Wie ein Krimi
September 22, 2012
In preparation for my German exam, I participated in a week long intensive course last week. The experience was quite enjoyable: students from all around the world, all seeking to pass this German test, were exposed to the lively lectures of Frau Angelika. Here are a few of her many quotable statements:
“Der deutsche Satz ist ein Krimi, ein Drama.” My translation: The German sentence is a “whodunnit” mystery novel.
“Ich liebe den Dativ. Er ist so warm und großzügig und nett.” My Translation: I looove the dative case. It is so warm and generous and kind. The teacher then implored us not to spoil such beauty by adding a preposition to the dative when it is not necessary.
I found one other comment from the teacher particulary interesting. She was explaining the absolute necessity of mastering the German grammer. Without such a mastery, she argued, one cannot speak the German language, since proper communication in German only occurs with proper sentence structure, verb conjugation, and case usage. She then argued that this is not so for every language. For example, she argued that English is much easier to speak since one can do so without a detailed knowledge of the grammer. This really got me thinking. Can different lanugages all be taught using the same manner? I would argue NO. Let me use the Rosetta stone program as an example. This program basically teaches phrases and words without any grammer. The language learner is left to intiuitively figure out the grammatical rules. I would argue that this simply does not work with some languages, since for some languages, like German, one must understand grammar from the beginning. One might even dare say that German is not intuitive. So, for example, how will anyone be able to figure out the difference between der Mann, der Männer, der Blüme, der Blümen?
Common sense, intuitive learning simply does not work with the German language. Consider, for example, a quote from Mark Twain:
Personal pronouns and adjectives are a fruitful nuisance in this language, and should have been left out. For instance, the same sound, sie, means you, and it means she, and it means her, and it means it, and it means they, and it means them. Think of the ragged poverty of a language which has to make one word do the work of six — and a poor little weak thing of only three letters at that. But mainly, think of the exasperation of never knowing which of these meanings the speaker is trying to convey. This explains why, whenever a person says sieto me, I generally try to kill him, if a stranger.
Now observe the Adjective. Here was a case where simplicity would have been an advantage; therefore, for no other reason, the inventor of this language complicated it all he could… When a German gets his hands on an adjective, he declines it, and keeps on declining it until the common sense is all declined out of it… Difficult? — troublesome? — these words cannot describe it. I heard a Californian student in Heidelberg say, in one of his calmest moods, that he would rather decline two drinks than one German adjective.
All this to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my prep course last week. Let’s hope it paid off for my test. And finally, as daunting as it may seem, it is so important when learning a new language to master grammar early on, especially when you are dealing with German.