Using similarity to learn a foreign language (like German)

Even if you don’t know a single word of German, you can probably read and understand the following German text. Did you know that the English and German languages descended from the same Proto-Germanic tongue? Many words in both languages are the same or similar.

For example, can you read this story in German?

Guten Tag! Mein Name ist Monika. Ich bin Autorin. Ich habe einen Bruder namens Bob. Bob ist auch Autor. Ich bin Bobs Literaturagentin. Er schreibt interessante Artikel und Bcher. Er schreibt im Moment ein neues Buch. Der Titel ist: Das Telefon klingelt fr Dich. Letztes Jahr hatte er 2 Bcher auf der Bestsellerliste.

Bob lebt in Kanada – in Montreal. Er ist 30 Jahre alt, mit blondem Haar und blauen Augen. Er hat ein altes Auto. Freitags fhrt er mit dem Auto zum Supermarkt.

Im Supermarkt findet er Kaffee, Tee, Mineralwasser, Milch, Zucker, Butter usw. fr Mutter. Er findet auch Frucht wie Bananen, pfel, Orangen usw. Dann geht er zur Bank und wartet eine Weile auf Mutter. Er fhrt danach mit Mutter nach Hause und parkt sein Auto.

Das Haus ist wei und blau. Es hat einen Garten mit wundervollen Blumen und luxurisem grnem Gras.

Im Haus sitzt Bob auf dem Sofa und trinkt oft ein Glas Bier oder Wein und hrt Radio (laut). Mutter sagt: Bob! Das Radio ist zu laut! Bob lacht und geht in den Garten.

Im Sommer, wenn die Sonne scheint, sitzt Bob im Garten. Wenn Mutter will, mht Bob das Gras.

Im Winter schaufelt er den Schnee oder sitzt im Haus beim Feuer.

Meine Mutter hat eine Katze namens Lwe. Lwe ist braun, grau und orange. Sie miaut, wenn sie Bob sieht, springt auf Bobs Knie und schnurrt laut. Mutter hat auch einen Hund – namens Br. Br ist ein Dachshund.

Ach! es ist spt – Mitternacht. Ich muss zu Bett gehen. Gute Nacht! Ich schreibe mehr morgen frh.

How did you fare?
Maybe you didn’t understand the German text completely. However, after reading the story a couple of times, you will be able to spot trends and similarities to the English language.

Here are some rules to help decipher the story,

  • In the German language, ‘K’ instead of a hard ‘C’ is commonly used: Canada=Kanada, Monica=Monika.
  • The English ‘ph’ often becomes ‘f’: telephone=Telefon.
  • Nouns are capitalized: fruit=Frucht, milk=Milch, butter=Butter, sugar=Zucker.
  • Possessives are not formed with an apostrophe + s: brother’s=Bruders.
  • The English ‘sh’ becomes ‘sch’: shines=scheint, shovels=schaufelt.
  • Many words are exactly the same: Winter, November, Finger, Party, Wind, Hunger, Film.

With these hints, read the German text again and check yourself to see if you comprehend more of the text. Think of the words in the context and allow your mind to fill in the blanks. Related words, like the ones above, with common ancestral roots, are called ‘cognates’. English and German are some of the few languages that share many cognates. Over the years, however, many words that used to mean the same thing in both languages have evolved and have acquired different connotations. For example, the old German word for ‘wife’ (‘Weib’) is nowadays generally applied in a deprecating manner. Similarly, the German word ‘gift’ does not mean a present, it means ‘poison’!

Although this technique is not applicable to all foreign languages, the use of similarities is a useful technique for students. Over time you will discover the exceptions. You will feel comfortable with the similarities and form a foundation on which you can build. The learning task then becomes less daunting – and even enjoyable. It is also a nifty trick that can help a student in a pinch or during an exam!

Over the centuries the world has become a melting pot of cultures and languages. Many words and phrases have crossed borders. Globalization, spurred by newspapers, radio, TV, the internet and travel, has accelerated the process. We often use foreign-derived words without a second thought. For example, angst, soup du jour, cafe au lait, poltergeist, bona fide, carte blanche, nom de plume, savoir-faire just to name a few.

Every time you come to a new text passage, scan it to find what you already know (or can guess) for a general sense of what it means. Only tackle the unknown bits after gaining a general sense of the piece. As a student, the learning process will advance rapidly and it will alleviate the tediousness of learning language semantics.

At Agape School of Education, we use a variety of strategies and materials to coach our students to succeed. Our trained teachers find and employ what works best for their students. Be it providing students with a variety of reading materials, encouraging conversation or using different types of media, our methods are diverse. Our curriculum is unique because we also place importance on the culture of a language.

We do this because we know that inspiring a love of the language will breed passion in our students, which will lead them to realise their goals. As a result, Agape School of Education students regularly score in the highest percentile in local and international examinations. Many of our students have proceeded to use their language skills to gain prestigious jobs or educational opportunities.

Come down to Agape School of Education or sign-up and pick a foreign language course that you’re interested! If you’re a Singaporean citizen above the age of 25, you are eligible for the SkillsFuture Credit Scheme! Our Korean and German classes are claimable via SkillsFuture Credit.

Posted in Language, Learning and tagged , .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *