Bergmann says that his book, about negotiating the minefield of the German language, is aimed at two main groups of people – both of them what you might call the casual linguist.
“Over the years I got quite a few emails, especially from German women, saying ‘my American boyfriend doesn’t want to learn German, he says it’s too hard. I want to show him that it’s really a cool language – so would you translate your book please?’ ”
The other group Bergmann writes for is those expats who are only planning to stay in Germany for a limited time, and want to gain insight into the language without having to put in thousands of hours actually learning the language. As Bergmann puts it, “It’s like sneaking a peek under the bonnet of the language, without having to buy the car.”
The American moved from Chicago to Germany in 1996 to start a new life in the country of his great-great-great-grandparents. After a brief but expensive stint at the University of Göttingen, he now lives in Hamburg, where he pays the bills by working as a chartered accountant.
Along the way, he wrote two books in German – “Der, die, was?” and “Wie, wer, das?” – giving Germans a chance to giggle at an immigrant’s struggles.
As well a series of anecdotes, “Take Me To Your Umlauts!” – the English version of “Der, die, was?” – contains grammar tips on the bewildering plurals, genders and cases that pepper the German language.
“What I often find funny about the German language is that sometimes you find one word that kind of expresses a string of English words,” he says.
“But on the other hand, English can be efficient in its own way. We have a lot of words that have many meanings – like ‘I miss you’ and ‘I miss the train.’ That seems to happen more often in English than in German.”
As for Bergmann’s own most embarrassing moment? “There are so many. But one that stands out – I wanted a furnished apartment, so I was looking for a möbliertes Zimmer, but I ended up asking for a vermöbeltes Zimmer, which means a trashed room.”