Berlin district offers foreigners a lifeline by translating online info into ‘easy German’

Foreigners - and some Germans themselves - in Berlin can now take a sigh of relief. The district office of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg is offering the possibility to read about several of its services in simple German.

Berlin district offers foreigners a lifeline by translating online info into ‘easy German’
Reading bureaucratic German can be a cause for stress for some. Credit: depositphotos/stokkete

Those seeking to learn about family and children, health, social and general residential services can now click on a button for “Webseite in Leichte Sprache” (Website in Easy Language), according to the district's press spokeswoman Sara Lühmann in a statement on the website on Friday.

As The Local perused the website on Tuesday morning, it found that the main pages for the various administrative offices were in Easy German. But if people want to dig a little deeper, for instance by reading important information about registering an address, they still have to wade through normal bureaucratic Deustch.

In the press statement, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, which is home to many foreigners, said that it intends to translate further parts of the website into easy German. 

A Centre for Easy Language helped to translate parts of the website from its previous bureaucratic German in order to accommodate “people who have (at the moment) difficulties with the German language or people who are functionally illiterate,” Lühmann wrote.

“We value that people with learning disabilities can now easily orient themselves,” said district mayor Monika Herrmann, pointing out that the website also now offers an easy A-Z list and a dictionary for the vocabulary it uses.

In the social services section, for example, the text states: “Manche Menschen verdienen kein Geld. Zum Leben braucht man aber Geld.“

The translation of the simple German sentences would be, “Some people earn no money, but you need money to live.”

The Centre for Easy Language has helped translate several German texts for “people with a migration background or learning disabilities,” it states on its website. They include a book on German constitutional rights, a guide to famous German musicians, and several services in Augsburg, where the center is based.

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Kätzchen and Büchlein: How to make German words smaller

German grammar is notoriously difficult. But the diminutive form – used to express a smaller version of the noun - is surprisingly straightforward.

Kätzchen and Büchlein: How to make German words smaller

Diminutives are forms of words that are used to express a smaller, younger or even cuter version of a noun. They are used a lot in German, so it’s definitely worth getting to know how they work.

In English, words often become diminutive by adding the suffix -let (e.g. drop becomes droplet, book becomes booklet). In German, the diminutive form (also called die Verkleinerungsform) is made by adding either -chen or -lein to the end of the word:

das Tier → das Tierchen

the animal → the little animal

der Stern → das Sternchen

the star → the little star

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to pick the right German language school for you

Nouns with a, o, and u change their vowel to ä, ö, and ü. The e at the end of the word is usually dropped.

die Katze → das Kätzchen

the cat → the kitten

die Torte → das Törtchen

the cake → the little cake

die Blume → das Blümchen

the flower → the little flower

A selection of little Törtchen on a table.

A selection of little Törtchen on a table. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Catherine Waibel

The diminutive with -lein is used for words ending in -ch:

der Tisch → das Tischlein

the table →  the little table

das Buch → das Büchlein

the book → the little book

As you might have noticed, regardless of which gender the main noun is, the diminutive form is always neuter. See – told you it was simple!

Can you make any word a diminutive?

Pretty much. You can add the ending to any noun in German that is not itself a diminutive, e.g. Häschen (bunny) and Eichhörnchen (squirrel).

Common diminutives

There are many common German words that are diminutive, some of which you have probably been using without even realising it.

das Brötchen for example is the diminutive version of das Brot and means little bread.

das Mädchen, meaning girl, is actually a diminutive of the antiquated word die Magd meaning maid.

And lastly: Hallöchen! is a cute way to say hello there!