December 31, 2013, by Guest blog

The more you refuse to use anglicised words, the more foreign you will sound

Post written by Charlotte Barnard.

I knew that working as an English language assistant wouldn’t necessarily equal the best possible chances of improving my German on a day to day basis. After all, with ‘English’ in the job title, what more can you expect?

It’s because of this that I’ve been trying to involve myself in as many German things as possible outside of work in order to make the most of my time in Hamburg, and this great opportunity that I have to immerse myself in the culture. However, the deeper I try to delve into this wonderful language, the more apparent it becomes how steadfastly English runs through modern day German.

What they don’t teach you in textbooks at school is the incredibly pervasive influence of music, films and video games, and that even a German citizen with next to no English capabilities will still recognise phrases such as ‘last but not least’, which is not usually translated into a German equivalent when used.

But as a student of the German language, we are taught to speak ‘properly’, to avoid English words and to memorise the German translations. It would seem however that, annoyingly enough, the sad truth of all of this is that the more you refuse to use anglicised words, the more foreign you will sound.

This has been a great challenge during my attempt to better my German, and I was very puzzled when, a few weeks ago, a German friend of mine’s brother told me that he had ‘gelost’ his phone, and that a girl he fancies had ‘geliked’ his photo on Facebook. The key, it would appear, is to be adaptable when it comes to language. The more mouldable and open to change you are, the easier it will be to improve on a day-to-day basis.

Another challenge in language acquisition I have encountered is the etiquette minefield that is casual and formal means of address. Like the informal ‘tu’ and formal ‘Vous’ in French, so German has the informal ‘du’ and the formal ‘Sie’. I had anticipated it being quite difficult to gauge when to use which, and when to change from one to the other after a certain period of getting to know someone new.

Again I have learnt that this is a case of being open to change, and not afraid of embarrassing yourself, because it’s bound to happen at some stage! What I have also learnt is that it’s ok to make the first move and ask, ‘Können wir ,Du’ sagen?’ (‘Can we use the informal address?’) So far, no one I’ve asked has said no.

So, four months in, the message is pretty clear for me- don’t be afraid. Give it a go or you’ll never know!

Posted in Language acquisition