Sunday, October 21, 2007

Back to German 101

I speak fairly good German. I passed a test in college in the U.S. that would allow me to study in Germany (ZMP). I converse in German on a regular basis with my team at work. I translate from German into English for the congregation I attend.

So, why is that when I walk into hardware store I am back at level 1, or below? I don't know the German words for things. Then I suddenly forget all of the English words related to the item I would like to discuss with the friendly store attendant. And that means I have no chance in real German (thinking and speaking), or brushed together German (i.e., translating from English into German on the fly). Some recent examples include: screws and washers (Schrauben und Scheiben), herbicides (Unkrautbekämpfungsmittel), names of certain weeds, such as clover (der Klee), or barbecuing terms (lighter fluid, charcoal [Holzkohle], etc). I get stuck at Square one.

Perhaps I simply need a bit more humility. I should accept defeat prior to the battle. I should learn to live with my language handicap, that I am not 100% fluent no matter how much German I've had and learn to do some stinkin prep work before going to the hardware store.


Bek said...

There are always going to be words you don't know in a foreign language, no matter how long and how well you speak the language. I still get stuck too in English when it comes to "special" vocabulary, words you just don't use on a regular basis in normal life. Hardware expressions I barely know in German, so of course I wouldn't know them in a foreign language:)

heather said...

I recently had a similar situation, at the German eye doctor's office, I didn't know any of the specialized "eye vocabulary".

The next time I was at the bookstore I picked up a German/English illustrated dictionary (similar to the Richard Scary kid's dictionary if you remember those, but for adults).

It has 300 some pages of color photos, with English/German names, and most importantly it is indexed and grouped by subject so you can pick up the main words on a topic all in one or two pages, such as hardware, eye care, etc.

Would highly recommend such a thing, to make that prep work that you mention easy. :-)

Gardner said...

thanks for sharing the similar experiences.

@@heather - Those picture dictionaries are helpful, we have a black and white version. I should probably just bring it with me for such events.

@@beck - the sad thing about trying to explain what a clover was that I used the comparison of St. Patrick's Day and the shamrock. Didn't get me anywhere in good old Germany.

March 2007