Wednesday, April 16, 2014

6 Ways Speaking German Has Messed With My English

One thing that is fascinating about crossing cultures is the mixing that happens. This whole process involves taking on a 2nd filter through which we view the world and there are plenty of times where it is easy to get confused...

1. Sentences: German sentences can keep going and going, and it really isn't that big of a deal how long the sentence is, as long as the thought remains the same. This is very freeing, actually. So even though English sentences need to be shorter and get to the point, I find myself constantly needing to go back and cut down my last sentence when I am writing in English. My German long-sentence-tendencies are crossing over.

2. Things that Aren't Really "Things": Certain events, objects or experiences we have here can be translated, but they just don't carry the same sort of emotional connection. The biggest example of this is Strassenbahn (street car / tram). Both translations don't really capture the essence of the object in my mind. Street cars are only in San Francisco and trams are usually at the airport between terminals. What we have here is different and the German word fits it the best. So we usually just use the German word for it, even when we speak English. It makes for some mixed sentences.

3. Word Order / Words : This one is tricky because it is so subtle. German sentences like to have the time before the place in a sentence. So every now and then a sentence like, "I went yesterday to the store"or "I need at four o'clock to call my mom" comes out of your mouth.

4. Forgetting Both Languages: My favorite moment is when I am talking about something and I can't think of the word in German, so I try to think of the word in English and I can't remember that either.

5. Figures of Speech: I have learned that I like to use figures of speech or metaphors a lot in my speaking and writing. This is great until you translate a figure of speech literally into German and your friend looks at you oddly. The other side of it is now I try to go the other direction and talk about a "donkey's bridge" in English and non-German speakers look at me oddly, as well.

6. When the German word IS the English word: today I was reading an article in German about reintroducing the "Wisent" into a certain part of Germany. So I looked up the English translation... which is wisent. That is the name of the "European buffalo." This also goes back to number 2 above.

I know there are way more than six here. Perhaps at the end of the day I am wrong and German hasn't "messed up" my English. I do think that it has made my life richer to learn another language. Sometimes when I am in a group speaking German it just hits me out of the blue - I am speaking and understanding another language! This truly is a blessing from God.

Share your stories of how speaking a second language below, we can't wait to hear them!