Einleitung / Introduction

A Few Things about Learning a Language
(Personal Rant—you can skip this bit if you want to.)

When we watch children grow and acquire language skills, we're amazed at the rapid progress they make with such ease, and we're misled into the sense that picking up a new language should be a snap. I remember a day spent in a train compartment in Germany with my mother and a young woman traveling with her five-year-old son. We were able to converse with her in English, but at the end of the trip, my mother and I could hardly keep from exclaiming about the boy, "He speaks German so well!"

There's no denying kids have several advantages, five of which are huge:

For adults, learning any language is a heady challenge. Most of these factors that help the kids out don't work for us. For instance, we can't really do much about physiology. Although recent discoveries show that new synapses form in the brain a lot more readily than we used to think was possible, nothing will make our neurons like those of a 3-year-old ever again. Or even a 14-yr-old. (So, maybe we should count our blessings?)

As for motivation, we can manufacture a certain amount of that. Still, it's not going to be on the level of the infant communicating "stomach empty, diaper full." (Come to think of it, a hot, famished tourist trying to get a cold beer or a veggie pizza—maybe it's not so different after all.)

To get immersed in a language, we have to try a lot harder than the American toddler —or anyone—trying to learn English. English is here, German, French, and Arabic are over there. So we have to look hard for opportunities to read, write, hear, speak. But they can be found.

On number four, individualized instruction, short of hiring a tutor, we pretty much have to concede defeat.

Practice: Well ... that says it all. This is the only thing that's completely under our control and can make up for the lacks in all the other areas.

Neuschwanstein CastleA Few things about German

The Good News:

The Bad N—, uh, the challenges:

*Companies which provide legal protection

Here's more of Mark Twain's take on the length of German words.

(from The Awful German Language, is an 1880 essay by Mark Twain, published as Appendix D in A Tramp Abroad)

     We used to have a good deal of this sort of crime in our literature, but it has gone out now.
     We used to speak of a things as a "never-to-be-forgotten" circumstance, instead of cramping it into the simple and sufficient word "memorable" and then going calmly about our business as if nothing had happened. In those days we were not content to embalm the thing and bury it decently, we wanted to build a monument over it.
     [The] little instances [of this that can be found in American newspapers] are trifles indeed, contrasted with the ponderous and dismal German system of piling jumbled compounds together. I wish to submit the following local item, from a Mannheim journal, by way of illustration:

In the daybeforeyesterdayshortlyaftereleveno'clock Night, the inthistownstandingtavern called `The Wagoner' was downburnt. When the fire to the onthedownburninghouseresting Stork's Nest reached, flew the parent Storks away. But when the bytheragingfiresurrounded Nest itself caught Fire, straightway plunged the quickreturning Mother-stork into the Flames and died, her Wings over her young ones outspread." Even the cumbersome German construction is not able to take the pathos out of that picture — indeed, it somehow seems to strengthen it. This item is dated away back yonder months ago. I could have used it sooner, but I was waiting to hear from the Father-stork. I am still waiting.

[To read all of Twain's amusing rant, seek out Appendix D. For more of his hilarious comments in other works, go here.]

Please add your comments about this lesson, this page, the Web site, or anything at all you'd like to say (preferably in German!) to me or the rest of the Phamily who stop by here.