Tying Up Loose Ends
The ideal way to learn a language would be
through some way of absorbing everything all at once. Particularly
in a highly structured language like German, a linear approach--one thing
at a time--can be frustrating, as everything seems to want to come first.
As we saw in the last lesson, trying to find something interesting to practice
before developing enough vocabulary to use in the real world leads to things
like, well, swine soup.
This lesson will seem a bit disconnected, but will pull together
some bits and pieces that will open up new possibilities for practice
We'll start by coming to an agreement: our pronunciation
lessons are nearly complete. Some language texts, especially phrase books,
don't give the student credit for learning pronunciation at all, and
laboriously spell out everything phonetically from first page to last.
We're smarter than that, so from here on we'll repeat very little of
what has been learned about pronunciation, and really go into only the
few new bits. For the rest, I'm counting on the mp3 audios to help out—and
the three p's. (That's practice, practice, and pra--, you get the idea.)
We need to get serious about some verbs at this point, too. I
am, you are—things like that. That means we need to deal
with more pronouns.
And finish up the numbers.
We've dealt with only one noun case so far, the subjective or nominative.
If we add new verbs, we're going to need some direct objects to go with
them, and that means an objective case.
Sounds like the lessons are going to start getting longer.
Try to learn the numbers cold. If you lack motivation, think of the
one question you'll be asking several times a day once you're off the
bus in Germany:
Wieviel kostet es? How
much costs it? (sidebar
The only way to answer it is with numbers. If you haven't thoroughly
learned the numbers up to 19, review Lektion
Eins. And remember that 17 is siebzehn,
not siebenzehn. The sieben is
cut off in the same way when you get to 70.
|| -ig at
the end of a word
||is pronounced like -ich.
||No spaces! No hyphens!
by ones from 21 to 99
think one-and-twenty, two-and-twenty
||New word alert: und means and.
Pronounced like Hund without the H.
||Pretty logical, this. Remember, the French would say four-twenties-eighteen
so this really isn't so bad!
Second Person Pronouns
Like French, German has two forms of the second-person pronoun, an intimate
version (du) and a formal one (Sie).
Close friends and family—and all children—get
the du version; everyone else is Sie.
There are even words for this practice: (duzen) "to
address one intimately"and (siezen) "to
address one formally."
Switching from Sie to du is
probably analogous to a first kiss, or maybe getting roaring
drunk with someone for the first time, I'm not sure. I don't think it's
really a part of American consciousness. But Germany—and Europe
a different kind of past, a legacy of social stratification and ritual
and posturing that is foreign to us. Our culture has gone all palsy-walsy:
call people by their first names immediately upon meeting them, and we
would probably duzen everybody.
But in Germany, unless you are introduced by a common friend in a casual
setting, you will probably be addressed as Herr or Frau everywhere
you go. Respect this, respond in kind, and don't try to break through
the reserve just because you want to be a chum. Let them do it
So, think du with your American companions
and Sie in
the shops and hotels. Because you'll be mostly speaking with strangers,
we'll concentrate on Sie forms.
Important verbs, to be and to
These are irregular, which just means they're harder than most. It's good
them, but we're going to use them so often that they'll be
second nature soon.
||1. person singular
||2. person singular
||3. person singular
||1. person plural
||2. person plural
||3. person plural
er, sie, es ist
er, sie, es hat
Hast du kalte Händen?
Die Füße, sind sie auch
kalt? Meine Füße sind
nicht kalt, weil meine Schuhe warm
sind. Die Schuhe sind neu. Sie kosten
viel Geld. Vierundsechzig Euros.
Have you cold hands? The feet, are they also cold? My feet are not
cold, because my shoes warm are. The shoes are new. They cost much
money. Sixty-four Euros.
Number confusion. Don't let this happen to you.
True story: I was traveling with my mother up (or down, I forget) the
Rhine, and a Fräulein came around
with my Bier.
I asked her "Wieviel?" She said, "Fünfundfünfzig."
I thought, Five and fifty; hmm ..., that would be five marks and fifty
pfennigs. Verdammt, that's a lot for a
beer! But, well, on a tour boat I guess I should expect to be gouged. (It
would have been $1.10, which was a
lot for a German beer in Germany in 1962.)
I started counting out one-mark coins, and she said, "Nein,
nein. Fünfundfünfzig!" Of course! Five-and-fifty
in German means 55. My beer was just 55 pfennigs, or eleven cents. I
relaxed and enjoyed the buzz, er, the brew.