Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Deutsch vs Francais

Remember that post last week where I commented it was spring? Yeah, I was wrong.

And we've had steady (though not heavy) snow all day, so there's another good inch by now.
The above picture is the view outside our window this morning. Apparently, I am a not a groundhog (how did Punksataw Punxsutawney - yep, had to google that spelling - Phil do this year, by the way? Did he successfully predict the half-dozen spring snowstorms on the east coast?).

Meanwhile, I am still attending daily German classes - I'm currently just over halfway through my second month. Unfortunately, any German I retain appears to come at the cost of my poor long-disused French skills. When I first started class, I would think "Ah! I totally know how to say this in French, why can't people here just speak another of this country's official languages? Then I could totally communicate." Now, however, my thought process is more akin to "Oh, in French that's...wait, why can't I remember how to say this? Did I ever even know it? Is this word French or German? What's happening to me?!" It's as if my brain only has room for one foreign language, and it's performing a slow, steady 1:1 replacement of French with German.

Unfortunately, some French words insist on sticking around, particularly prepositions and conjunctions. So I often pepper my stuttered German sentences with mais ["but"], ou ["or"], or sans ["without" - not helped by the fact that this is also used in English]. Some German prepositions make sense but most rarely line up with the ones we use in English (I hang out with my friends, but German uses bei, - however, I go to class by tram, while in German I go mit the tram). To make it more confusing, the French prepositions often paralleled English, so it was never a part of speech that caused particular problems for me previously. And, of course, I am not even starting on the dativ or akkusativ articles for nouns in a prepositional phrase. That's a whole other post (or just several long, inconclusive rants).

As far as I can tell in German, prepositions are idiomatic usage - thus straight memorization. At the beginning, I tried to draw parallels ("Hmm, so bei is by, um is at, and am is in." Yeah, wrong. One of my favorites - auf is "on"). I've since abandoned that approach.

The Australian girl in class (the only other native English speaker than myself) went to Paris this past weekend and missed class on Monday. The teacher inquired as to where she was, and I replied with a garbled "Elle - sie - ist in Paris avec - mit - ....ihr Freund." I then gave an even more incomprehensible attempt in German - my goal sentence was "She went to France" (we learned the past tense this week). I did not succeed in saying that, although I did manage to remember the German name for France (Frankreich, in case you need to know). I think I said something akin to "You go towards France went [incorrect past participle]." Does he really expect me to be able to discuss France or French topics in German? My poor brain is melting. In related news, I've abandoned the Swiss habit of saying Merci as a way of thanking people and just insist on using Danke. If I'm going to go German, I'm committing, dammit.

As for functionality in German, it's been a mixed bag over the past few weeks.

I successfully understood when a cashier asked me if I wanted a bag (Ja, bitte), but later that same day failed to comprehend when another cashier asked me if I wanted my receipt for a croissant purchase (unrelated tangent: what on earth is the difference between a "croissant francais" and a "gipfeli"? They appear the exact same, but have different prices). I answered Nein, despite failing to understand (interactions are still at least 60% guesswork for me), since I figured I had everything I needed, so whatever she was offering, I could safely decline. This led to an awkward moment where I held out my hand for the change and kept hovering it there as she ripped off the receipt and...turned to put it in the trash. Light bulb moment for me, as I realized what I had just refused, but awkward, as she turned around to see my outstretched hand waiting for the item that five seconds previously I had refused. Oops. Hard to make it look smooth, so I left.


  1. Totally sympathise - I'm a Brit who lived in the French speaking part of CH for 16 years before moving to the German speaking part. My Swiss German teacher regularly has hysterics as I increasingly mangle three languages into one sentence. On the bright side, I do remember going through a similar phase when learning French and being incredibly frustrated not to be able to speak EITHER language properly (English or French) and then finding that at some point, my brain sorted it all out and I was able to speak both languages reasonably. It's much more fun now I have three languages to work with. Hopefully your brain has sorted out things and you are getting better with the German. Love the yarn/crafts part of your blog. Nice to know that I'm not the only one :-)

    1. Thanks so much for your comment! For our recent trip to the US, we left out of the Basel/Mulhouse airport, and even that brief exposure to French was enough to rattle my poorly-constructed German cage. My German is a bit less peppered with French, but it's still not really a language on its own...yet.

      And I'm about three posts behind on various craft project postings, so hopefully I'll have more in the future! If I ever want to buy more yarn (which of course I do), I need to work on reducing my stash.