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

Monday, 16 February 2009

Die Präpositionen

There are so many similarities between German and English but there are some differences, and I am going to pick on die Präpositionen.
One of the differences is that prepositions can take the dative or they can take the accusative and some take both. The dative answers the question where, and indicates position e.g. in der Schule means in school. If you want to use in to mean into or to then the article that follows in is accusative. Wie komme ich in die Innenstadt means how do I get to the centre of the city? So Er geht in die Küche means he goes into the kitchen. Er ist in der Küche means that he is already there and answers the question where.

Bis bald

Sunday, 15 February 2009

More talk about school

The problem with writing a blog is that you will read my subsequent thoughts after the initial blog, so you might want to read yesterday's blog first!

Once you have learnt your school subjects and said what you are good at and what you are bad at, then you can answer the question welches Fach gefällt dir am besten? The answer could be mein Lieblingsfach ist Mathematik or any of the other subjects.

If you are asked to describe the schoool uniform then the question could be beschreibe mir deine Schuluniform or magst du deine Schuluniform? Then you need your uniform vocabulary and throw in some adjectives.After that re-use those opinion words and you are talking like a German.

Bis bald

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Welche Fächer studierst du?

There are so many perfect cognates, words that are exactly the same in English and in German. You don't need a dictionary for der Wind ist warm or die Bank ist modern. With school subjects you know der Sport and you will recognise the near cognates die Chemie, die Physik, die Biologie, und die Mathematik.

Even when the word is exactly the same, you still have to learn the pronunciaton. If you say the word 'geography' you will hear a lot of different accents from within the United Kingdom. If you go to Germany you will have to learn the German pronunciation. You will have to learn some school lessons like die Erdkunde which is geography and history is die Geschichte, but you should be able to guess that die Informationstechnik is IT.

If you want to say I am good at... you say ich bin gut in... You can always say nicht gut for the negative version but you have the choice of saying ich bin schlecht in... so now you can answer the question welche Fächer studierst Du?

Bis bald

Friday, 13 February 2009

Das Boot

Das Boot is not a German boot but the German for 'the boat'. If you watch the 1981 film called Das Boot you may be disappointed if you are a fan of boats because it is about a submarine - das Unterseeboot oder das U-Boot. It is a film that looks at the boredom and the horrors of war and it is unusual to look at World War II from the German side.

There are some heroics and a lot of intentional boredom in the film but it is worth watching. It has a strong anti-war theme and it tells us about human nature. Purely from a technical point of view it is worth knowing that it took two years to film and actors grew natural beards to fit in with the plot. It was also extremely expensive to film, partly because of the duration of the filming, and partly because of the technical difficulties involved with submarines. they did film different versions and there is even a version in English as all the main actors speak English!

By the way, if you want to say the boots then you say die Stiefel.

Bis bald

Monday, 9 February 2009

Word order 2

When you have a few things going on in a sentence there is a strict word order. We have seen that whenever you have a modal verb the second verb is always in the infinitive and always at the end of the sentence.

All the expressions in a sentence can be divided into expressions of time manner or place and all these expressions must come in that order within the sentence. This happens when it is a simple sentence like ‘Herr Gradwell kommt jeden Abend müde nach Hause’. The time is the evening, and he comes home in a tired manner to a place called home.

It is the same word order even if someone else thinks about what is happening – Seine Frau denkt , dass er jeden Abend müde nach Hause kommt. In sentences with modal verbs there is still the same word order in German. Er muss am Donnerstag mit dem Bus nach Lancaster fahren. When you are translating into German, don’t forget to check the order by remembering the words 'time, manner, place'. Thursday is the time, by bus is the manner and Lancaster is the place.

Make up your own sentences and think about the word order. It doesn’t have to have a modal verb in the sentence or a subordinate clause. This order works for every sentence.

Bis bald

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Delilah again

After writing out the lyrics for the Plain White Ts song I thought that there may be an older generation just waiting to learn German by singing Tom Jones' Delilah. So here it is.

Ich sah das Licht in der Nacht, das ich an ihren Fenster führte,
Ich sah die flackernden Schatten der Liebe auf ihren Blinden
Sie war meine Frau
Während sie mich betrog, passte ich auf und ich war wahnsinnig

Meine meine, meine, Delilah
Warum, warum, warum, Delilah
Ich könnte sehen, dass das Mädchen nicht gut für mich war
Aber ich war wie ein Sklave verloren,
den kein Mann freigeben könnte

Bis bald

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Hey there Delilah

I like the idea of learning a language by singing. You are allowed to sing to yourself but don't start talking to yourself as it is seen as strange. So here is the first verse and chorus of Hey There Delilah by the Plain White Ts. All you have to do now is sing.

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
Es ist meine Maske
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

Bis bald

Separable or inseparable?

There are many examples of verbs in German that are made by joining two words together. In some cases you may see the connection. For example fragen is to ask and befragen is to question. In other cases there it gives an opposite meaning to the verb. Kaufen is to buy but verkaufen is to sell. Sometimes these verbs separate and sometimes they don't. However there are some general rules.

If the verb starts with a preposition like ab- auf- mit- nach and lots of others, then it is usually a separable verb, but the prefix of separable verbs is always stressed. If you take the verb wiederholen and stress the wieder it is separable and means to fetch again. If you put the stress on the holen then it is not separable and it means to repeat. As usual, the best way to learn a language is to use it. You know if the verb is separable when you hear the stress, or you know when it is separable if it is separated in an example, zB Der Film fing um 19.15 Uhr an.

Bis bald

Friday, 6 February 2009

Modal verbs and word order

I like modal verbs. They are the verbs that tell you something about the verb that follows it. This may be whether things have to be done or might be done or can be done. They are good in German because they are always followed by the infinitve, which you will find at the end of the sentence, so here an example of the verb at the end is.

Do you remember any teachers who answered the question 'can I see it' with 'you mean may I see it'? It sounds strange because everyone communicates really well in English when they say 'can I..?' Now in German it is important to get it right, because if you say 'kann ich schwimmen?' you are asking someone eles if you are able to swim. How do they know? You have to say 'darf ich schwimmen' if you want to ask permission. So learning a foreign language makes English so much more easy to understand, and don't think badly of the teacher who corrected you because 'may' is what you should have said.

Kann ich ein Bier haben? Quite possibly if you are an adult but you will not get one unless you say 'darf ich ein Bier haben?' or you could simply ask for 'ein Bier bitte'.

Bis bald

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Vocabulary is important

Was machst du gern in deiner Freizeit? This is a common question for an exam and a common subject for a conversation. Translation is quite difficult unless you know your vocabulary so a good start is to identify your interests and learn the words that relate to them. I know that there are perfect cognates. Just put on a German accent and they will understand you. However the chances that you can put a sentence together that relate to your hobby are nicht gut.

You can use sentences like Ich interessiere mich für Fußball / Musik / Fotographie / Sport. Pick your word and then follow it with Ich habe am Samstag Fußball gespielt, Ich spiele Gitarre von Zeit zu Zeit, Ich fotografiere am Wochenende, oder Ich spiele Badminton am Donnerstag.
You may win some matches and you may lose some but if you know wir haben eins zu null gewonnen, and you haven't won, you can always lie or say wir haben nicht gewonnen.

Bis bald

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Word order

There are quite a few ways in which word order changes in German. You don't say 'go along the street' but gehen Sie die Straße entlang. There are lots of words that you can guess in German. As we have seen, there are lots of perfect or near cognates. So we have to have something that makes German a bit more difficult to learn. However it is a very logical language. Pronunciation doesn’t change from word to word like it does in English, and once you are used to the word order differences there are consistent rules.

Take for example the modal verbs. They are really useful verbs like ‘to be able’ and ‘to have to’. These verbs are always followed by an infinitive and they send this ‘dependent’ infinitive to the end of the sentence. Die Mörders können gut singen, or ich muß nach Hause gehen.

Bis bald

Tuesday, 3 February 2009


I once met someone who was a long-distance lorry driver. Every time that he was held up in a traffic jam he would pick up his classical guitar and practice. Er spielte klassische Gitarre sehr gut. It really doesn't matter what you are doing but try to practice a little and often.

So today is the day to learn a little about the imperative. How do you give commands? Just as there are three ways you can say 'you', there are three ways that you can say the imperative. If you are talking to someone you know and are using the du form of the verb then generally you leave off the -en from the end of the infinitive. Komm her, oder Beeil dich. It is even easier if you are using the Sie form - Kommen Sie her, or Beeilen Sie sich.

You can say 'please' anywhere in the sentence so Beeilen Sie sich bitte sounds so much better. You can also make it a gentler command with the word doch, which gives it a sense of 'why don't you...'. Trink doch Milch.

The ihr form of the verb is used familiarly for more than one person. You just leave out the ihr. So if you want to say 'go', you can say geh, geht or gehen Sie depending on the situation. Similarly 'be good' could be sei gut, seid gut or Seien Sie gut. Ok sein is irregular - you just have to learn it, but the best way of learning it is with an example like 'be good'.

Bis bald

Monday, 2 February 2009

Sind wir Menschen oder sind wir Tänzer?

My daughter was singing a song by die Killer. Alright you don't translate titles and it may be highly unlikely that you would ever need to know the German word for 'killers', but now you know. I think that the best way to learn a language is by using it in practical situations, so wouldn't it be prima if you sang their chorus or even just the first line in German?

Sind wir Menschen oder sind wir Tänzer?
Es gibt Lebenzeichen,
aber meine Hände sind kalt
Ich bin am Boden
und suche nach der Antwort
Sind wir Menschen oder sind wir Tänzer?

Bis bald

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Neuter nouns

Is the German word for a car masculine feminine or neuter? Some people refer to their car as a she, but you might guess with this title that it is neuter. It is neuter if you call the car das Auto, but it could also be a masculine der Wagen. I am afraid that you just have to learn every word, but what better way to learn a word than to keep up with a blog?

There are some very general rules for neuter words. Most countries are neuter. Das moderne England, or das historische Deutschland. However without an adjective you just say England oder Deutschland.

There are always exceptions. Three examples are die Schweiz, der Iran and der Irak. See if you can find any others, but the best way to learn is to use the names of countries where you have relatives or where you have been on holiday. Put them in a sentence that is relevant to you and you should be able to use it in the future.

Bis bald