Feb 192011

 Some Thoughts on Language

Obviously, when moving to Germany, one of the most immediate differences we will experience (other than warm sodas and cold air) is that Germans speak German.  And, well, we do not…  Yet.

David actually has 3 years of High School German class under his belt, so for him it is a matter of refreshing, refining and expanding on his skills.  My high school experience was with French (Merci Madame Tanny!).  And, while my parents might have thrown about an occasional phrase from their time in Germany (my dad was stationed there for 1.5 years back in the 60’s), those were mostly just an amusing inside-joke between them.  Thus, for the rest of us, this German thing will be a whole new ball of wax!

West Germanic languages
  Dutch (Low Franconian, West Germanic)
  Low German (West Germanic)
  Central German (High German, West Germanic)
  Upper German (High German, West Germanic)
  English (Anglo-Frisian, West Germanic)
  Frisian (Anglo-Frisian, West Germanic)
North Germanic languages
  East Scandinavian
  West Scandinavian
  Line dividing the North and West Germanic languages

 Check My Math

So, here is my thinking. English is basically just a combination of French and German.  Back in the day, the French speaking Normans conquered the Germanic Anglo-Frisians, combining the two core languages into the linguistic mess that we call English.

As there is no point denying that I am a complete geek at this stage, let us take a look at this algebraically:

 German + French  = English

So, let us isolate German on one side of the equation by subtracting a French from both sides.

German + French – French = English – French
German = English – French

Therefore, since I already speak French and English, it ought to be, by algebraic extrapolation, obvious that I already speak German!  If I can just extract the Germanic roots from my English memory, I should be home free.  Right?  Right?  Come on guys, let’s hear some love!  Er… yeah.  Even my math-loving husband wasn’t convinced with that one.

Wer = Who and Wo = Where… Was?

Actually, this idea hasn’t proven as far fetched as I might have originally thought.  We bought an “Instant German Immersion” computer program, a German phrase book, a German/English Dictionary and a German/English Picture Dictionary (great for ID’ing vegetables!) to help along our journey toward communication fluency.  One thing that these products have confirmed is that there is a lot of overlap between German and English vocabulary.  So much so, in fact, that it sometimes creates a complication all its own because we can’t remember if we are speaking English with a silly German accent or if we are actually remembering the correct words and speaking German!  Now add in my French (which has also influenced its neighbor, it would seem) and I occasionally get *very* confused.  I have this persistently perverse fear that once I learn German it will replace all the English in my mind and I will be left helpless when I try to do my work or return to the States.  Oh no, the German is invading my mind!!!

On the other hand….

Several people have told us not to worry too much about the language situation.  One grocery clerk was adamant.  “You can make do with English” we were told, and  “So many Germans speak English, now!”  Well, sure.  But, to me that sort of defeats the point!  If I am going to go live in another country, I intend to learn as much as I can while I am there.  Culture, foods, arts, sights, history, and, “ja”, language all give a place its unique character.  How much would we miss if we didn’t at least make the effort to interact with our new home in its very own language?  Plus, there is something smacking of American Arrogance to the idea that the people where we are visiting should accommodate our language ignorance.  Americans are almost stereotypically poor at acknowledging the need to learn multiple languages.  And, I believe we suffer for it.  Countless studies have shown that people who are bi- and tri- lingual have a vast array of neural pathways in their brains that are not developed in people who only speak one language.  In short, learning new languages lets you think better.  That is definitely a goal I can get behind!

English Language rates among European countries.  Germany = ~55%

Today’s Developments
 The CEO is still out sick.  But, our contact sent us a 7 page standard contract- written in German.  Wheee! Changes will need to be made for some of the specific items we requested, but it is a good start.

Things we learned:

1)     Google Translate is actually pretty good for this sort of thing.  There are no idioms or slang in a legal contract, so most of the clauses were pretty easy to decipher.

2)    David’s current estimated start date is April 1.  We are hoping this is not a joke!

3)    Despite what I said in number 1, some things do not translate that well.  For instance: 

5.2. Anniversary gifts, gratuities or other benefits, will be decided from case to case, voluntary payments by an employer on a claim at all, or at a certain level does not exist. You are always revocable. Even with repeated payment thereof, a legal claim can be derived.

Something about the phrase “You are always revocable.” strikes me as charmingly German and yet simultaneously sends a cold shiver down my spine.

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