommen which means to come but also to get to, but you need a word for ‘to’. If you are talking about a city then ‘to’ is nach. Wie komme ich nach Manchester? If you want to get to a place in the city like der Bahnhof then you ask wie komme ich zum Bahnhof?

Bis bald

Saturday, 21 March 2009

What is occurring and what do you think about it?

From the last blog, if you are asked 'was ist dieses Wochenende los?'or 'was kann man abends unternehmen?' then you need to know some replies. What would you like to do? You could answer 'ich hätte Lust ins Kino zu gehen', that is if you want to go the cinema. You may want to replace ins Kino with ins Theater or in eine Kneipe. Die Kneipe is a word to learn if like me du trinkst Bier gern.

Once you have been to the cinema you could have an opinion like der film hat mir gut gefallen. On the other hand you may wish to say der film hat mir nicht gut gefallen. The main thing is to say what you want to say and for that you need some vocabulary. Ausgezeichnet is excellent, and if you can say a word of four syllables then your German must be gut. Der film could be wunderschön oder phantastisch. On the other hand it could be langweilig oder enttäuschend. Perhaps boring and disappointing are not words you want to emphasise. If you don’t like something you can always describe it as interessant.

Bis bald

Friday, 20 March 2009

What's occurring?

Take the word unter. It can mean a few things. It can mean under or it can mean below or among. So if you think of unter just as under then there might be a better translation. Now take the verb nehmen. It can mean a few things as well but it usually means 'to take'. Now put these words together and you get unternehmen. You have two words joined together and both of them can mean a few different things. Unternehmen can mean to make an attempt or to take steps or it can mean what you expect it to mean, to undertake.

If you translate 'was kann man abends unternehmen?' you get 'what can one in the evenings undertake'. OK with English word order you get 'what can one undertake in the evenings' but we don't say that. A good translation would be 'what's there to do in the evening?' Another way of asking the same question is 'what's on (this weekend)?' which tranlates as 'was ist dieses Wochenende los?' If we are to believe Nessa from Gavin and Stacey then we can say 'what's occurring?' So now you have the questions and all you have to do is understand the answer.

Bis bald

Thursday, 19 March 2009

More comparatives

Last time I wrote about gut, besser und am besten. This time I am looking at more comparative adjectives. Do you know the word for cold? The word you are looking for is kalt and the comparative of kalt is kälter. It is saying that something is colder than something else. It is comparing two things, hence the name given to it is a comparative adjective. The coldest thing is being compared to everything else but this looses the title comparative and gets called the superlative. Am kältesten is how you would say the coldest, but you would also say der (die oder das) kälteste...

The German for warm is warm. There are so many perfect cognates which makes learning German relatively easy for English speakers. The comparative follows the same pattern as kalt, and is warmer, and the superlative is am wärmsten. You would say der (die oder das) wärmste...

If you like something in English we use the verb ‘to like’ and then the infinitive of another verb e.g. I like to play cards. In German you use the adverb gern which means willingly. Ich spiele gern would be translated as I like to play. If you prefer to play then Ich spiele lieber, and the superlative is am liebsten.

Bis bald

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Comparative adjectives

If you want to say that something is good, then that is easy as you just say gut. You have to remember your adjectival endings if you want to say it was a good performance or a good achievement then you have to know the words die Leistung. It is feminine so you end up with eine gute Leistung. If however, you want to say the performance was good then endings don't matter. Die Leistung war gut.

If you want to compare one achievement with another then you can say one is better than another. When you use the word 'better' it is called a comparative adjective. Gut changes to besser. It is almost the same as in English. Diese Leistung war besser.

Am besten are the words for best. Who looks best? Wer sieht am besten aus? The words to remember for the comparative adjectives are gut besser und am besten.

Bis bald

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Wo tut es weh?

You have made it to Germany and you have been studying the language for some time. It just happens that none of the people that you are with speak English so now it is all down to you. Then you get cramp and you act like a lunatic unless you can communicate to the people around you that you aren’t a lunatic. They may understand that something is wrong and you may hear the words ‘was fehlt Ihnen?’ or ‘wo tut es weh?’ if they have guessed that something is causing you pain.

‘Ich habe einen Krampf in meinem Fuß’ may be the words that you are really looking for. They give a full explanation to the people around you and you are no longer seen as a lunatic. Now don’t you wish that you had spent longer learning the parts of the body and how to talk about health? If you are anything like me you need to be told three times, so getting reading that list again or you may be seen as a lunatic.

Bis bald

Monday, 16 March 2009

What do I say next?

Let's say that you have been learning German for some time. You have a basic understanding of grammar and you recognise quite a few German words. The next stage to learning German is getting to Germany and meeting some native speakers. So you have made it this far. What do you say? Well the answer is quite easy - exactly what you would say to anyone else. Just because you are speaking to a German doesn't mean that you have to change what you are going to say. It may be that there is a reason why you are speaking to them. Are you at das Oktoberfest in München? You could talk beer.

Wohnen Sie hier? Whatever the answer you could say ‘gefällt es Ihnen hier?’ You can add your specific words to phrases like ‘was denken Sie über..?’ If you are talking to a visitor you could always ask ‘für wie lange sind Sie hier?Sind Sie hier im Urlaub?’ If you are not sure about using any of these sentences the you could always do what the British do - talk about the weather. Schönes Wetter heute!

Bis bald

Sunday, 15 March 2009

I am not a doughnut

If you know any German then it is probably words like 'guten Tag' or ‘Ich heiße’ or even ‘wie geht’s’ There is also a good chance that you know the words ‘Ich bin...’ which means ‘I am...’ You can just add an adjective after this zB (zum Beispiel means for example) Ich bin traurig oder Ich bin glücklich. If you are busy you can say Ich bin beschäftigt. You could use any number of adjectives but if you are cold you have to say mir ist kalt. If you are hungry in German you have hunger. Ich habe Hunger.

If you want to say that I am from Berlin you would say Ich bin Berliner. In 1963 John F Kennedy told the Berlin crowd ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ which means that I am a doughnut. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. A doughnut wasn’t called a Berliner in Berlin, only in other parts of Germany, and secondly he wasn’t saying that he was from Berlin. He was speaking metaphorically so ein could be added.

Bis bald

Saturday, 14 March 2009

More transitive and intransitive

A foreign language helps your English. Take the example of tranisitive and intransitive verbs. You may never need to know these English words but there may be times when you say things incorrectly. You don't know you have done it but it shows a lack of understanding of language. If your faults a recognised it shows the listener that you are not completely sure of what you are saying, and it puts doubt in their mind that your opinion is the correct one. So we'd better learn about transitive and intransitive verbs.

We have already seen that a transitive verb needs a direct object. Well how do you talk about this in German? This is the easy bit because tranisitive is transitiv, and intransitive is intransitiv. It is much harder to understand than it is to translate. As adjectives they have to have adjectival agreements so their endings can change. You can say 'Ich denke, dass transitive Verben gut sind' even if you are using denken intransitively.

Bis bald

Friday, 13 March 2009

Transitive or intransitive?

There is a tendency for ‘dumbing down’. Don’t use the word adverb or even adjective because people switch off. Well I hope you are still with me and that you know that an adjective describes a noun and an adverb describes a verb. It seems fairly straightforward to me and we shouldn’t be hiding behind long expressions when one word will do.

If you have a transitive verb it needs a direct object to complete the sentence. I painted the fence, the fence is the object. Of course an intransitive verb doesn’t need a direct object to make sense. I stood up is an example unless you actually did stand up something. So verbs can be transitive or intransitive or both.

Last time I wrote about the verb passieren. Ich muss die Grenze passieren. In this example you are passing a border so it is transitive and in the past tense you would write Ich habe die Grenze passiert. The question last time was wann ist das passiert? No direct object and it is an intransitive verb that takes sein. I hope you managed to follow that and no dumbing down needed.

Bis bald

Thursday, 12 March 2009

More questions

Wann is a useful word. You can answer by saying jetzt, heute, Morgen or any other word that tells then when you are doing something. If you are asked wie oft, then if you do things on a regular basis you can answer with words like jeden Tag, dreimal pro Woche or einmal in der Woche.

Wann ist das passiert means when did it happen so answers could include am Morgen or am Abend. The answer could be gestern or vorgestern or even letztes Jahr. Wann passiert das means when is it going to happen. Notice that in the past tense the verb passieren takes sein if it means ‘happen’. Passieren can also mean to pass in which case it doesn’t take sein.

Bis bald

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Nützliche Vokabeln

It is useful to understand what you are being asked if you are asked a question in german. The questions that need a yes or no answer are called interrogatives. So you need to know ja und nein. The next words that you need to know are interrogative adverbs as they are used to get more information.

Wann is when. Don’t forget das Fragezeichen if you are using any of these adverbs. You have three chances of knowing that last word. You may know das Fragezeichen, you may know die Frage or you may know das Zeichen. If you do know die Frage then you know fragen is to ask, so a little bit of work on nützliche Vokabeln and you get to know a lot more words.

Bis bald

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Der Wievielte ist heute?

If you are asked the date then you could be asked 'der Wievielte ist heute?' or you could be asked 'welches Datum haben wir heute?'

In English there are a few ways that we can write the date. We can say the 10th June or June 10th or 10 June or June 10. In German the only way to write it is der 10. Juni and you would say heute ist der zehnte Juni. Der Wievielte ist heute? Heute ist der zehnte 10. März 2009.

If you know your numbers then adding the year is no problem to you. I think that it is good to know your birthday because it is something that you can use. Ich wurde 1970 geboren. Notice that you don't say 'in 1970' in German.

Bis bald

Monday, 9 March 2009

Die Ruhe

Die Ruhe is the calm or the silence and by just saying Ruhe bitte you are asking for silence. You know that if you have an adjective there is no capital letter and Ruhe changes slightly to become ruhig. The adverb is the same as the adjective so hier geht es sehr ruhig zu can be translated as it is very peaceful here.

Up till now you can work out the meaning of sentences with die Ruhe or ruhig, but there is an idiom 'immer mit der Ruhe' which doesn't mean always with calmness but take it easy or don't panic. There is also a word in German die Panik, so for don't panic you could also say nur keine Panik.

Another expression that is difficult to translate is aus der Ruhe bringen, because it is not just about not having rest or silence but it is about making someone nervous. Jetzt hast du mich aus der Ruhe wieder gebracht. Now you have made me nervous again, but you can reply immer mit der Ruhe.

Bis bald

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Das Kabarett

One Sunday broadsheet today has decided to give away two DVDs. One is Michael Caine in The Fourth Protocol, which is a fine film. The other has a German connection as it is set in Berlin in 1931 and is called Cabaret. You probably know the film and the song in which you get to hear a few basic words of German. The first words in the song are Wilkommen . Following the German word you get to hear it in French and then English, so it is particularly good for those who are just starting to learn German.

You will hear all these phrases in the first song - Wilkommen im Cabaret, Meine Damen und Herren, Guten Abend, Wie geht's? You will also hear Willkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome, and bleibe, reste, stay. See if you can hear any other examples of the three languages together.

The German word das Kabarrett comes from the French and it is always useful to hear the German language on film even if it is Liza Minnelli. Don’t trust her too much but she can say bis später.

Wilkommen im Cabaret, Meine Damen und Herren, Guten Abend, Wie geht's? They are all useful phrases. All in all I think that I got my money’s worth today.

Bis bald

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Zu und Nach

Two commonly used prepositions are zu and nach, because they are used in common expressions. Ich bin zu Hause und Ich gehe nach Hause. Just as in English prepositions can be used in many ways.

The usual meaning of zu is to. If you give something to the child, you give it zu dem Kind oder zum Kind. If you give it to the lady it is zu der Frau oder zur Frau. However do notice the 'at home' translation.

Nach Heute means after today. Nach Manchester means to Manchester, nach dem Konzert means after the concert. Be aware of the differences in translation, but try to remember nach Hause.

Bis bald

Friday, 6 March 2009

Wie bitte?

I like German phrases that are easy to use and in particular I like the phrases that are easy to fit into ordinary sentences. If you are learning the language there will be limits to your vocabulary. You need to be able to ask. Was heißt das auf englisch? Of course English is an adjective so there is no capital letter in German, but we have a capital letter in English for English. Can all those people who complained about the capital letters on German nouns now hang their heads in shame? Grammatically English is just as complicated as German but German pronunciation is a lot simpler, so no more complaints.

You can say was heißt... auf englisch, and just add the word that you want to know. If you want to ask the meaning of a word then you say ‘was bedeutet...?’ ‘Wie bitte?’ is also very useful as it means pardon. Be careful if you use ‘können Sie das wiederholen bitte?’ because it might make just as much sense the second time that you hear it.

Bis bald

Thursday, 5 March 2009


One preposition that we don't have in English is bei. It means 'at the home of' or 'at the shop of' or more simply 'at'. It sounds like the English word 'by' as it follows the rule that the German letters 'ei' sound like eye and ie sound like ee. As there is no sense of movement bei only takes the dative case.

We would normally say 'he works with a big company' but in German you have to think 'bei'. Er arbeitet bei einer großen Firma. Er ist beim Fleischer oder beim Metzger. Ich kann bei mir fernsehen. Notice that if you say 'bei dem' you can shorten it to 'beim'.

Do you know the traditional Scottish song 'My bonnie lies over the ocean'? The Beatles recorded it partly in German. "Mein Herz ist bei dir nur". Obviously there is artistic and poetic licence to song lyrics, but you can see that there may not be an obvious translation for a prepostion. However you should know what "Mein Herz ist bei dir nur" means.

Bis bald

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Die Präpositionen 2

Prepositions are words like at, for, on, over or during. They are words that tell you how a noun or a pronoun in a sentence relates to the rest of the sentence. He lives in Morecambe. The cat is on the mat. You will find prepositions in sentences. I will give some examples to you. Prepositions are everywhere so I will stop putting them in bold, but they are not always obvious when translating from English to German. You may find some falsche Freunde.

There is an added difficulty in German because the noun that follows the preposition has to be in a specific case, either accusative, dative or genitive, and some prepositons use more than one case. Take the preposition auf. This can take the accusative case and it can also take the dative. The difference is that if there is a sense of movement then you use the accusative. If a location is described then you use the dative. So the cat is on the mat - it's dative, die Katze ist auf der Matte. It doesn't quite have the same ring in German.

Bis bald

Tuesday, 3 March 2009


If you are planning a trip to Cologne the first thing that you have to learn is that the Germans call it Köln. It is always good to know the name of where you are going as it helps to get there.If you arrive by train the first sight will be the cathedral so it is useful to know that it is der Dom.

Once you are there it is useful to have a few words of German vocabulary. The panorama is dominated by the Cathedral which you now know is der Dom. Auf der Domplatte gibt es viel zu sehen zum Beispiel die Pflaster-maler und die Jongleurs. Es gibt auch die Musiker. So there is a lot to see in Cologne, and I have only mentioned the area around the cathedral.

Bis bald

Monday, 2 March 2009


The infinitive is the basic form of the verb and is that part of the verb that tells you about the action without mentioning a personal pronoun. the obvious sign of an infinitive in English is the word 'to'. To stand, to sit. to speak to listen are all infinitives. In German the infinitive is one word that ends in -en. There are two exceptions and you should know them. I'll remind you in the last paragraph.

I like infinitives because this is what you see if you look in a dictionary. To drink is trinken. You don't need to change the verb if you say we are drinking or you (formal) are drinking or they are drinking. If you use a modal verb you keep the infinitive (as you do in English) I would like to drink, but in German the infinitive will go the end of the sentence. Ich möchte Bier trinken.

After adjectives you need to put the word zu before the infinitive. Es war leicht zu tun. Es ist schwierig gut zu sein. You also have to add the word zu after nouns. Ich habe keine Zeit deutsch zu lernen. Oh those two exceptions - you have just read them, to do and to be.

Bis bald

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Case system and word order

The subject of a verb is the person or thing doing the action. The object is the person or thing that is affected by the action. The indirect object answers question like 'to whom?' or 'for whom'. It may feel a little strange if you normally say 'to who' but we do have a case system in English and it should be 'to whom'.

In the main clause of a sentence the subject comes first and is followed by the verb, just like in English. I (the subject) drink (the verb) beer (the object). Ich trinke Bier. In German a direct object usually follows an indirect object unless the direct object is a personal pronoun. Ich gab meinem Freund das Bier, but the word order changes for Ich gab es ihm. I'm afraid that you just have to learn examples and keep practising.

Bis bald

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Das Wetter

Guess what der Wind is. OK you are right. So if you know that you can also guess what windig means. I will write a blog about the verb werden, but for now wird can mean 'will be'. In this case can you now guess wie wird das Wetter morgen sein?

Some answers could be es wird schön sein or it may be that es wird schneien. You do need to know your weather vocabulary if you are going to talk about the weather. You can’t guess that nebelig is foggy, although you could make an attempt at translating der Frost and der Regen.

You could always check the forecast and you may be able to say ‘am Vormittag wird es schön sein, but you could always talk in general terms and say ‘in Manchester regnet es viel’.

Bis bald

Friday, 27 February 2009

A plump lie

Look out for the connections between German and English. Die Tür is a door. The link is that ‘t’ becomes a ‘d’, and it’s the same with das Bett. With the verbs kochen and machen you can see that ‘ch’ has been changed to a ‘k’. It’s is good to recognise patterns but do be aware of the falsche Freunde.

Chips aren’t chips they are crisps. There is an adjective arm which is nothing to do with arm but means poor. Plump means clumsy, but eine plumpe Lüge is a blatant lie. A Rathaus has nothing to do with rats but der rat means the advice, and even when you join Rat and Haus you still have to know what das Rathaus means . Wenn means if and Stuhl isn’t a stool it is a chair. There are lots of examples.

The moral of this story is that there are connections between German and English and many words are exactly the same, but you still have to learn the perfect cognates because it there are also many false friends.

Bis bald

Thursday, 26 February 2009

German rules

There are a lot of consistent rules in German. You will always find exceptions but there is a strong tendency to follow German grammatical rules. There are rules of word order, gender, adjectival agreements and pronunciation, but today I am going to have a look at some of the rules for capital letters.

In German you have capital letters at the start of a sentence like English, but in German you also have capital letters to start every noun. It may take a little longer to type a German sentence because of these capitals but you can see the nouns and the difference between Montag and montags is much clearer than in English. In English there is an anomaly for the pronoun I. It is also an anomaly in German because you don’t use a capital letter for ich. The formal ‘you’ Sie does have a capital letter.

If you think this is difficult just think of all the rules in English (capital letter for English) and then think how you would teach these rules to a German!

Bis bald

Is freitags a noun or an adverb?

You know that nouns in German have capital letters. This means that when you see the sentence 'wie ist das Wetter heute?' you know the weather is a noun and you also know that heute is not a noun. Any words that describe a verb are adverbs. You can run quickly and you will also notice that adverbs often end in ly. However adverbs of time come in all shapes and sizes. Afterwards, later, rarely, daily and yesterday are all examples of adverbs of time. If you cannot remember being taught about adverbs of time in English it is because we use them naturally as describing words. Now you know they are not nouns and it is obvious in German.

If you want to say in the evening(s), you just add an s to abend so you can say 'abends sehe ich fern'. Similarly you can say freitags or montags if you want to say on Fridays or on Mondays. Notice that I have added an s and Freitag no longer has a capital letter. It has gone from a noun to an adverb. Jetzt is another adverb of time which is a good word to learn. In fact learn it now. Gleich is the word for at once and it has a capital letter this time as you would expect because it starts this sentence.

Bis bald

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Es gibt

I like 'es gibt' because it is a very common phrase and it means there is or there are. So in English we have to think about whether something is singular or plural but in German you don't have to think about this. You can start an answer before you have thought about what you are going to say. Es gibt...keinen besseren Wein. And that's the other thing, after es gibt you always have a noun in the accusative case. OK it could be singular or plural but at least you have had chance to think about it.

Es England (whatever you are talking about). Gibt es hier... (whatever you are talking about)? One expression that you easily use is was gibt's (was gibt es)? What's wrong? You can even use es gibt with expressions of weather. Glauben Sie es gibt regen?

Bis bald

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Der Himmel über Berlin,

Films don’t tend to keep their name when they are translated into English. One German film that was very well received was Der Himmel über Berlin, which became Wings of Desire. Set in '80s Berlin, the German title gives a clue to the story. It is about angels looking down on the city who become mortal and one of the stars of this film is Peter Falk, whom you may well remember as Columbo. He plays the part of an angel who becomes mortal and happens to be Peter Falk, so there is some English in the film. You will also hear a little bit of French.

What struck me when I watched it was the power of colour film. When filmed from the point of view of the angels it is in black and white, which struck me as melancholic. It was sad to see that the angels could not play a full part in life on earth, but the purpose of this blog is to give you the motivation to learn German. Well you are bound to come across words for colours. Revise them before you watch it and you won’t need the subtitles for at least one scene. Another theme that runs through the film is das Lied vom Kindsein. Listen out for 'als das Kind Kind war, ging es mit hängenden Armen...' You may even want to read the song before you watch the film. Just search the internet. There is also a bonus for Nick Cave fans as you get to see him sing. Enjoy the film.

Bis bald

Monday, 23 February 2009

Das Alphabet

It is very important to learn das Alphabet in German, just as it is important to learn the alphabet in English. There is good news. Many or the letters are pronounced in exactly the same way as the English letters. L, M, N and O are four examples. If you get that far in the alphabet then you can relax a little.

A, B and C should be learned because they are the first three letters. It is as easy as the phonetic ah, bay, tsay. C rhymes with D phonetically in English and in German, but in German it sounds like 'tsay and day'. You have to learn the vowels because they are so common. Keep that rhyme going for E as it is pronounced 'ay'. You now have the first five letters of the alphabet.

I am not going to bore you with the whole alphabet because you will find a phonetic alphabet in any standard reference book, but you must learn your name. You should feel lucky if you have a name with a few vowels. You are also lucky if you have a G or a J (gay and yot) because these can be difficult to learn.

Bis bald

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Lola rennt

I am sat watching The Bourne Identity starring Matt Damon and Franka Potente and I am reminded that Franka starred in the German film 'Run Lola Run'. I won't spoil the plot by telling you how it ends but don't be surprised if you see Franka (Lola) running a lot in Berlin.

It is always a good idea to listen to native speakers if you want to learn a language and try learning the tagline 'jeden Tag, jede Sekunde triffst du eine Entscheidung, die Dein Leben verändern kann'. It may be possible in every second to make a decision that can change your life, although I keep life changing decisions to a minimum. You may not be able to use this phrase so a better idea may be to listen out for some shorter and simpler phrases. You should be able to hear 'ihre Karte' and 'liebst du mich'. Try to hear 'vergiß es, vergiß es!' and 'ich brauche Shampoo'.

I don't know if you like thrillers but you may enjoy this film and at the very least you will know the words Lola rennt.

Bis bald

Saturday, 21 February 2009

The present tense

Many German verbs follow a regular pattern which is not too difficult to learn. take the verb trinken which means to drink. Take off the en and you are left with the stem trink-. All you have to do is add e, st, t, en, t, and en and you have all the forms of the verb that you need for the present tense.

The pronouns I Ich, you (informal) du, he er, she sie, it es, we wir, you (plural informal) ihr, You (formal) Sie, and they sie, are all you need for all regular and irregular verbs.

ich trinke wir trinken
du trinkst ihr trinkt
er trinkt Sie trinken
sie trinkt sie trinken
es trinkt

Verbs are not difficult but you need to learn them. Learn the nine pronouns and then because of repetition, you only have to learn five different forms of the verb, e.g. he she and it are all the same.

Bis bald

Friday, 20 February 2009

Das Kaninchen

If you are taking an exam in German or any subject for that matter, it pays to read the instructions. Do you answer in German or in English? Which is easier? You would think it is easier if you write in English but if you are doing a listening test you may hear a word in German and then translate it. You may not be sure of the translation, but when you listen in German what you hear is what you get.

You may not have heard of the word before but you may still be able to guess how to write it. You may hear that the listening test is about pets. You may know what 'mein lieblingstier ist...' but you may not know the word Kaninchen. Sometimes it is better to write in German! Usually you hear a question in German, translate it into English and translate your answer back into German. With a lot of practice you may be able to think in German but before you get to that stage there may be occasions when it is better to answer in German.

The more you practice the easier it gets. It is very difficult to guess the translation for das Kaninchen but it is very useful if your favourite pet is a rabbit and it is also useful if you want an example of an animal that is neuter. You could also have das Schwein. Can you find any others?

Bis bald

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Here and there

There really are a lot of perfect cognates in German and English. Say a word in English and there is a good chance that it comes from the German. I have already given quite a few examples, but of course it is a little more difficult than that if you want to speak fluent German.

Take the words for here and there. You can say here and with a slight difference in accent you could be saying the German word hier. It is a little more difficult to say 'there' as you have to learn the word dort or da. Now if you want to say come here you can guess the verb to come - kommen. So the command is kommen Sie but you can't say hier. In this case the German word has to have a sense of movement and you say hierher. So you could say 'kommen Sie hierher' or 'Bringen Sie es hierher'.

If you want to say something is not far from here then you are back to hier. Es ist nicht weit von hier. Das museum ist nicht weit von dort.

Bis bald

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Wie spät ist es?

If you want to tell the time then it is a good start to know your numbers from eins to zwölf, and even better if you know them up to vierundzwanzig. The next step is to know the word for 'o'clock' which just happens to be the same word for 'clock' - die Uhr. Wie viel Uhr ist es? Es ist ein Uhr.

The 24-hour clock is more popular in Germany than it is here but you can use the 12-hour clock. Just be prepared to know those numbers up to 24. You will probably need them anyway and numbers are not difficult. Just get them learnt.

If you want to say 'a quarter to' then say es ist ein Viertel vor, and 'a quarter past' is ein Viertel nach. Half past takes some getting used to because the Germans talk about half to rather than half past. Es ist halb fünf does not mean half past five but half past four.

Bis bald

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Nach und zu

Prepositions can be tricky and it is worth finding examples that you can use so that you remember how to use them.

Nach is a very specific preposition that you use if you are going to a city of a country. Wie komme ich nach Blackpool? The good news is that you don’t have to remember that nach takes the dative because you don’t say to the Blackpool. There are always exceptions and if a country is feminine like die Schweiz then you go in die Schweiz. Nach can also mean after and I will mention it when I look at telling the time when we would say ‘past’.

Zu is generally used if you want to go somewhere that isn’t a country or a city and this time you do need a dative article. You can go zum Bahnhof, zur Kirche or you can go to people zB zu Mutti.

Learn the expressions zu Hause and nach Hause. Nach still means to but this time zu means at. If you want to say to my house you don’t even need the word for house, Just say ‘zu mir’

Bis bald