Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

German Prefixes #1: The Inseparable Prefix “Ver-”

2 verb pairs with prefix "ver-"Some time ago we added a German Quick Language Game called 2 Verb Pairs with 'ver-'.” Soon after, a few players contacted us with some questions about the Prefix "ver".

No wonder: Among the many German prefixes, “ver-” is a very confusing one. If you agree, you're not alone: in Mark Twain's Notebooks & Journals, Volume II (1877-1883), page 253, the author laments about the many “fragmental elements” of the German language:

German language is a dozen fragments of words flung into an octagonal cylinder …. up spring your fragmental elements with Ver's & Be's & Ge's & Er's & lein's & schen's & gung's & heit's & zu's & a thousand other flashing & blazing prefixes, affixes & interjections broiderd on them or hung to them.

Well, even if Twain was exaggerating just a bit, the “ver-” prefix can indeed be tricky and somewhat misleading.

Moreover, “ver-” is just one of a number of inseparable prefixes. (Others are “er-”, “ent-” “emp-“, ”be-”, “ge-”, “zer-”.) At least the inseparable prefixes don't add to a learner's word-order woes.

A Little Prefix "ver-" Language History

Today's German inseparable prefix “ver-” can be traced back to the Old High German “far-”, which originates from a mixture of Proto-Germanic “fer-”, “fur-”, “fra-” and other similar particles. And it's no coincidence that you'll recognize the “ver-” also in the “pro-”, “per-”, “pre-”, “for-” of English and other European languages.

In German the prefix “ver-” appears in three basic ways:

1. As a Simple Prefix.

Examples are:gehen vs vergehen - German Quick Language Game with prefix "ver-"

  • geben – (to give) vs vergeben – as in: Ich vergebe dir. (I forgive you.)
  • kehren – (to sweep) vs verkehren – as in: Er verkehrt in besten Kreisen. (He socializes with high society.)
  • gehen – (to go, walk) vs vergehen – as in: Die Zeit vergeht. (The time goes by.) [Note however, “sich vergehen” means to abuse someone sexually and “ein Vergehen” is a minor offense.]

In the above examples, the prefix “ver-” creates a new meaning with the root verb. Even if you know the meaning of the core verb, you may find the new meaning with the prefix hard to guess.

Many of the root verbs in this category also take other (inseparable) prefixes, such as “er-”, “be-”, “ent-”, etc.

  • ergeben – as in: Ich ergebe mich. (I give up, surrender.)
  • bekehren – as in: Er bekehrt die Ungläubigen. (He converts the unbelievers.)
  • entgehen – as in : Er entgeht einer Gefahr. (He escapes a danger.)

2. As a Prefix that makes the root verb a “faulty action,” or somewhat the opposite of what the root verb implies.

Examples are:

  • kaufen – (to buy) vs verkaufen – as in: Ich verkaufe mein Auto. (I am selling my car.)
  • zählen – (to count) vs (sich) verzählen – as in: Ich habe mich verzählt. (I miscounted.)
  • fahren – (to drive) vs (sich) verfahren – as in: Ich habe mich verfahren. (I got lost driving.)

In these cases, the somewhat opposite meaning can be guessed from the root verb. Here the ver- prefix sometimes corresponds to the English mis- prefix, as in miscount above, to misspell (sich verschreiben), to miscalculate (sich verrechnen), etc.

These root verbs combine only with a few inseparable prefixes. But they do combine with a number of separable prefixes, such as “auf-”. Often these change the root meaning just slightly.

  • aufkaufen – as in: Er kaufte halb Las Vegas auf. (He bought up half of Las Vegas.)
  • aufzählen – as in: Sie zählte alle seine Fehler auf. (She enumerated all his faults.)
  • auffahren – as in: Er fuhr auf das Auto vor ihm auf. (He rear-ended the car in front of him.)

3. As a Prefix that makes the root verb an (often new, different, but somewhat related) action.

This is the most frequent use of “ver-”.

"suchen vs versuchen" German Language Game with prefix "ver-"Examples are:

  • suchen - (to seek, search) vs versuchen – as in: Ich versuche es. (I'm trying it.)
  • binden – (to tie, bind) vs verbinden – as in: Ich verbinde Sie. (I'll connect you.)(Note that there is second meaning of verbinden: to wrap, bandage.)
  • folgen – (to follow) vs verfolgen as in: Ich verfolge ihn. (I pursue him.)

With most of these there are many other separable and inseparable prefixes that let you guess the meaning quite easily.

4. There are a number of verbs starting with “ver-”, where the root verb doesn't have a meaning of its own.

Examples are:

  • verdächtigen – to suspect
  • verdeutlichen – to make clear
  • vergessen – to forget

There are just a few verbs in this category and the root verbs typically don't work with any of the other separable or inseparable prefixes. So you'll just have to learn their meaning.

While prefixes can be confusing at times, they can also provide you with an initial clue of their meaning – especially when you understand the context in which they are used.

Test Your German with the Prefix "ver-"

Depending on how good your German is, you may have fun guessing the meaning of these “ver-” verbs below. You can look up the translation on Google translate or send us a note and we'll return the answers.

Root verb

English translation

“ver-” Prefix Verb

English translation

Category

achten

to respect

verachten

ändern

to change

verändern

ärgern

to annoy

verärgern

arbeiten

to work

verarbeiten

bauen

to build

verbauen

bergen

to recover

verbergen

beugen

to bend

verbeugen

bieten

to offer

verbieten

bitten

to ask

verbitten

brechen

to break

verbrechen

danken

to thank

verdanken

decken

to cover

verdecken

dienen

to serve

verdienen

drehen

to turn

verdrehen

And often, when you learn and remember the root verb, you'll also have an easier time remembering the many derivatives with the “flashing and blazing prefixes”.

Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

German Travel Memories 2 - Michael in Heidelberg

Heidelberg mit Neckar und SchlossVisiting Heidelberg? Exploring this romantic and historic university town will leave you with lots of wonderful travel memories.

Our first German Travel Memories post covered Frankfurt a.M., where Michael, the young traveler, is visiting family. He then takes the train to Heidelberg for his second stop in Germany.

We'll follow Michael's explorations of Heidelberg. For those of you who are doing or have done our German 1 course: Michael in Deutschland, the additional details will complement those of the course.

The Travel Memories blog posts tell you more about each of the cities of GamesforLanguage's travel-story based courses. We typically use the cities' real street names, hotels, squares, restaurants, etc. and we've been to many of them ourselves.

In future blog posts, we'll provide more details of the two other German cities Michael visits, Munich and Berlin. And we'll do the same for the cities that our other travelers visit in France, Italy, Spain, and the U.S.

In our travel-story course, you learn daily conversational language. The vocabulary listed here is a combination of some words taught in the course as well as other useful travel terms in German.

Quick Facts about HeidelbergHeidelberg view from Castle

The city of Heidelberg lies on the Neckar river, in the south-western part of Baden-Württemberg (one of Germany's 16 federal states).

Because of its stunning location and picturesque cityscape, Heidelberg is a hugely popular travel destination.

A quintessential college town, Heidelberg has a population of just over 150,000, with roughly a quarter of its inhabitants being students.

The city is well known for its university, which was founded in 1386 and said to be one of the oldest in Germany. Over the centuries it has attracted prominent philosophers, poets, and scholars.

In addition, Heidelberg is the location of numerous research institutions, among them four Max Plank Institutes.

After World War II, Heidelberg, which was situated in the American Zone, became the Headquarters of the American forces in Europe.

  • Bundesland (n.) - federal state
  • Lage (f.) - location (of a city)
  • Stadtbild (n.) - cityscape
  • Universitätsstadt (f.) - college/university town
  • Studenten (pl. m.) - students
  • Philosophen (pl. m.) - philosophers
  • Forschung (f.) - research
  • Forschungsinstitut - research institute
  • Hauptquartier (n.) - (military) Headquarters, H.Q.
  • die amerikanischen Truppen - the American forces

Arrival in Heidelberg (the Weststadt Neighborhood)

House Zum Ritter in Heidelberg, GermanyFrom Frankfurt, Michael takes the ICE (InterCity) to Heidelberg, a train ride of less than an hour. (You can also take the S-Bahn, or a regional train.)

Heidelberg has 15 city districts. The Central Railway Station is located in Weststadt, the district next to the historic core of the city (Altstadt). It's also where Michael's friends live: on the Schillerstraße.

Weststadt is a residential district dating back to the 1830s. Starting in the 1870s and continuing into the 20th century (a period which is often called "Gründerzeit"), Weststadt experienced a residential building boom and became a highly fashionble neighborhood.

The "Gründerzeit" (literally, "founders' period") - related to the period when the German national state was consolidated under Chancellor Bismarck - coincided with rapid industrialization and economic growth in central Europe.

The architectural style of that time was eclectic and mixed diverse historical periods. So walking through the Weststadt neighborhood, you'll see buildings in various styles: Italian Renaissance, Baroque Revival, Neoclassical, Art Nouveau, etc.

  • Hauptbahnhof (m.) - Central Railway Station
  • Altstadt (f.) - historic city center
  • Wohngegend (f.) - residential area
  • Gründerzeit (f.) - economic phase of rapid development (lit.: "founders' period")
  • Bauboom (m.) - building boom
  • Industrialisierung (f.) - industrialization
  • Wirtschaftswachstum (n.) - economic growth
  • Baustil (m.) - (architectural) style
  • Ritter (m.) knight
  • Friedrich Schiller - German philospher, playwright, poet (1759-1805)
  • nach rechts - to the right
  • nach links - to the left
  • geradeaus - straight ahead

Mark Twain's Travel Memories of Heidelberg

Michael and his friends walk through the historic of Heidelberg ("Altstadt").

One of his friends, Renate, points out a hotel, where Mark Twain supposedly stayed during his visit to Heidelberg in 1878.

In that year, Mark Twain was struggling to finish his novel Huckleberry Finn (as some journalists claim), and went on a Europe tour with his family, as a kind of working holiday.

Mark Twain loved Heidelberg (as you can  read in his Travel Book "A Tramp Abroad") and stayed there for three months. 

Possibly, the hotel that Renate points out, is today's Crowne Plaza, built in 1838 as Hotel Ernst, and located in the Old Town on the Bahnhofstraße. Mark Twain first notes in "A Tramp Abroad": "We stopped at a hotel by the railway-station."

Twain continues:

The weather was growing pretty warm,—very warm, in fact. View from Heidelberg castle where Mark Twain made travel memoriesSo we left the valley and took quarters at the Schloss Hotel, on the hill, above the Castle.

As Twain describes it, the Schloss Hotel provided him with a fantastic view: (see view from Heidelberg castle)

"Now if one turns and looks up the gorge once more, he will see the Schloss Hotel on the right perched on a precipice overlooking the Neckar—a precipice which is so sumptuously cushioned and draped with foliage that no glimpse of the rock appears. The building seems very airily situated. ...

Out of a billowy upheaval of vivid green foliage, a rifle-shot removed, rises the huge ruin of Heidelberg Castle, with empty window arches, ivy-mailed battlements, moldering towers ... It is a fine sight to see the evening sunlight suddenly strike the leafy declivity at the Castle’s base and dash up it and drench it as with a luminous spray, while the adjacent groves are in deep shadow."

Journalists and historians have tried to guess why Mark Twain loved Heidelberg so much.

Was it because "Heidelberg" (short for "Heidelbeerenberg"), in fact, means "Huckelberry mountain" as we speculate in Why did Mark Twain like Heidelberg?

More likely, Twain fell in love with the beauty of town itself, and its picturesque riverside setting.

  • Roman (m.) - novel
  • Arbeitsurlaub (m.) - working holiday
  • Heidelbeere (f.) - huckleberry
  • Wetter (n.) - weather
  • Aussicht (f.) - view
  • Schloss (n.) - castle
  • Klippe (f.) - precipice
  • raten - to guess

Twain had a love-hate relationship with the German language and his The Awful German Language - an Appendix to his 1880 book, A Tramp Abroad, is a fun travel memories read for anyone learning German.

Heidelberg University

Heidelberg Universität The founding of the University of Heidelberg (1386) was prompted by a curious historical event. At the time of the Great Schism of 1378 (when two popes - one French and one Italian - were elected after the death of Pope Gregory XI), German secular and spiritual leaders supported the Italian one in Rome.

As a result, German students and teachers at the University of Paris had to leave. But, the Italian Pope, Urban VI, allowed the creation of a university in Heidelberg.

During the years 1804 to 1809, a number of writers who were part of the German Romantic movement, spent time in Heidelberg for teaching and research at the university. They included poets such as Clemens Brentano and Friedrich Hölderlin.

In the 1960s and 70s, Heidelberg University became one of the main centers of left-wing student protests.

Today, Heidelberg University is internationally renowned. Its building are grouped in two main locations. 1) In the Altstadt: the Old Town Campus (for humanities), some of whose buildings reach back to 1712, and the Bergheim Campus (for economics and social sciences). 2) In the district of Neuenheim across the river: The New Campus built during the 1960's (for the natural sciences and life science).

  • Universität (f.) - university
  • Gründung (f.) - founding
  • Pabst (m.) - pope
  • Romantik (f.) - Romantic movement in the arts and literature (late 18th-early 19th c.)
  • Dichter (m.) - poet, writer
  • Dichterin (f.) - poet, writer
  • Linker Studentenprotest (m.) - left-wing student protest
  • Ort (m.) - location, site, place
  • Unigelände (n.) / Campus (m.) - campus

Heidelberg SchlossDas Schloss

A Renaissance ruin and well-known landmark, Heidelberg Castle is nestled on the slope of the Königstuhl hill, 300 feet above the city of Heidelberg.

To go up to the castle from near the center of town, you can take a funicular to the Molkenkur station, and from there change to another funicular up to the castle. In all, it's about a 15-minute ride, and the view from the top is fantastic.

First built in 1890, the two Heidelberg mountain railways (Bergbahnen) underwent various building phases, renovations, and additions to meet current safety standards.

  • Ruine (f.) - ruin
  • Abhang (m.) - hillside
  • Wahrzeichen (n.) - landmark
  • Standseilbahn (f.) - funicular (cable car on a slope)

Further sights may interest you:

Other Places to visit in Heidelberg

Studentenkarzer: The Student Prison (part of the old university), which was used from 1778 to 1914.

Philosophenweg: The Philosopher's Walk is a pathway that the university's philosophers frequented. It runs along the side of Heiligenberg and provides spectacular views of the castle and the city.

Alte Brücke: The Karl Theodor Bridge goes over the Neckar river joining the two historic parts of Heidelberg.

Königstuhl: Instead of taking the funicular up to the summit, you can also make the Königstuhl (King's Chair) a destination for hiking.

For anyone interested in poetry, click on Poems about Heidelberg (Heidelberg in der Dichtung) 

Michael's Next Stop

Munich HofbräuhausFrom Heidelberg, Michael takes the Intercity to Munich. There he stays at a hotel, visits the Hofbräuhaus (see picture ), and spends the evening with friends in Schwabing, a lively student quarter.

We'll soon tell you more about Munich in our future post "German Travel Memories - Michael in Munich"

Register or log in again to continue with the German 1 course.


Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

European Travel 5 – Discoveries in Austria

Beer Garden in Austria with "Grüass Eich God" sign - Gamesforlanguage.comAustria always holds new things for us to discover. After a week in Überlingen, Germany, where we explored sights along Lake Constance, we picked up a rental car in Friedrichshafen and headed to Austria.

And we were happy to still have our Webspot Pocket WiFi with us, which we had first used while canal cruising in the Netherlands and during our train trip from Utrecht to Lake Constance. This way we could easily google information about the towns and sights we passed by. (Returning the pocket WIFI was also easy: Later in Vienna, we just dropped it off at a Post office in its metal case and prepaid envelope!)

In Austria

Our car's navigation system led us easily around Munich and, it being a Saturday, we didn't encounter any of the notorious Munich traffic jams.

Soon we found ourselves on Austrian territory. (There are open borders between Germany and Austria, so we had no wait at the border. This is one advantage of the “Schengen Agreement” for tourists and travelers.)

At noon we stopped in a little town. The warm and sunny September weather allowed us to enjoy our lunch in a typical Austrian beer garden.

We watched as the restaurant became busy and the tables all got occupied.

We picked up pieces of Austrian conversation here and there, and as is customary in Austria, we were not surprised when another couple joined us at our table.

We enjoyed a delicious meal. As we wereBeer Garden sign: "Pfüad Eich God" leaving, we chuckled when we noticed the sign over the entrance to the garden restaurant:“Grüass Eich God” (see above left) and on the other side of the sign, when leaving: “Pfüad Eich God” (see right).

The first one is a local form of “Grüß Gott” meaning “May God greet (or bless) you. ”The second translates as something like “Be well with God,” meaning “Goodby.”

Both Austrian/Bavarian versions would be pretty well incomprehensible to a German learner. (Now you also know what “Pfüad di” means?)

Wels, Austria

A little more than an hour later, we arrived in Wels where one of Ulrike's Austrian cousins lives with his family. His son now manages the family business, the Hotel and the Gasthof Maxlhaid, located on the outskirts of Wels.

Wels, the seventh-largest city in Austria with 60,000 inhabitants, lies at the Traun River, about 20 miles from Linz.

It was my first visit to Wels and I was eager to learn more about its history.

Important during the Roman age, prosperous during the Middle Ages, devastated during the 30 Years' War, Wels became an important manufacturing center during the industrial revolution.

In World War II, Wels saw heavy destruction, and only a few historic buildings have remained. However over the years, new industries have settled there and the city has also gained prominence with its trade fairs and congresses.

The Saturday we arrived happened to be the Lange Nacht der Museen (Long Night of the Museums). For a small fee, people could visit any of the area's participating museums, many of which stayed open until midnight.

We took advantage of that opportunity and visited several museums in town, including the City Museum.

Stadtmuseum Burg Wels

Stadtmuseum Burg Wels GardenThe City Museum is located in a castle, which for centuries belonged to the Habsburg family. (see the castle gardens left) The castle was rebuilt between 1504 and 1514 by emperor Maximilian I in late-Gothic style.

Many artifacts from that time are exhibited, together with documents, models, and audio-visual presentations of the city's and area's history.

One exhibit shows the many different bread forms bakers have used over time. Another one shows the various tools and machines the agricultural industry had developed in Austria.

In another display, we were fascinated by several maps that show the German enclaves in what used to be called the “German-Austrian empire” before 1918.

Our understanding of the Upper Austrian dialect was also tested (we passed!), when we watched museum staff perform several humorous sketches about Wels personalities.

Pferdeeisenbahnmuseum in der Maxlhaid

At the end of the night, Ulrike's cousin gave us a private tour of hisHorse railway map Budweis to Gmunden own horse railway museum, which is located in a large barn behind the hotel. The museum, a longterm hobby, is his love and passion.

The history of the horse railway is quite interesting. The Italian Franz Zola, (father of the French writer Émile Zola, 1840-1902) was an engineer/surveyor during the construction of the first continental horse railway between Budweis (now Czech Republic) and Linz (Austria).

That was the northern route of the horse railway, which opened in 1832.

Franz Zola received a license from Emperor Franz in 1828 to continue the southern route from Linz to Gmunden. However, when his financing fell through, Zola left for the Foreign Legion and settled later in France.

Subsequently, the southern route of the railway was completed by others in 1836. The 123 miles of track from Gmunden to Budweis could then meet their real purpose: transporting goods, especially salt from Gmunden to Bohemia.

The station Maxlhaid, at the location of the current hotel, was one of several stations where horse changes occurred and a tavern already existed there in 1835.

By 1855, however, steam engines replaced the horses and the horse railway became history. (See the map above and the German Wikipedia entry for further details of the Budweis-Gmunden horse railway).

Linz, Austria

The next day, we visited Linz, the capital of Upper Austria. It is Austria's third-largest city with a population of over 200,000.

Linz is only 19 miles from the Czech border. Founded by the Romans and called “Lentia,” Linz was the most important city in the Habsburg Empire, but lost its status to Vienna and Prague after the death of Emperor Frederick III in 1493.

Today Linz remains one of Austria's main economic centers. Its harbor on the Danube (one of four in Austria) attracts logistic and trading enterprises as well as manufacturing plants along the river banks.

"Winged Piano" in Linz, AustriaFrom the Pöstlingberg, a 1700-foot hill on the left bank of the Danube, we had a wonderful view of the city.

We were intrigued by “Höhenrausch 2016,” an exhibition now in its ninth year, with always changing art. This year angels were the main topic.

The “Höhenrausch” tour takes you through large rooms of the Ursuline Church, the top of a parking garage and terraces with various sculptures. It was all both fun and instructive. We learned about the history of angels in different religions, and in literature and art.

We were amused by various interactive exhibits (click on the picture above or this YouTube clip to see a piano with wings).

The views across the roofs of Linz from one of the wooden towers were spectacular.

Our short stay did not allow us to visit any of the many museums along the banks of the Danube, for example, the Schlossmuseum, the Lentos Art Museum, the Ars Electronica Center, but we got a glimpse of them during our walk through the city and along the Danube.

The Danube

Seeing the Danube wind its way through Linz Map of Rhine - Danubeprompted me to look a little further into this great European river.

Indeed, with a length of about 1785 miles, the Danube is the second longest European river after the Volga.

And, as no other river in the world, it touches 10 different countries on its way: From its source in the Black Forest in Germany, it flows through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Moldavia, and Ukraine, where it empties into the Black Sea.

With the completion of the Main-Danube Canal (Main-Donau Kanal) in 1992, linking the Rhine with the Danube, a waterway connection between the North Sea and the Black Sea was established.

Thereby even more European states were linked through their own connected waterways. (On the map above, the Rhine and Main are shown in green, The Main-Danube Canal in red, and the navigable stretch of the Danube in blue.)

We would be amiss if we didn't mention the poster child of German compound words:

Donaudampfschifffahrtskapitän (Captain of the Danube Steamship Company)

(However, it even pales against this one which contains 79 letters and, reportedly, holds the 1996 Guinness Book of World Records. Click HERE for the translation and history:) 

Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft,

Vienna, Austria

Austrian National Library: Prunksaal - Gamesforlanguage.comA few days later found us walking through the streets of Vienna, a city we both know well. But you can always find something new to do in Vienna!

This time we happened to walk by the Austrian National Library and were attracted by the exhibition about the life of Emperor Franz Joseph I. It was held in remembrance of the 100th anniversary of his death in 1916.

Franz Joseph's long life (1830-1910) made him the “ewige Kaiser” (eternal emperor) to many Austrians. He reportedly was the most painted and photographed person of the 19th century.

The exhibition described his life from young child to teenager, young man, media star, and statesman, with portraits, letters, news reports. It was was set up in the Library's grand “Prunksaal” (State Hall).

The Austrian National Library is not only the largest library in Austria with 7.4 million books, but the “Prunksaal” of the old imperial library takes your breath away.

It forms part of the Hofburg Palace and everywhere you look, there are sculptures, frescos, marble statues, and paintings.

So next time you go to Austria, consider going a little of the beaten track. And don't forget, when you come to Vienna, take a look at the Austrian National Library.

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below. 

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

“Gruezi” and Other Swiss German Expressions

Saaner's Loch - Switzerland by Gamesforlanguage.comIn our previous post, we focused on the bilingualism of many Fribourgers. The German spoken in Fribourg is clearly of the Swiss German variety, with a few French expressions mixed in at times.

And while Swiss German is the generic label for the dialect, there are plenty of regional differences that a foreigner would only detect after a while.

When you're traveling in countries where you speak the language, you may notice that both formal and informal greetings often vary from region to region.

For example, when we were traveling in Northern Germany a couple years ago (see our post: From Utrecht to Hamburg: Dialects and Travel Tips in Northern German), we first couldn't make out the informal greeting we heard everywhere: “Moin.” We first thought it was an abbreviation of “Morgen,” as in “Guten Morgen” (Good morning), but it was clearly used all day.

Digging a little further, we found that while “morgen” may be one etymological explanation for “Moin,” another one could be the Dutch, Frisian, and Low German word “moi,” meaning “beautiful” or “good.”

This week we are exploring a few Swiss German expressions we encountered while skiing in the "Berner Oberland". (Above picture of "Saaner's Loch)

Grüezi” and a Swiss German Ear-Worm

To get a little taste of the Swiss German language, The Minstrels singerslisten to this YouTube Video of a popular song by a Swiss group, The Minstrels, from the late 60s.

It was the #1 song in Switzerland in 1969 for 10 weeks, made it to #3 in Germany, and sold over 1.5 million copies in 27 countries.

Even if you know some German, you'll have a hard time understanding the simple refrain. But listening to it a few times, you'll start distinguishing verbs, their grammatical modifications. You'll also pick up a few Swiss German idiosyncrasies.

Grüezi wohl Frau Stirnimaa: The Lyrics, Standard German, and Translation

Ja, grüezi wohl Frau Stirnimaa
Ja, grüß sie wohl, Frau Stirnimaa
(Hello there, Ms Stirnimaa)

Sagget sie, wie labbet sie, wie sind sie de so dra?
Sagen Sie, wie leben Sie, wie sind Sie denn so dran?
(Tell me, how's life, how's it going?)

Grüezi wohl Frau Stirnimaa
Sagget sie, wie labbet sie, wie gaht's denn ihre Ma?
Sagen Sie, wie leben Sie, wie geht es ihrem Mann?
(Tell me, how's life, how's your husband doing?)

Quick note: There is no standard written form of Swiss German. Letters and letter combinations are mostly attempts to express the way words sound.

And while you'll notice how the verb forms and endings are different from Standard German and hear how the “n” and “m” endings are dropped, we won't try to explain much more.

Just listen to the Swiss German language melody.

Swiss German in the Berner Oberland

Swiss Restaurant Terrace with guestsThis week the public schools in the canton of Bern have vacation, and besides a little French, we hear mostly Swiss German in the villages and on the mountain between Zweisimmen and Gstaad.

Even for us German speakers, some of the Swiss German we come across is a little hard to understand.

Briefly: In general, the dialects spoken in Switzerland (collectively called Swiss German) belong to the Alemannic variety of German.

Greetings: “Grüezi” vs. “Grüess eech”

Grüezi is arguably the most well-known Swiss German greeting. It's an abbreviation of “Gott grüez i” or literally in German: Gott grüß euch. (May God greet you.)

A variation of “Grüezi” is “Grüezi mitenand,” with “mitenand” (“miteinander” - together) making it clear that the greeting is for more than one person.

This greeting is used mainly in the Zurich area and in the east of Switzerland.

In the western part, around Bern and Basel, it's more common to hear “Grüss eech,” which also means literally: Gott grüß euch.

Indeed, here in the Berner Oberland, we've been hearing “Grüss eech” or “Grüess eech mitenand,” all over the place: when entering a restaurant, going into a shop, when sharing a gondola or chair lift with others. People even greet you as you're walking in the village.

In a restaurant: the verb “sein” - “sii” and “gsi” (or “gsy”)

Today, we ate on the terrace of a mountain restaurant. After greeting us “Grüess eech mitenand,” our waitress asked: “Was derfs sii?” - Was darf es sein? (Lit: What may it be? Meaning: What can I get you?)

When we finished our meal and she started to clear the table, she asked: “S isch guat gsi?” - Ist es gut gewesen? (Lit: Was it good? Meaning: How was the meal?)

Swiss German uses a shorter and older form of the verb “sein.” Instead of “sein,” it's “sii” and instead of “gewesen,” it's “gsi.”

Meal time: “Ä Guätä!”

It was a beautiful, sunny day and the terrace was A Guätä - Signcrowded. So, as is typical for many European countries, we shared our table with other restaurant guests.

We ordered “Röschti” (Rösti), which are fried potatoes prepared in a typical way in Switzerland. A meal of Röschti comes in all kinds of combinations: with a fried egg, with ham, with vegetables, etc.

Note also: The letter combination “st” (appearing anywhere in a word) is pronounced “sch.” The German word “ist” becomes “isch” (the -t is dropped)

We were served first, and when our meal arrived, our table neighbors wished us “Ä Guätä!” This is literally, “(Have) a good one!” and best translates to “Enjoy your meal!” The equivalent in Standard German would be: Guten Appetit! literally: Good appetite!

When we finished and were ready to leave, while our table neighbors received their meals, we wished them “Ä Guätä!”

Other useful words and phrases we heard

We often heard teenagers saying “Sali” or “Sali mitenand.” - Hallo, alle. - Hi everybody.
“Sali” is less formal than the greeting “Grüezi.” It comes from the French “salut” (hi/hey).

The French “Merci” (thank you) has been appropriated by Swiss German as well, and you hear it alone or also as “Merci vilmals” - Vielen Dank (Thanks a lot).

The German “Auf Wiedersehen” (Goodbye) has the Swiss German equivalent of “Uf widaluege,” and means the same, “luege” - sehen (to look).

Probably a leftover from the old telephone technology of bells, if you want to say “I'll call you,” you'd say “Ich lüt dir a.” This literally means: Ich leute dich an, or Ich leute bei dir an (I'll ring you.)

For more Swiss German expressions see also our previous posts Swiss German Language Lessons in Gstaad (1) and (2).

Don't Despair

If you're just learning German and are trying to understand Swiss German, don't despair. Even native Germans have a tough time understanding rapidly spoken Swiss German, even more so speaking it.

But as with any language or dialect you want to learn, there are many ways to do it.

Here are three iPhone apps that will help you: Gruezi Switzerland (free), Schweizerdeutsch Lernen ($0.99), and uTalk Classic Learn Swiss German ($9.99).

We have not tried any of these yet, so let us know what you think below.

Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Language Learning: German & French in Fribourg, Switzerland

Fribourg, Switzerland - Gamesforlanguage.comLanguage Learning in Switzerland  

Visiting the town in Switzerland where I spent several years working in my first job, reminded me of my French language learning days. Fribourg or in German Freiburg (im Üchtland) is a bilingual city, and not to be confused with “Freiburg im Breisgau,” which lies in the Black Forest.

Pure immersion aficionados may well scoff at this: But working and learning French in a town where my native language German was well understood, had many advantages for me.

For one, I could always revert to German when my French instructions to the draftsmen in the structural engineering firm where I worked, were met with a doubtful stare.

Also, when the rapid French in a shop or restaurant was still beyond my listening skills, I could typically get a German, or Swiss-German translation, thereby generating “comprehensible input.”

CANTON FRIBOURG'S ROAD TO OFFICAL BILINGUALISM

The canton of Fribourg is one of three Swiss cantons that are officially bilingual. The other two are the cantons of Bern and of Wallis/Valais.

Fribourg entered the Swiss Confederation in 1481. Throughout the centuries both French and German were spoken in the region. For the canton of Fribourg the road to official bilingualism was a complicated one, with plenty of detours.

Since the early days, there have been various shifts. At first, German was the language used by the government (1483-1798). Fribourg, Switzerland language mapThen between 1798 and 1856, French and German alternated.

From 1857 on, both languages have had official status in Fribourg, but until 1990 only French was legally binding. Since 1991 both languages can be used for a binding contract.

Only the two north/northeast districts of the canton (of a total of seven), are predominantly German- speaking. It's more likely that residents of those districts learn and speak French, than residents of French-speaking districts learn German. (A possible reason? Many French speakers may be reluctant to learn Swiss-German.)

At this time, around 63% of the about 300,000 people in the canton of Fribourg speak French, 21% speak German, and close to 4 % speak Italian (which is not an official language in the canton).

A few years ago, the “Day of Bilingualism” (Journée du bilinguisme/Tag der Zweisprachigkeit) was set for September 26 and coincides with the European Day of Languages to foster language learning and bilingualism.

In the public schools of the canton of Fribourg, students learn a second language from grade three on. In communities where German is spoken, students are encouraged to learn French as the second language, and vice versa.

Nevertheless, in spite of such efforts and policies to foster bilingualism, language differences remain a point of discussion and sometimes also of controversy.

THE CITY OF FRIBOURG

The city of Fribourg is right on the language border between French and German. About 40,000 inhabitants live within the city proper. This number increases to 60,000, if adjacent suburbs are included and to nearly 100,000 for the larger metropolitan area.

Fribourg Bridges - Gamesforlanguage.comA few years ago, the completion of a new suspension bridge and the closing of the arched Zähringer Bridge diverted traffic from the neighborhood near the Cathedral and created another Fribourg landmark. (see picture)

Official city statistics mirror the language distribution of the canton as a whole. Still, it seems that there is a greater concentration of bilinguals living in the city, which may be in part because of the university.

The University of Fribourg (created in 1889) is Switzerland's only bilingual university. Both French and German are used as languages for teaching and for the administration.

In 2009, the Institute of Multilingualism was founded, which conducts research of how multilingualism affects education, the workplace, and migration.

Because the two languages intersect throughout the city, you'll find interesting signage in French, German, and also in Swiss-German dialect (which has no standard written form).

During a visit a couple of years ago, Ulrike had a tiny cameo role in a YouTube clip "We are Happy from Fribourg" by a Fribourg film maker. He used the Pharrell Williams' song "Happy" from the movie "Despicable Me 2", similar to what other Swiss cities have done. Maybe you can spot her at ~2.36 minutes into the clip, which also shows many images of Fribourg.

In fact, she was walking through the Farmer's Market where you can always find many delightful language tidbits. This time as well.

FARMER'S MARKET

On Saturday morning, Fribourg has a farmer'sFribourg - Snails for sale - Gamesforlanguage.com market that stretches from the City Hall Plaza down the Grand Rue. Vendors from the region as far as (French-speaking) Lausanne come to sell their wares. When I'm around, I spend an hour or so poking around and I always find some language learning opportunities.

Interestingly, the vegetable and fruit stands seem mostly set up by farmers that speak Swiss German.

For the first time in all the years, I saw a stand that sells snails. The “Schneckenpark” translates into French as “Élevages d'Escargots.” The above picture on the front of the stand explains both expressions: the raised, slanted boards of the snails' park.

Bio-Bread market stand sign - Gamesforlanguage.comAnother stand advertises in typical German compound-word fashion: “HOLZBACKOFENBROT AUS BIO GETREIDE” and with the wordier French: “PAIN FAIT AU FOURNEAU DE BOIS & CEREALES BIO.” Both translate to something like “bread made with organic flour in wood-burning oven.”

Not all stands advertise bilingually. Some have signs that are only in French or only in German. When it's Swiss German, even I sometimes need the help of a local person.

Take this sign of a Swiss-German butcher:Swiss-German Butcher sign - Gamesforlanguage.com The word “Metzger” (butcher) abbreviated to “Metzg” presents no problem. But hey, how about “gglùschtig's ù säüber gmacht's”? To decode that, I had to dig deep into my Swiss-German language memory.

The word “gglùschtig's” means “tasty, a pleasure to eat” - not to be confused with the German word “lustig” (funny). I'm not sure about the double “g” and the grave accent on the “u.” Probably, it's a way to represent Swiss-German pronunciation.

The word “säüber” is as tricky as “gglùschtig's.” One could easily confuse it with the German word “sauber” (clean). But the letter combination “äü” suggests the sound of a word closer to the German “selber” (self).

The word “gmacht's” is easy and just means “made.” The suffix “-'s” (for “Gemachtes”) adds the idea of a “made” product.

So “gglùschtig's ù säüber gmacht's” would best be translated as: “tasty and homemade (or self-made) products.”

LANGUAGE LEARNING WITH FRENCH & GERMAN SIGNS

With its medieval town center and old ramparts, the city of Fribourg is a great place to walk around and explore. When you pay attention to street signs or signs on shops and restaurants, you'll see some interesting words and language combinations.

"Croutes au fromage" sign - Gamesforlanguage.com French sign in a restaurant window: Les croûtes au fromage

These are bread slices dipped in white wine, topped with cheese, (often also with cornichons and tomatoes) and grilled in the oven. The advertised prices and types of preparation indicate a substantial meal.

la croûte – the rind

le fromage – the cheese

Street signs combining French and German.

One of the quarters Chemin de Schoenberg sign - Gamesforlanguage.comof Fribourg is called “Schoenberg,” a German word meaning “beautiful mountain.” (Note that in the French spelling, the German umlaut is replaced by an oe.)

One of the roads leading up to the quarter is called “Chemin du Schoenberg” (chemin – the French word for way, path.)

Not everybody loves this French specialty: Beef Tongue

Rindszunge/langue de boeuf sign - Gamesforlanguage.comGerman/French sign in a restaurant window: Rindszunge/Langue de Boeuf

la langue, die Zunge - the tongue

le boeuf, das Rind - the beef

les capres/die Kapern - the capers 

German speakers may notice a spelling error on the German sign: It should say "Rindszunge IN Kapernsauce"

Strolling through the city streets you'll see many signsRues es Epouses Sign, Fribourg  - Gamesforlanguage.com that make you smile.

A favorite of mine is the one above the Rue des Epouses, which I described in a previous post 11 Language Clues from German and Swiss SignsLook for item#11, if you need a translation of the French or the German, which is on the other side of the sign.

If you ever visit Fribourg and the Cathedral, or are looking for the above sign, you'll also pass by the bookshop Librairie "Bien-être" on one side, and the modern furniture store "Forme + Confort" on the other side of la Rue des Epouses.

In "Bien-être" you'll find all kinds of books (in French) about well-being, alternative medicine, etc. And - you can say hello to my sister Ingrid.

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below. 

Posted on by Peter Rettig

European Travel 4 – From Utrecht to Lake Constance

German Intercity TrainTraveling to and exploring Lake Constance 

In an earlier post, I wrote about Dutch Canal Boating. After a fun trip around Dutch rivers and canals, we said goodbye to our American friends. We then began the next stage of our European travels.

In the Dutch city of Utrecht, we boarded one of the fabulous European Intercity trains. It took us through Cologne and along the Rhine River to Basel. There we changed to a regional train.

On previous train trips we had always regretted that we could not access our website or google sights we passed by (without depleting our phone data allotments!) This time we still had our Webspot pocket WIFI we had rented for canal cruising.

We could also follow our train route on the iPad map and find information about the various castles we passed along the Rhine.

In Basel, the Rhine bends sharply to the east and for long stretches makes a natural border between Germany and Switzerland.

Initially, the train tracks follow the Rhine River Valley. At dusk we passed the well-known “Rheinfall of Schaffhausen” - the waterfalls of the Rhine at the Swiss town of Schaffhausen. (German students, don't forget to note the spelling of “Rheinfall” versus “Reinfall”! The latter means “letdown, failure, flop, disaster.” It is often used in wordplays with its sound-alike cousin.)

Überlingen at Lake Constance

Our destination that day was the city of Überlingen, located on Ueberlingen - St Nicolaus Cathedralone of the two major arms of the “Bodensee” (Lake Constance). (In Überlingen we met up with my sister, who had come from Switzerland.)

I had last been in Überlingen as a young boy with my parents. And while there was little that I recognized from that time, I vividly remembered climbing the bell tower of the St. Nikolaus Cathedral with my father. (see picture) As we neared the top, the huge bells suddenly started to ring, scaring me both with their powerful sounds and the vibrations they generated in the tower.

A good part of the city, including our hotel, is located on a sandstone cliff overlooking the lake. The 100 steps of the “Teufelstreppe” (Devil's Stairs) made it less than a 10 minute walk down to the lake. There, we found a “Promenade,” a wide walkway along the lake, leading to the town center with its restaurants, cafés, ship wharves, etc.

We were told that Überlingen has become one of Germany's favorite retirement destinations. That also makes it one of the oldest cities in Germany (in reference Ueberlingen wharfto the age of its inhabitants). The “seniors” we saw strolling down the Promenade, sitting in cafés, riding their bikes, or waiting to board a ship, all looked fit and active to us. (see picture)

While we were sitting in one of the cafés, we were surprised to see many bikers board a ship. We found out that there are several bicycle organization that organize tours along the “Bodensee-Radweg” (Lake Constance-bicycle path). It calls itself “Europa's beliebtester Radweg” (Europe's favorite bicycle path).

We often took advantage of the wonderful, warm fall weather and enjoyed people-watching while sitting in one of the many outside restaurants. There, we couldn't help but overhear conversations in various German dialects spoken at nearby tables.

Some German Dialects

Überlingen is located in Baden-Württemberg, the third-largest German state, German dialect mapwhich has close to 11 million inhabitants. Stuttgart is its capital and largest city.

Two distinct dialects are spoken in the state, with various variants: the Alemannic dialect of Swabian and Franconian. Swabian is spoken in the southern part of Baden-Württemberg, up to the border of the neighboring state, Bavaria. Franconian is spoken in the west/northwest along the Rhine including in Mannheim and Heidelberg.

[Note also: The Swiss German language is another variant of the Alemannic dialect. And, Franconian can also be heard in the northern parts of Bavaria [Germany's largest state], around Nuremberg, Bamberg, etc. The most recognizable dialect of the state of Bavaria is Austro-Bavarian, spoken in the southeast of the state and reaching beyond the border into Austria in a continuum of local and regional variants.]

We also heard the very distinct Saxon dialects from regions around Leipzig and Dresden.

And how could I forget the Hessian dialect, spoken around Frankfurt and Bad Nauheim (the city where I spent most of my school years, and subject of an earlier post: Where “Bad” does not mean “bad”...)

You can see the various German dialects on the chart.

Der Bodensee

The Bodensee, or Lake ConstanceLake Constance is the largest lake in Germany and Austria. It is only a little smaller than Lake Geneva, Europe's largest lake, located on the border of Switzerland and France.

Lake Constance is also the huge water reservoir which feeds the Rhine, the second longest European river after the Danube.

The Rhine River begins in the Swiss canton of Graubünden in the southeastern Swiss Alps, enters Lake Constance at its eastern Swiss/Austrian border and then leaves it again near Konstanz from the Lower Lake. (Note: It's the town of Konstanz/Constance which gave the Bodensee its English name.)

I have fond memories of the Bodensee, where I started first grade in the town of Friedrichshafen. It was in there that Ferdinand von Zeppelin established the first factory to build his famous dirigibles, the Zeppelins, around 1900.

I remember going fishing on the lake with my grandfather. Later,Sailing with alps in the background a sailing trip on the lake with my father, as we ghosted by the Mainau (see below) at night, made me fall in love with sailing. On clear days you can see the Alps in the background, as in this photo.

This time, Ulrike and I took advantage of sunny weather and took several trips with the Bodensee's “Weiße Flotte,” the White Fleet of motor ships, with which you can explore the lake.

There are also two car ferries to take you across the lake: (1) Between Meersburg and Constance and (2) Between Friedrichshafen and Romanhorn (Switzerland). On this Bodensee-Schifffahrt site – yes, the word is spelled with three “f's” - you can download the “Fahrplan” (schedule) for the various seasons.

Our first lake trip took us to the Island of Mainau.

The Mainau

I visited the island first as a young teenager and remember thatisland of Mainau I was fascinated by its history. The island has changed owners many times over the centuries.

In early years, it belonged to the Order of Teutonic Knights. Then, after falling into private hands, it was purchased in 1853 by Grand Duke Frederick I of Baden to serve as a summer palace.


Later, through inheritance, the island fell to the Swedish Prince Wilhelm, who in 1932, gave it to his only son, Lennart Bernadotte. He then owned it until 1974, when he transferred it to a foundation.

Currently, Lennart's oldest daughter Sonja and her brother Björn Bernadotte are managing the property.

The island is a flowering paradise. Over 30,000 rose bushes Mainau flowersof more than 1,200 varieties grow there, as well as 20,000 dahlias of 250 varieties, and many other kinds of flowers.

We were there at the time of a dahlia exhibition. Walking through the gardens, we saw stunning arrangements by local garden shops, which where competing for the exhibition honor roll.

The island attracts more than 1 million visitors a year and it serves as a favorite destination for weddings. You'll find more information on the island's website.

Another car trip took took us to the town of Meersburg.

Meersburg

Meersburg - Old CastleMeersburg is located on the eastern shore of Lake Constance, at the midpoint between Überlingen and Friedrichshafen.

We visited the Old Castle, which towers over the town, and learned that it is still the oldest inhabited fortress in Germany. (There is also a Baroque New Castle.)


The guide, dressed in a medieval costume, took us through the part of the castle that is open to the public and now a museum. It included the Knight's Hall (see picture), the Arm's Hall, the dungeon, etc.

She told us much about the castle's history and the various legends surrounding it. The castle dates back to the 7th century and the Merovigians under King Dagobert I.

In 1268, it became the seat of the Bishop of Constance until Knights Hall - Meersburgthe bishops built the New Castle at the beginning of the 18th century.

The Old Castle then came under the control of the Grand Duchy of Baden. The collector and business man Joseph von Laßberg purchased it in 1838.

For German language enthusiasts, the castle is also noteworthy as the sister of Laßberg's wife, the famous poet Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, lived there the last 8 years of her life.

In 1877, Karl Mayer von Mayerfels purchased the castle and established the Medieval Museum. His descendants still live in the building during the summer months.

As in many of the towns along the Bodensee, there is a Promenade along the lake with pleasant cafés and restaurants. The small streets and squares bustle with boutiques, shops, and street merchants.

We just happened pass through when grapes were unloaded at the local winery. That was a colorful spectacle.

Other Sights along the Bodensee

There are many other places along the Bodensee that are worth a visit.

I still remember the little town of Unteruhldingen where I visited the Unteruhldingen Stilt Houses - Gamesforlanguage.com Pfahlbaumuseum” (Stilt-House Museum) during my childhood. The stories the guides told at the time were fascinating. This time, we did not visit the rebuilt village, but we could see the stilt houses from the ship as we docked (see picture).

I've already mentioned Friedrichshafen. While more of an industrial city (heavily bombarded during World War II because of its airplane and bomb factories), the modern Dornier aerospace museum shows the various Dornier airplane models, engines, satellites, and products of the Airbus Group.

Lindau Harbor ENTRANCEThe historic town of Lindau is located on a small island connected by a dam to a strip of land that allows Bavaria access to Lake Constance. The Lindau harbor entrance with the light house and its Bavarian Lion statue (see picture) is a beautiful sight. I remember it well from my youth when we entered or left the harbor on one of the white ships.

Traveling just a few miles further southeast, you'll enter Austria and will have reached the end of the lake in Bregenz, the capital of the Austrian state of Vorarlberg.

If you are an opera lover and happen to be there during the months of July and August, be sure not to miss the Bregenzer Festspiele. Most memorable will certainly be a performance on a floating stage in the open-air amphitheater. (But be sure to reserve your tickets early!)

On the other side of the lake, right on the border to Switzerland, lies KonstanzBlick auf Konstanz (Constance), a lively university town and for over 1200 years the seat of Catholic bishops. (See photo of Constance, with a view of the "Untersee" and continuation of the Rhine)

The city has an interesting history. Konstanz was refused entrance into the Swiss Confederacy in 1460, then joined the Swabian league and became part of the German Empire in 1871.

The city avoided being bombed during World War II by a clever ruse – it left the lights on and allied bombers could not distinguish it from neighboring Swiss towns. The large and well-preserved “Altstadt” (Old town) is dominated by the “Münster” (Cathedral).

Our stay in Überlingen and our various excursions along the lake brought back many vivid memories from my childhood and later vacations at the Bodensee. We can see why this region has become a favorite place in Germany for retirees. Austria and Switzerland are only a boat ride away. The cultural offerings in the nearby towns and cities are amazing. There are many things to see and do in each of the seasons.

If you are interested in more photos, see our Niume picture gallery: Überlingen and Lake Constance.

And you can also follow our European travels with Discoveries in Austria.

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Language Learning: From Pimsleur Audio to Unlimited

Pimsleur German Unlimited screenshot Language Learning with Pimsleur Unlimited

Paul Pimsleur developed his language learning method over 50 years ago. And, if you read on, you'll understand why taking a look at Pimsleur Unlimited is feeling a little bit like "back to the future" for me.

If you've ever used Pimsleur audio lessons for learning a language, you'll know how deeply the sound of words and phrases embed themselves in your brain with this program. 

Young children also learn their first language through sound. They hear (and repeat) their caregivers' words, phrases, and sentences numerous times, begin to absorb the patterns of the language, and put all of this together to say what they want, and to understand others.

The Adult's Conundrum with Language Learning

When you learn a new language as an adult, you're in fact learning a new sound system, which runs parallel to the one of your native language (or to a second, or third, etc., if you speak more languages).

A problem for adults is that they may find it difficult to hear some of the sounds in a new target language. Why is that so?

Very early on, children's brains make it possible for them to hear ANY children playing - Yay imagessounds of ANY language. As they focus on learning their first language, this ability narrows down to the sounds they listen to and use in their daily life.

This narrowing down of sounds heard continues through adolescence and adulthood and can be traced to the growth of our “categorical perception.” (We described this phenomenon in an earlier post: “Beyond Learning a Language Like a Child”.)

So, adults have to re-learn how to hear and produce sounds that are not part of the language(s), they use in their daily life. It can be done, but they have to focus and practice.

Before you read on, you may want to read my disclosure at the bottom. For these reasons I can't really provide an objective review of the German course(s). But by starting to use the Pimsleur Unlimited Russian app, I'm able to judge how the app works for a language that I don't know. (And I will report about my language learning experience with Russian in a subsequent post.)

What I know well: Pimsleur German Audio CDs

Obviously, I'm well familiar with the features that make a Pimsleur German audio effective:

  • Each unit's initial conversation has only one new word or phrase.
  • Later in each unit, new words are introduced in the context of what you know.
  • You hear and repeat new words, with backward buildup. (Singers call it "back-chaining.")
  • Comments on pronunciation issues are given as they come up.
  • A “spaced” recall schedule helps you move words from short to long-term memory.
  • You learn to make new combinations following a familiar pattern.
  • The speakers pronounce clearly, with a standard German accent.
  • You learn the sound system of German.
  • You learn basic German sound-spelling correlation in the Reading sections.
  • The units are downloadable. You can play them on your computer or mobile device.

But, no course can be everything to everyone. People have asked about these points:

  • There's no systematic introduction to grammar. There are only brief explanations.
  • Not enough vocabulary. Each unit introduces about 10 new words.
  • Most cues are in English, so you hear a lot of English.
  • You don't learn the spelling of the German words and phrases you hear.

Pimsleur audio does a very good job teaching the sounds and pronunciation to adult beginners. And most importantly, it asks the learner to SPEAK, REPEAT, and IMITATE. Good pronunciation can become a habit. Pimsleur gets you into the good pronunciation habit.

User comments, competition, online/app progress, etc. were certainly reasons for expanding the Pimsleur method, first to downloadable software, and now also to mobile apps.

What I'm discovering: Pimsleur Unlimited

Pimsleur App pageTo try out Pimsleur's "Unlimited" mobile app, I used the iOS app for German. To its traditional audio course, Pimsleur has added Flashcards, Quick Match, and Speak Easy exercises. (To date, Pimsleur has 8 languages in its Unlimited mobile edition: German, French, Italian, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese Mandarin, Japanese, and Russian.)

The core of the program is still the audio lesson, as described above. The added feature for "Unlimited" is that you can easily pause, skip back and skip forward when doing the audio. You can keep redoing a short (or longer) segment until you've got it.

With the Flashcards, Quick Match, and Speak Easy exercises you have new and different tools for quick language learning practice and recall of what you've learned.

Listening + Reading

Besides, you're learning to hear and understand, to say, and to READ words, phrases, and sentences in context. By learning to read beyond basic sound-spelling correlation, you're acquiring a powerful language learning tool.

Yes, children learn languages without first learning to read. By age three to three and a half, many children are highly conversant in their native language. However, they then spend years in school to learn to read and write fluently.

For adults, reading and writing in one's native language is part of daily life. When you learn new words in a foreign language, you automatically imagine how they are spelled. Without other information, you'll apply your own native-language, or other familiar spelling system.

By learning how German words sound and are written, you're training yourself to become a reader of German texts.

German is plentiful on the Internet in the form of news stories, social media streams on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram (to name the most popular), ebook readers you can download, etc. Once you make a habit of reading German on a daily basis, your vocabulary will grow exponentially.

My Tricks With Russian

I'm a native speaker of German and taught college German for a number of years in the U.S. Right now I'm learning Russian from scratch with Pimsleur Unlimited. In general, my tricks for using the program with Russian are also applicable for German, or any other language. (I'm planning a more detailed review of Pimleur's Unlimited Russian for later.)

Whenever I start with a new online program or app, it takes me a couple of weeks to get into it and figure out ways I can optimize the resource.

The Pimsleur Unlimited mobile app is very easy to navigate, so you can hop around. Besides learning daily with new material, I go back and review. I love it that you can pick and choose what chunks to redo.

I go back a lot and replay parts of the course. For example, I replay the five last conversations, one after the other, just the conversations. Or I listen to one conversation again and again, until I've memorized it.

I replay an earlier Quick Match or Speak Easy, or several of them in a row.

A small notebook for each language is a constant companion for me. Pimsleur User Guide - Gamesforlanguage.comIn it, I write down words and phrases, as well as brief grammar explanations that come up.

Even if I never check back to those particular notes, just the act of writing something out by hand, helps me to remember better. Writing out also makes me literate right from the beginning and teaches me the new spelling system as I go along.

From time to time during the day, I recall in my mind - without the app - the words or phrases I learned the day before. There always are a few moments of down time to do this. My little notebook helps me if I need a prompt.

I certainly follow Paul Pimsleur's Golden Rule for Success #4: "Daily exposure to the language is critical to your success, but don’t attempt to do more than one 30-minute Audio Lesson per day. You may repeat a lesson more than once if you find it helpful." (You'll find these rules in the downloadable PDF of Pimsleur Unlimited User Guide, see screenshot above.)

How Fast Can You Learn German (or Russian)?

Learning a language takes time and effort. (Whew, how many times have I said this in my life?) Becoming fluent in a new language as an adult cannot happen just like that in 10 days. Three months of total immersion, with an excellent tutor on the side, may do it. At least that was my experience when I learned Dutch, and later English.

Learning a language as an adult with a job, a family, and a social life means you have to squeeze language learning in whenever you can. And you have to keep your motivation up.

With Pimsleur you can get a good start and keep going. Most of all, you'll build some confidence in speaking. For many, having the courage to speak in a new language is the hardest part.

As you need them, add other resources, such as a basic grammar book (to figure out what some of the underlying patterns are), podcasts or audio books (to learn listening to rapid German), a browser extension, such as Lingua.ly (to help you read many different types of texts), or a flashcard program, such as Memrise (to practice various types of vocabulary).

Finding a language exchange partner, or a tutor via Skype can also be a powerful motivator. If you can, travel to a country or region where the language is spoken.

Putting in the effort is really worth it. Most of all, have fun! Viel Spaß!

Let us know your comments below.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.

Disclosure: Ulrike Rettig was the Development Editor/Author of Pimsleur's German Levels 1, 2 and 3, written during the time she worked for Pimsleur Language Programs (owned since 1997 by Simon & Schuster Audio). She left Pimsleur in 2010. GamesforLanguage has no business relationship with Simon & Schuster, other than receiving the German and Russian Unlimited apps for free.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

How to Speed up Your German Learning With Social Media

Pretty woman holding mobile phoneIt's an open secret that increasing the exposure to the language you want to learn, will speed up your learning.

Setting your phone or tablet to your target language is an easy way to do just that.

Often learners are reluctant to make the switch because they're afraid that getting back to English will be problematic.

In earlier posts we discuss social media terms for French, Italian, and Spanish.

Here we'll explain how you can get some moments of mini-immersion when you set your electronic gadgets to German. You'll be surprised how quickly you'll get to understanding and using these terms.

German social media terms are made up of vocabulary that is sophisticated and generally useful. Using them, you can also learn some basic grammar forms.

If you're a Facebook user, that's a good place to start. 

SETTING YOUR iPHONE/iPAD OR ANDROID DEVICES

On an iPhone or iPad, you have to set iPad language change screen - Gamesforlanguage.comthe language by going into your iPhone or iPad Settings and change your iPhone/iPad Language. You cannot do it just for your Facebook app, etc.

Click on "Settings," "General," "Language & Region," and set your iPhone/iPad Language to "Deutsch/German." (see screenshot)

On Android phones and tablets, also go to "Settings," then scroll down to "Personal," and click on "Language and input."

On Peter's Galaxy S7, he only sees the selected English and choices for Spanish, Vietnamese and several other "preloaded" Chinese/Asian languages. He has not been able to add other languages yet and is looking for help to add Italian and Dutch. 

One word of caution: On Android devices, be careful with languages with a non-western writing system and, at least, remember the small icon in front of "Language and input," in case you want to get back to English!

(On your laptop or PC, you could change the language only on Facebook, etc., or in one of your browsers, or even set your preferred language for the computer in "Language & Region.")

Setting your language back to English:

On your iOS devices, click on the "Einstellungen" (Settings) icon, then go to "Allgemein" (General), "Sprache & Region" (Language & Region), "iPhone/iPad-Sprache" (iPhone/iPad Language), and finally, "English/Englisch."

  • "Abbrechen" means Cancel;
  • "Fertig" means Done;
  • "Fortfahren" means Continue.

WAIT! THERE'S GERMAN ALL OVER MY DEVICE

Don't Panic. The icons on your gadget give you lots of help. And here are a few initial terms to get you going:

  • Zum Entsperren Home-Taste drücken - Press home to unlock
  • Wiederholen - Try again ("repeat")
  • Nachrichten (f.) - Messages
  • Uhr (f.) - Clock
  • Seitenmanager (m.) - Pages ("page manager")
  • Notizen (f.) - Notes
  • Erinnerungen (f.) - Reminders
  • Einstellungen (f.) - Settings
  • Flugmodus (m.) - Airplane Mode
  • WLAN - Wi-Fi
  • Mitteilungen (f.) - Notifications
  • Nicht stören - Don't disturb

GERMAN FACEBOOK TERMS

Happy man using digital tabletTo interact with you, Facebook uses the friendly, familiar "du" form. For example, the familiar imperative form of "describe yourself" is "Beschreibe dich." (The polite form would be "Beschreiben Sie sich.")

To translate "Like," German uses the verb "gefallen" for the idiomatic expression "Gefällt mir" (I like it, or more literally: It pleases me).

For forms like "Comment, Share, Show, Log out" etc. (which could be both infinitive and imperative), German uses infinitive forms: "Kommentieren, Teilen, Zeigen, Abmelden" etc.

Words and phrases that you keep seeing on your device are bound to end up in your long-term memory. You'll probably never forget them.

Here's a list of 20 or so you'll see on your iPhone or iPad:

On your Profile Page:

  • Suche nach Personen, Orten und Dingen - Search Persons, Places and Things
  • Bearbeiten - Edit ("work on")
  • Gemeinsame Freunde - Mutual Friends
  • Neuer Beitrag (m.) - New Post
  • Profil bearbeiten - Edit Profile
  • Mehr - More
  • Profilbild auswählen - Upload Profile Picture ("choose Profile Picture")
  • Foto hochladen - Upload Foto
  • Info (f.) - About
  • Fotos (n.) - Photos
  • Besuche (m.) - Check-Ins ("visits")
  • Lebensereignis (n.) - Life Event
  • Beschreibe dich - Describe who you are ("describe yourself")

Reacting to Posts:

  • Gefällt mir - Like ("pleases me")
  • Gefällt mir nicht mehr - Unlike ("doesn't please me any more")
  • Traurig - Sad
  • Wütend - Angry
  • Kommentieren - Comment
  • Teilen - Share
  • Geteilt - Shared
  • Aufrufe (m.) - Views
  • Mehr anzeigen - Show more
  • Beitrag speichern - Save post

Posting on Facebook:

  • Was machst du gerade? - What's on your mind? ("What are you doing right now?")
  • Öffentlich - Public
  • Freunde (m.) - Friends
  • Enge Freunde - Close Friends
  • Freunde außer Bekannte - Friends except acquaintances
  • Benutzer (m.) - User(s)
  • Freunde markieren - Tag friends

Managing your Facebook Page:

  • Einstellungen (f.) - Settings
  • Profilbild (n.) ändern - Change profile
  • Titelbild (n.) ändern - Change Cover
  • Seite erstellen - Create Page
  • Netzwerke (n.) - Networks
  • Hilfe und Unterstützung - Help and Support
  • Ein Problem melden - Report a Problem
  • Abbrechen - Cancel
  • Abmelden - Log Out

GERMAN FACEBOOK GRAMMAR:

Certain social media terms can help you absorb some basic grammar structures. It's an easier way to learn grammar than to memorize rules.

1. Compound Nouns

In German compound nouns, it's the second (or last) noun which gives you the gender.

  • das Profil + das Bild = das Profilbild
  • der Titel + das Bild = das Titelbild
  • Some compound nouns take a linking "s."
  • das Leben + das Ereignis = das Lebensereignis

2. Verb Prefixes: "an" and "ab"

Many German verbs can take different prefixes, which change the meaning of the original verb.

  • The verb "melden" (as in "ein Problem melden) means "to report."
  • "Abmelden" means "to log out" or "sign out."
  • "Anmelden" means "to log in" or "sign up."

To say that you want to register, you would use the reflexive form: "sich anmelden."

  • Ich möchte mich bei Facebook anmelden. (I want to sign up for Facebook.)

The verb "brechen" means "to break"

  • "Abbrechen" means "to cancel" (break off).

3. Separable Verb Prefixes:

The prefixes "ab" and "an" are a separable prefixes.

  • In the present tense, the prefix "ab" goes to the end of the clause: Ich melde mich ab. (I'm signing out.)
  • In the conversational past, "ab" is separated by "-ge-": Ich habe mich abgemeldet. (I signed out.)
  • In the future tense, the prefix stays: Ich werde mich anmelden. (I'll sign in.)

4. Inseparable Verb Prefix: "er-" and "be-"

The inseparable verb prefixes "be-" and "er-" always stay as part of the verb and thus don't use "-ge-" in the conversational past. 

The verb "stellen" means "to put" or "to place." ("auf den Tisch stellen" - to place on the table)

  • The verb "erstellen" means "to create" or "to make." ("Seite erstellen" - create a page)
  • Ich erstelle eine Seite. (I create a page.)
  • Ich habe eine Seite erstellt. (I created a page.)
  • Ich werde eine Seite erstellen. (I'll create a page.)

The verb "schreiben" means "to write." ("einen Brief schreiben" - to write a letter)

"Beschreiben" means "to describe" or "to depict." ("Beschreibe dich" - Describe yourself)

  • Ich beschreibe mich. (I describe myself.)
  • Ich habe mich beschrieben. (I described myself.)
  • Ich werde mich beschreiben. (I'll describe myself.)
5. German does not have a "continuous" verb form:

In English, you can say "I'm editing" to mean that you're doing it right now, or that you're in the process of doing it (at this time). German does not have a verb form for that. Instead, you would either add an adverb, such as "gerade"  (just now) or reformulate: "ich bin dabei, ... zu bearbeiten" (I'm in the process of ...) to get the same meaning across.

The verb "arbeiten" means "to work."

"Bearbeiten" means "to edit" or "work on."

  • Ich bearbeite mein Profil. (I'm editing my Profile.)
  • Ich bearbeite gerade mein Profil.
  • Ich bin dabei, mein Profil zu bearbeiten. 

As you've probably guessed, immersion works best if you have a basic understanding of the language that's being used. Just seeing unknown words and phrases (as I would, if I set my devices to Polish, for example) would be a little scary.

Still, if you're used to navigating the apps on your iPhone and are familiar with the icons on it, you can figure out what many of the foreign words and phrases mean.

Changing the language on your devices lets you try out new things and use context to guess new vocabulary. That's a good way to learn.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

European Travels 2: The Netherlands and the Dutch Language

Dutch windmillIn our previous post, European Travels 1: Rembrandt, Reunion, Dunes, and “Fietsen”, we described a few of our observations in the Netherlands at the start of our visit this year. (Read also about our canal boating!)

The Netherlands is a great country to visit. It has bucolic scenery, picturesque towns, and a rich tradition of art and intellectual life. Plus, there's Amsterdam. Who can beat that?

Most Dutch people speak English quite well, so it's not necessary to speak any Dutch to get around.

Still, knowing a few phrases of the language can be the passport to a more genuine experience of the Netherlands and its people.

DUTCH - THE NETHERLANDS - HOLLAND

To clarify:

  • English speakers may learn “Dutch,” while Dutch people (Nederlanders) speak “Nederlands” or "Hollands."
  • “The Netherlands” is made up of twelve (12) provinces, plus three (3) Caribbean countries (Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten) and three (3) municipalities (Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius), also in the Caribbean.
  • “Holland” consists of the two provinces, North Holland and South Holland, therefore just describes a part of the Netherlands. However, "Holland" is often used by German speakers when talking about the Netherlands.

Last year's post, 3 Languages, a Pyramid, Napoleon and a Family Reunion, includes a snapshot of Dutch history.

Map of the NetherlandsWe should also point out, that the new Dutch kingdom, established in 1815, lost its southern half in 1830, when that became part of Belgium. William Z. Shetter in The Netherlands in Perspective describes the reasons this way:

“The North had had centuries of independence and prosperity while the South had been a remote province of the Spanish and later Austrian Empires. The constitutional provision for equality of religion had not changed the fact that Protestantism was dominant in the North and Catholicism in the South.”

Dutch language (Nederlands) is spoken in the Netherlands and in Flanders, northern Belgium, (the Dutch kingdom's former southern half) where the language is called Flemish (Vlaams). Flemish is also spoken in the French region Nord-Pas-de-Calais, bordering Belgium.

Dutch is also spoken in the Republic of Suriname (located in South America, north of Brazil). In addition, Dutch has official status in the three countries and three municipalities in the Caribbean.

Afrikaans, a derivative of Dutch, is one of the official languages of South Africa. Dutch and Afrikaans are mutually intelligible.

SHORT HISTORY OF THE WORD "DUTCH"

In the Brittanica you'll find this explanation:Dutch language

"In the Middle Ages the language of the regions was called Dietsc, or Duutsc, historically equivalent to German Deutsch and meaning simply 'language of the people,' as contrasted with Latin, which was the language of religion and learning. The form Duutsc was borrowed into English and gives modern 'Dutch.'

The official name of the language is Nederlands, or Netherlandic. In the Netherlands it is also called Hollands (Hollandish), reflecting the fact that the standard language is based largely on the dialect of the old province of Holland (now North Holland and South Holland)."

For a more detailed account of the history of the Dutch language, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_language.

DUTCH IS BETWEEN ENGLISH AND GERMAN

German-UK flagsLearning some Dutch is a fun adventure, especially for someone who speaks English and German. This is because Dutch is closely related to both English and German. One could say that it is between them.

On the one hand, Dutch resembles English in that it has no umlaut, doesn't use the subjunctive, and does not use case endings for adjectives, etc.

On the other hand, Dutch resembles German in that it has three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter), a similar word order, and uses modal particles (those little hard-to-translate words used in spoken language that reflect the attitude of the speaker). Also, Dutch and German vocabulary often show great similarity.

Below is a sampler. (To learn and practice Dutch words and phrases with audio for free, go to Lingohut.com)

THE NUMBERS 1-14 (ENGLISH - DUTCH - GERMAN)

  • one, een, eins
  • two, twee, zweipool balls
  • three, drie, drei
  • four, vier, vier
  • five, vijf, fünf
  • six, zes, sechs
  • seven, zeven, sieben
  • eight, acht, acht
  • nine, negen, neun
  • ten, tien, zehn
  • eleven, elf, elf
  • twelve, twaalf, zwölf
  • thirteen, dertien, dreizehn
  • fourteen, veertien, vierzehn

QUESTION WORDS (ENGLISH - DUTCH - GERMAN)

  • where, waar, woquestion words
  • what, wat, was
  • when wanneer, wann
  • why, waarom, warum
  • These two are a little confusing:
  • who, wie, wer
  • how, hoe, wie

BASIC NOUNS (ENGLISH - DUTCH - GERMAN)

  • street, straat, Straße
  • house, huis, Haus
  • bridge, brug, Brücke
  • way, weg, Weg
  • money, geld, Geld
  • check, rekening, Rechnung
  • table, tafel, Tisch
  • weather, weer, Wetter

COMMON ADJECTIVES (ENGLISH - DUTCH - GERMAN)

  • now, nu, jetzt
  • later, later, später
  • bad, slecht, schlecht
  • good, goed, gut
  • small, klein, klein
  • big, groot, groß
  • new, nieuw, neu
  • old, oud, alt
  • low, laag, niedrig
  • high, hoog, hoch

DUTCH SAYINGS

One characteristic of the Dutch language is that it's full of colorful sayings that are sometimes pretty hard to figure out. But they sure are entertaining. Here are a couple:

1. De hond in de pot findendog in flower pot

Literal: To find the dog in the pot
English equivalent: All the food has been eaten

Ze kwam zo laat thuis dat ze de hond in de pot vond.
She came home so late that all the food had been eaten.

2. De aap komt uit de mouw

Literal: The monkey comes out of the sleeve
English equivalent: Truth will come out

Als hij binnekort voor de rechter staat, komt de aap uit de mouw.
When he soon stands in front of the judge, truth will come out.

3. Iets op eigen houtje doenwood carving

Literal: To do something on one's own piece of wood (or carving stick)
English equivalent: To do something on one's own

Hij is geen groepsmens, hij doet dingen het liefst op eigen houtje.
He's not a group person, he prefers doing things on his own.

WHAT ABOUT “FIETSEN"?

Woman with bicycle in Amsterdam - Gamesforlanguage.com“Fietsen” is a word you may hear a lot, as its seems that everybody does it in the Netherlands: Bikes are everywhere; in Amsterdam, along the canals, on bridges, etc.

The words “bike" (English), “fiets" (Dutch), and “Fahrrad" (German) don't seem to be at all related.

The English terms "bike" or "bicycle" are derived from the Greek (bi- "two" + kyklos "circle, wheel"). The German word "Fahrrad" is simply a "riding wheel." Thus, these words make etymological sense.

But, the origin of the word “fiets," so central to daily life in the Netherlands, has long puzzled linguists.

One long-held conjecture was that the word "fiets" was a corruption of the French word "vélocipède" (as "fielsepee") and originated in 1870 in the town of Apeldoorn. (dr.j.devries etymologisch woordenboek, 1973)

Another popular possibility was that "fiets" came from the name of the bicycle merchant E.C. Viets (V pronounced as F).

Or, that it's a corruption of the French word "vitesse" (speed).

Or, that it comes from the southern Dutch word "vietse," meaning "to move quickly."

Most recently, two Belgian linguists suggested that "fiets" comes from the German "Vize-Pferd" (substitute horse) (Linbkhttp://www.24oranges.nl/2012/02/23/etymology-of-dutch-word-for-bicycle-cracked-after-140-years/)

However, the suggestion that "fietsen" is a German loanword was quickly and thoroughly criticized online in the electronic magazine for Dutch language and literature, by the linguist Jan Stroop in his 2012 post, Ga toch fietsen. (The article is in Dutch, but you can easily get a Google translation, which gives you the basic idea.)

Stroop ends his argument with the sentence: "Fiets" een Duits leenwoord? Bike rider in Holland Ga toch fietsen. ("Fiets" a German loanword? - Go take a hike., i.e No way! )

So, the origin of "fiets" remains a riddle.

For anybody visiting the Netherlands "fietsen" is a must activity. Weaving your way through traffic and busy pedestrian passages may take some practice and not be for everyone.

But in all cities and towns, you'll also find bicycle lanes you can ride on comfortably and safely "Dutch style," sitting erect and leisurely enjoying the surroundings...

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagramand leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

German Travel Memories 1 - Michael in Frankfurt am Main

travel memories of Frankfurt a.M.The German Travel Memories expand on our GamesforLanguage travel-story based courses, which use the cities' real street names, places, restaurants, hotels, etc. We visited many of them ourselves and tell you a little more about each German city.   

In future blog posts, we'll provide additional details for each of the cities our young travelers visit in Germany, France, Italy, and Spain.

That we chose Frankfurt for Michael's first stop in Germany was no accident: My husband Peter grew up in Bad Nauheim, a small town 20 miles north of Frankfurt. (Skyline of Frankfurt across the Main River at sunset) 

Ken Burns' PBS documentary reminded us recently that Franklin Roosevelt had attended school in Bad Nauheim for several weeks, while his father sought the water cure for his heart condition. (Read our post: Where “Bad” doesn't mean “bad” - Franklin Roosevelt in Germany...)

Visiting Frankfurt? Here's a short introduction to this lively, cosmopolitan German city. We'll also list a few basic terms in German that will help you make your own travel memories.

We'll follow Michael's discoveries in Frankfurt, for those of you who have done or are doing our German 1 course: Michael in Deutschland.

In our travel-story course, you learn daily conversational language. The vocabulary listed here is a combination of some words taught in the course as well as other useful terms.

Quick Facts about Frankfurt

Frankfurt am Main is located on an ancient ford (German: "Furt") on the Main River in the federal state of Hesse.

(There's also a Frankfurt an der Oder, a city that is located on the Oder River in the state of Brandenburg, at the Polish border.)

Frankfurt am Main is the 5th largest city in Germany. Its metropolitan area has a population of over 5 million. The city is an important financial center. Its stock exchange (Frankfurter Wertpapierbörse, FWB) ranks among the top 10 stock exchanges of the world. (Frankfurt with the twin towers of the "Deutsche Bank" below)

Frankfurt is also known for its trade fairs, which go back in history to the Middle Ages. The city hosts the world's largest book fair, which takes place annually in October. The first Frankfurt Book Fair was held in 1485. (For further reading)

  • der Fluss - the riverFrankfurt a.M. - Deutsch Bank Towers
  • das Bundesland - the federal state
  • die Grenze - the border
  • die Stadt - the city
  • der Großraum - the metropolitan area
  • die Bevölkerung - the population
  • das Finanzzentrum - the financial center
  • die Börse - the stock exchange
  • die Buchmesse - the book fair

Frankfurt Airport 

Michael is a young student who learned some German at home and later studied it in school. However, this will be his first visit to Germany.

On his flight to Frankfurt, Michael chats in German with the flight attendant and with the woman who sits next to him.

Frankfurt airport is the 4th busiest airport in Europe, after London, Paris, and Istanbul. With its 297 destinations in 104 countries (as of 2015), Frankfurt's airport may have the most international destinations in the world. (Further information)

As Michael goes through passport control, he continues to use his German. Responding to the standard immigration/passport control questions, he has to explain why he is traveling to Germany and how long he will stay. 

  • der Flug - the flightGerman passport control
  • der/die Flugbegleiter(in) - the flight attendant m/f
  • der Flughafen - the airport

die Passkontrolle - the Passport Control (did you notice the "Paßkontrolle" spelling on the picture? If you don't know, which one is correct or why, write as at contact, or comment below and we'll explain.)

  • Sind Sie geschäftlich hier? - Are you here on business?
  • Wie lange bleiben Sie? - How long are you staying?
  • Eine gute Zeit! - Have a good time!

(A few years ago, we made our own travel memories, trying out the dialog of Scene 4, and the officer responded exactly as in our dialog - "Guten Morgen. Sie sprechen Deutsch!" - when I gave him my American passport but greeted him in German.)

Districts of Frankfurt

Frankfurt is divided into 46 districts. The financial center spreads across several districts in and near the inner city.

A little farther out, you'll find a number of residential areas that are still well-connected by subway and tram to the city center and its core, the historical quarter.

Leipziger Straße, where Michael's aunt and uncle live, is a charming street with bistros, shops, and apartments in the residential district called Bockenheim.

Not far from Leipziger Straße is one of the four campuses of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität with its lively student quarter.

(Aerial view of Frankfurt-Bockenheim below, right)

  • der Stadtteil - the (city) districtFrankfurt Bockenheim
  • die Innenstadt - the inner city
  • die Wohngegend - the residential area
  • die U-Bahn - the subway
  • das Universitätsgelände (der Campus) - the campus
  • das Studentenviertel - the student quarter
  • die Kneipe - the pub
  • das Geschäft - the shop

Der Römerberg

Michael's cousin Julia shows him around Frankfurt's historic quarter ("Altstadt").

Römerberg market place - Frankfurt a.M.They walk across the central market square, which is called "Römerberg," (see picture left with Justizia statue) literally translated as "Roman mountain." Curiously enough, the name may have nothing to do with early Roman settlement, which can be documented for the time between 75 and 260 A.D. (or if you prefer, C.E.)

Rather, there are various speculations about the origin of the name "Römerberg." One idea is that the name comes from the presence of Italian merchants that frequented the popular meeting place for fairs and markets during the Middle Ages.

Another is that the square was considered a focal point for celebrations during the Holy Roman Empire (a multi-ethnic empire, which lasted from the early Middle Ages to the early 19th century and included, among others, the Kingdoms of Germany, Bavaria, Burgundy, and Italy.) For more information click here.

Frankfurt was heavily bombed during World War II (1939-1945) and its historic city center was reduced to rubble. Most of Frankfurt was rapidly built up again, but without much attention paid to architectural style.

However, city planning took hold in the 60s and 70s and in the 1980s, some of the buildings in the historic city center were rebuilt in the old style. In 2010/11 a new effort was started, called the "Dom-Römer Projekt," to reconstruct another 35 buildings using old historical plans.

Reconstruction has included the timber-framed houses on the Römerberg, as well as the city hall, called "der Römer." The step-gabled house became Frankfurt's city hall in the 15th century and has been the seat of city government ever since.

(See picture below right of Frankfurt old town.)

  • der Berg - the mountain Frankfurt old town
  • die Römer - the Romans
  • der Römer - Frankfurt's city hall
  • das Rathaus - the city hall
  • das Mittelalter - the Middle Ages
  • die Altstadt - the history quarter
  • der Marktplatz - the market place
  • das Gebäude - the building
  • das Fachwerkhaus - the timber-framed house
  • der Weltkrieg - the world war

If you happen to visit Frankfurt, here is a suggestion for a walk through the Old Town.

Die Zeil

During their walk through the historic center, his cousin Julia asks Michael if he wants to go to the Zeil with her to do some shopping. It's about a 10 minute walk from the Römerberg to get there.

Die Zeil is a well-known, busy shopping street in the center (Innenstadt) of Frankfurt. Its name dates back to the 14th century, when it referred to a specific row of houses. Over the centuries, the street was extented and became a boulevard of palaces, grand buildings in various architectural styles, fine restaurants, and numerous department stores. Many of these were not rebuilt after the second World War.

From 2004 to 2009, the Zeil underwent major renovations, and the Myzeil shopping arcade with its gigantic glass façade was added. It has eight floors and its architecture is stunning.

(See picture of MyZeil shopping arcade below, right)

  • die Zeile - the rowMyZeil - Frankfurt a.M.
  • die Einkaufsstraße - the shopping street
  • der Reiseführer - the travel guide
  • die Renovierung - the renovation
  • das Kaufhaus - the department store
  • die Architektur - the architecture

Das Frankfurter Goethe-Haus

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), Germany's most famous writer, was born and grew up in Frankfurt am Main, then still an Imperial Free City of the Holy Roman Empire.

Goethe got his education from private tutors, with a special focus on languages (Latin, Greek, French, Italian, English, and Hebrew). He loved drawing, and read as much as he could of literature, history, and religion, in books that were in his father's library.

In 1765, at the age of 16, he (reluctantly) began his law studies, at the universities of Leipzig and Straßburg, finishing his law degree in Frankfurt in 1771. During his time as a student, he became close friends with other writers, fell in and out of love, and started writing passionate poetry himself. In 1772, he gave up his law career and left Frankfurt. (

Goethe is probably best known for two works. One is his loosely autobiographical Sturm and Drang novel "The Sorrows of Young Werther" (1774), which he wrote in the course of six weeks. Upon publication, the novel instantly made him world famous. People started dressing and acting like the young Werther. Unfortunately, it also led to some copycat suicides.

Goethe's Italian travel memories ("Italienische Reise") were subject of a New York Times article.

Goethe's other well-known work is the drama "Faust I" (published in 1806). This was a reworking of the old Faust legend - a scholar's pact with the devil - that had been popularized by Marlowe in his "Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" (1604).

The Goethe-Haus (see picture below, right) documents the writer's formative years in Frankfurt. (For further reading about Goethe, click on this Wiki entry

  • der Dichter - the poet, writerGoethe Haus - Frankfurt a. M.
  • die Kaiserstadt - the Imperial City
  • die Bildung/Ausbildung - the education
  • die Sprache - the language
  • die Bibliothek - the library
  • das Jurastudium - the law studies
  • das Gedicht - the poem
  • Sturm und Drang - Storm and Stress (early Romanticism)
  • Die Leiden des jungen Werther - The Sorrows of Young Werther

Michael spends a few more days in Frankfurt. Among the other sites he visits, these may also interest you:

Other Places to visit in Frankfurt

The Archäologische Garten: an archeological museum that includes remnants of ancient Roman settlement.

Frankfurt Cathedral: the city's main cathedral, constructed in the 14th and 15th centuries. Roman-German emperors were crowned here during the time of the Holy Roman Empire.

Haus Wertheim: a timber-framed house on the Römerberg that was undamaged during World War II.

The Alte Oper: the former opera house, built in 1880.

Michael's Next Travel Memories Stop 

Travel memories of Heidelberg - GermanyFrom Frankfurt, Michael takes the train to Heidelberg. There he gets together with a friend he had met in Boston. Read about Heidelberg in German Travel Memories 2 - Michael in Heidelberg.

Register or log in again and continue with the German 1 course. When you reach the Heidelberg Scene you'll also learn the English translation of the town's name.

In Why did Mark Twain like Heidelberg? we further speculate about why Twain stayed in Heidelberg for three months in 1878.

 

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

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