Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Guten Tag !

One of the most often asked questions from people who want study or work in Germany - ‘Is learning German important’? YES, YES and YES. Right from mundane tasks like shopping for groceries to essential ones like making friends, knowing German will take you a long way not just in your social life but also in your career. To me, it’s a simple rule of thumb, if you are going to live in a place, you might as well learn its language.

Some other facts (read incentives) to do so:
- It is the most widely spoken language in the EU (French comes next)
- It is the second most widely published language after English and this is not trivial because the numbers of non-native speakers of English outnumber German by a huge factor. This goes to show that the language and hence the literature has evolved almost at par with technology and other changes.

The very next question is what level of German should one complete before coming to Germany. Since its always easy to learn German in Germany than elsewhere, I would suggest just knowing the basics before getting here (unless your university/company demands otherwise). But once you get here, you must make a conscious effort to learn the language as soon as you can.

Here are some simple pointers:

1. Stop complaining: This is the first and foremost rule. Because the moment you start complaining, you develop a mental block for learning the language. Many people start with ‘why shouldn’t they speak English?’ and my question to them is ‘Why should they? Do they have to let the language die like we did in India where most people can’t even write in their own mother tongues’? Even in India, if someone moves to Delhi for his/her job, he/she will be expected to learn Hindi soon. It is a simple rule of communication – having a common language that most people are comfortable with. If you are the odd one out, isn’t it your problem and isn’t it unfair to expect everyone else to change?

2. If you are a student, make the most of it: Firstly, attend language classes offered by the university. Make friends (and not just desi friends) with whom you can converse in German. As a student, you can afford to make embarrassing mistakes with the language when communicating with fellow students and this luxury is not available to you elsewhere.

3. Learn Grammar: Yes, it’s not my favorite but it happens to be essential to develop competency in the language that extends beyond speaking colloquially. I have met a lot of non-native speakers (who have restaurants and other businesses) and they speak fluent German but most of them have trouble reading and only a handful can write a couple of sentences without any mistakes. This is because they never really learnt the language formally with all the essential rules of Grammar. For example, if you learn a new noun, always learn it with its article and for a verb, make sure you know the past and present perfect tenses.

4. Speak: Always speak in German. It doesn’t matter if it’s grammatically or phonetically correct; the only way to learn it is to use it in daily life. Do not be shy about making mistakes. Germans are usually very patient with anyone who attempts to learn the language. They will wait for you to complete the sentence, will try to understand what you convey and if you tell them explicitly to do so, they will even help correct your mistakes. Everyone will understand what you mean even if you use the wrong article Das Tisch (table) instead of Der Tisch.
5. Learn the language in your own style: Think of some fun ways to learn the language, that you are comfortable with. For example, as a kid I loved Mickey and Donald comics (still do) and I used to read it in German. Since I knew what Donald says in English (at least most of the time), it was easy for me to figure out what the German sentence meant. It really helped me learn simple sentence formations and other words used in daily life. Plus I also learnt that the German version has an additional character Dagobert Duck, Donald’s uncle :D !

Other ways can be watching movies in German that you have already seen in English. Watching James Bond say ‘Geschüttelt nicht gerührt’ (Shaken, not stirred) can be fun too ! Listening to the radio, watching TV, doing simple crosswords or other word games – there are lotsa ways, what is needed is just the will !

Picture(s) copyright: 1.Geothe Institute, 2.www.phantomias.de
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