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How to overcome five of the biggest stumbling blocks when learning German

How to overcome five of the biggest stumbling blocks when learning German
Source: Depositphotos/gustavofrazao
The German saying “Deutsche Sprache, schwerer Sprache” is an acknowledgement that German is a difficult language to learn for foreigners. But as Sarah Magill found, it doesn't mean it's impossible to master.

Here's some tips for navigating the German language.

1. The devilish der, die, das

Most languages attribute gender to their nouns (English of course being one of several exceptions) and the German language has three, which in their nominative form are “der”, “die” and “das”. It would be hard enough to learn whether a word should be “der”, “die” or “das”, if these pesky articles didn’t also change their form depending on how the word is used.

Overcoming this hurdle

Firstly, there are a few general rules which can help to recognize the gender of a particular word:

  • Feminine nouns can often be recognized by the endings: -ung, – keit, -heit, -ion, -schaft, -ik, -tät
  • Nouns for the days, months and seasons are all masculine. Masculine word endings include -ling, -ig and -ich
  •  Neuter words are often recognizable from these endings: -lein, -chen, -um, -ment as well as from nouns made from the infinitive (e.g. das Leben, das Essen).

Secondly, Using a grammar table:

 

Masculine Singular

Feminine Singular

Neutral Singular

Plural

Nominative

der

die

das

die

Accusative

den

die

das

die

Dative

dem

der

dem

den

Genitive

des

der

das

der

Having the der, die, das table printed out and stuck next to your computer has, in my experience, been an enormous help.

READ ALSO: Love Island: The unlikely tool that helped me learn German

Source: Depositphotos/megdypro4im

2. Mich, mir, dich, dir?

Ich freue mich auf das Wochenende! I am looking forward to the weekend!

Das kann ich mir nicht vorstellen! I can't imagine that!

Another significant difficulty with the German language is how often reflexive clauses or verbs (which describe an action being done to oneself) are used. In order to form these you have to choose between the accusative or the dative form of the personal pronoun, which are as follows:

 

ich

du

er/sie/es

wir

ihr

sie

Accusative

mich

dich

sich

uns

euch

sich

Dative

dir

mir

sich

uns

euch

sich

Luckily, it is only for “ich” and “dich” that the words change, which at least narrows the potential margin of visible or audible errors.

Overcoming this hurdle

There is no getting away from it, you just have to try to learn the verbs and prepositions which use mich/dich or mir/dir. But don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Although I hate to admit it, I still occasionally mix up these cases, but the important thing is that people do understand what you're saying. However, I still encourage my native German friends to correct me.

3. Pronunciation

Regardless of nationality, or of the language being learned, getting the pronunciation right in a foreign language is tough. As we grow up speaking in our mother tongue, we develop oral movements which can be very hard to adapt to make sounds which don’t exist in our own language. 

Some of the uniquely German sounds which can be the most difficult to master are those created by the addition of an umlaut and one of the biggest giveaways of an English-native speaker is their pronunciation of the “r” sound in German, which is made in the back of the throat or by a vigorous rolling of the “r”. 

Overcoming the Hurdle

Practise. The only way to improve your pronunciation is to try, try and try again. A German friend of mine helped me to my improve my pronunciation of the “ü”, “ö” and “r” sounds by devising a little “Zungenbrecher” (tongue twister) for me to repeat. It goes like this: 

“Ich fürchte ich möchte mehr Früchte zum Frühstück”

Try it out!

Source: Depositphotos/belchonock

4. Word order

Mark Twain once said:  “Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth.” 

This particular critique refers to the special German word order rules, which can often be very confusing for foreigners. 

There are many conjunctions (such as obwohl, dass, da) which send all of the verbs to the end of a clause. There are also a multitude of separable verbs, where the preposition part of the word also often ends up at the end of the sentence.

READ MORE: 10 ways of speaking German you'll only ever pick up on the street

Overcoming this hurdle

Again, learning the rules and the words which send the verb to the end of a sentence is an unavoidable first step. But the more you speak or listen to German conversation, you will become accustomed to the rhythm of the language and applying these rules will eventually start to come naturally.

5. Being Persistent

As an English native speaker living in Berlin the biggest barrier to learning German which I have faced has not been the language itself, but having the confidence to try to speak it in a city where most people speak good English. This can be true as well for many non-native English speakers learning to speak German but who nonetheless fall back on English as the easier means of communication. 

Overcoming this hurdle

Put yourself in a position where you have to speak German. Go to parts of the city where English is not commonly spoken. Spend time with children. Most of all, remain determined. Even if the person you are speaking to answers in English, stay firm and keep speaking in German.


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