Friday, October 14, 2011

learning German

Unfortunately, I have not had as much time or money to commit to studying German intensively as I would have liked. 
When I first moved to Budapest about a decade ago, I had the luxury of living with family while I studied the language intensively for 9 mos.  Having such a strong foundation gave me the confidence and assurance during daily interactions in Hungarian.  That being said, Hungary was also a country where one wasn't guaranteed to find an English speaker. 

The same cannot be said of Vienna.  Here, we have been able to transact much of our business in English.  Most interactions with "the natives" go like this:

Native:  Grüs Gott
me:  Grüs Gott, ich bin ausländer.  ich spreche ein bisschon Deutsch, ich spreche Englisch. 

Translation:  Greetings.
Greetings.  I am a foreigner, I speak a little German, I speak English.

At this point in the conversation, if the "native" speaks English, they usually switch over.  Sometimes I ask outright, "Sprechen Sie Englisch?" (do you speak English?)
The most common answer has been "a little" followed by some of the most fluent, comprehensible English imaginable. 
In a way, it's sort of a shame.  In Hungary, I was really forced to master the language to a certain level because most people did not speak English.  Here, most people can speak English well enough to make my limited German look laughable.  Therefore, I have this crutch to avoid German if I so desire. 

That being said, I have been able to pick up some German.  There are a lot of cognates between English and German.  Cognates are similar words between languages.  In many cases, only pronunciation differs. 
Some examples of English-German cognates:

English> German
Mouth> Mund
cold> kalt
warm> warm
House> Haus
Car/Automobile> Auto
Taxi> Taxi

For a more comprehensive list, visit here

Last weekend, while visiting relatives in Budapest, I tried to convey this to my aunt.  She always tells me she speaks a little English; however, she is quite fluent in German.  I tried to convince her when she doesn't know the English word, to use the German.  Hopefully she'll find this a useful strategy!

I have also found it interesting how idiomatic expressions are similar.  For example, in English we say, "give them an inch, they take a foot."  In German they say, "give them the pinky (finger), they take the whole hand." 

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