After having explored several harbors of the “Nordsee,” and especially Hamburg (see also our post: From Utrecht to Hamburg), we headed to Lübeck, the first city at the “Ostsee” (Baltic Sea) we were going to visit.
Leaving the “Stadtstaat” (city state) of Hamburg, we were back into Schleswig-Holstein (Sleswick-Holsatia), the most northern of the now 16 German states, and which borders Denmark. (If you are interested to learn more about the state of Sleswick-Holsatia, clickHere.)
After Kiel (the capital), Lübeck is the state's second largest city with a population of over 200,000.
Lübeck's 711-year-long statehood as a free city came to an end in 1937, when Adolf Hitler incorporated it into the state of Sleswick-Holsatia. (Reportedly, Hitler had a personal dislike for Lübeck, after the city's elders did not allow him to campaign there in 1932.)
I had been in Lübeck once during my teenage years, but remembered little of the city. I did recall, however, its role as the leading and most powerful member of the “Hanse,” the Hanseatic League. More about that below.
Lübeck's “old city” is surrounded by water and we drove to our hotel past one of its remaining signature gates (see pictures above, and right from top of St. Petri Tower). Although severely damaged from bombing raids during the last days of World War II, much of the city has been rebuilt in the old style.
Lübeck was the birthplace of the brothers Heinrich and Thomas Mann. Those familiar with German film may recall “Der blaue Engel” (The blue Angel), based on Heinrich Mann's book “Professor Unrat.” The role of “Lola” also launched Marlene Dietrich's career in film.
Thomas Mann, the more famous brother, is known for his novel “Die Buddenbrooks,” the generational story of a rich merchant family. Although Lübeck is never mentioned in the book, it clearly is the city where the story of the family's decline unfolds. The book is still a staple of German courses in Germany and many other countries.
Another famous son of Lübeck is Willy Brandt, Berlin's mayor from1957 to 1966 and Germany's chancellor from 1969-1974. Brandt had emigrated to Norway and Sweden after 1933 and returned to Germany after the war.
Five things we did in Lübeck 1. A boat/harbor tour Lübeck has lost its importance as a commercial harbor, especially after Germany's reunification. A boat trip will take you in a circle around the entire old town and you'll hear many of the key sights described. During sunny and warm weather, we'd recommend the open tour boats, (which can pass though low bridges). The waterfront evokes images of times long past.
2. Hanse Museum Visiting the newly opened Hanse Museum was a must for us.
The “Hanse” or “Hansa” (Hanseatic League) was a medieval trade association that linked many European cities during its prime, including Hamburg and Bremen, Germany's only two remaining city states.
Located at the site of a former friary, the museum presents the Hanse's history from its beginnings in the 13th century to its decline in 1669, when the last formal meeting was held. After that, the only three remaining members, Bremen, Hamburg, and Lübeck finally dissolved their pact in 1862.
At its prime, in the 14th century, the Hanse connected nearly 200 cities in Europe from Bergen and Nyborg in the north, to Bordeaux and Lisbon in the south, and Novgorod and Smolensk in the east. (Left: The spread of the Hanseatic League in the year 1400 by Plate 28 of Professor G. Droysens Allgemeiner Historischer Handatlas, published by R. Andrée, 188) CheckHEREfor the museum's English website andHEREfor its German version. (If you want to learn more about the Hanse, thisBritannica entrygives a good summary)
Interestingly, many of the old Hanse cities have now joined again in a loose association called the Die Hanse. The organization, founded in 1980, with now 185 former Hanse cities in 16 countries, is reportedly the world's largest voluntary association of towns and cities.
3. Buddenbrook House
The house (see picture) in which the Mann brothers grew up has been converted to a museum, with rooms furnished as described in the novel. The biography of the two brothers is presented well with pictures and text. Both knew early on that they did not want to follow in their father's merchant footsteps. But the family fortune also allowed them to pursue their calling without financial worries.
4. Günther Grass House
Any lover of post-war German literature will want to visit this museum, which served as Grass' office and contains many of his memorabilia. Although Grass was born in Danzig (now Gdansk), he lived near Lübeck from 1995 on and kept his office in the building until his death in April 2015. In the museum, you'll find excellent presentations on Germany's 20th century history, especially war-related events, and on the controversy around Grass, who acknowledged his membership in the SS only late in life.
5. Marzipan shop No visit to Lübeck would be complete without a visit to the Niederegger Marzipan Stammhaus (company building), which combines a shop, a café, and a museum. The history of the world-famous Lübecker Marzipan is described in an exhibition on the upper floor. In the historic Café Niederegger, you'll find an amazing selection of delicious cakes and pastries. It's hard to choose among them, believe me. (Needless to say, we enjoyed splurging in the Niederegger shop. But happily, we found out back home that you can order most of their Marzipan products on Amazon!)
Travemünde is Lübeck's door to the Baltic Sea and is located about 25 miles downriver from Lübeck. A famous seaside resort in the 60s and 70s, it began to lose its luster to the many other German seaside towns and cities after reunification.
During earlier years, smaller cruise ships even made it up the Trave to Lübeck. Now however, only few of the bigger ships dock at Travemünde and very few go to Lübeck. Instead, they choose what appears to be one of the main competitors, Warnemünde, Rostock's Baltic Sea port.
Travemünde features the Timmendorfer Strand, which – during summer weekends – attracts many beachgoers from the Hamburg region. Remember: The mudflats (“Wattenmeer”) of the German North Sea don't make for a great beach experience, while the Baltic Sea has many wide and sandy beaches.
From Travemünde, we crossed into former East Germany (“Deutsche Demokratische Republik”/DDR) on the Travemünde-Priwall ferry.
Rather than taking the fast new Autobahn to Wismar, we went for the “slow road” to explore some of the seaside towns.
One of the first things we noticed was that the secondary roads became much narrower. The paved part would only accommodate one car. Both cars, when passing each other, had to use the unpaved shoulder.
One the other hand, there were also new roads, some not even shown on our recently purchased map or known by our Dutch rental car's GPS! (By the way, GPS in the Netherlands is called “Tom-Tom,” after one of the manufacturers. In Germany it's called “Navi.”)
Boltenhagen is a small seaside resort town, typical to several we encountered on our travels along the Baltic sea. A long jetty allows for ships to dock and a wide sand beach can accommodate many beach lovers in the characteristic caned beach chairs.
The promenade, a combination of walkway and bicycle path, stretches out along the dunes behind the beach. Hotels, apartments, restaurants, and shops make up the next rows inland.
We were there on a Wednesday and the long beach was not crowded. But we were surprised by the many older people on the boardwalk, sitting in restaurants and cafes, or enjoying inexpensive “Fischbrötchen” (fish sandwiches). (see picture)
Wismar, located about 45 miles east of Lübeck, and today with about 45,000 inhabitants, was also a very important Hanse city of old. It has also had a colorful and interesting history since those days. Together with the historical core of Stralsund, (we'll report on Stralsund in a later post), Wismar is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, both being typical representatives of the Hanseatic League cities with their Brick Gothic style architecture. (“Backsteingothik”)
The “Wassertor” is the last remaining one of the five original city gates. The gate, erected around 1450 in the late-gothic style, opens towards the harbor. (see picture)
Wismar's natural and well-protected harbor was certainly one key to the city's importance.
In 1632 Swedish troops occupied the city and in 1648, at the end of the 30-year war, the city of Wismar was awarded to Sweden.
In spite of several sieges and takeovers by Danish and Prussian troops over the years, Wismar remained Swedish property and was even the seat of the highest court for Swedish properties on that side of the Baltic sea.
However, in 1803, Sweden pledged both town and lordship to Mecklenburg for 100 years and for a fee of 1,258,000 Rijsktalers. However, in 1903 Sweden renounced its claim and Wismar was finally returned into the fold of Mecklenburg for good.
We very much enjoyed our stay in the city's old town, admiring the many well-restored brick buildings, observing boats and ships go in and out of the harbor, and people-watching at one of the many outside cafe's.
Our next travel posts will take you to Rostock, and on to the islands of Rügen and Usedom, which is close to the border with Poland.
We were intrigued by our conversation with a Swedish couple we had met in Lübeck. We told them that we planned to visit the island of Rügen. They suggested that we visitProra, the “colossus of Rügen”and one of Hitler's gigantic, but never-finished vacation resorts. We had never heard of this.
What's so great about learning idioms in another language?
An idiom is a characteristic expression whose meaning does not relate to the literal meaning of the words in it.
So, here's what idioms can do for you:
They take you right into the foreign mindset and give you a different taste of a language and culture.
They make you sound like a native.
They help you fit in.
Knowing common idioms helps you to understand and participate in conversations.
you must also learn to pronounce an idiom correctly.
And, you have to use the idiom in the right context.
We were recently provided with a free copy of the eBook: “Other Cats to Whip - The Book of French Idioms” by its authors, Zubair Arshad and Graham Clark. For anyone striving beyond a basic knowledge of French, this book is an enjoyable resource.
Its French title “D'autres chats à fouetter” translates to “Other fish to fry,” but an embarrassing mispronunciation of the French title – can you guess? - lies at its core.
Graham Clark describes in the book's introduction how he tried to drop the French title phrase into a conversation with his boss in Marseille. Whoops ... The book's authors are therefore serious about their warning: “Enjoy these idioms, but just be careful how you use them!”
So, do you dare to learn these idioms?
The book gives you 40 common French idioms, each presented with a funny, memorable cartoon illustration.
Then, for each idiom, you see two essential vocabulary items, plus the literal and the idiomatic translation in English. And, for each idiom you get a sentence that uses it in a conversational context.
Here are four features of the book that are especially helpful for language learning:
LEARNING WITH IMAGES
Many idioms say something about human foibles or characteristic human behavior. Because of that, an idiom tends to evoke a vivid image. That in itself is fun, but the image also help you to remember the expression. Not surprisingly, many of the images in this book involve animals, 18 of the 40, to be exact. Animals are just wonderful dramatic subjects that hold a humorous mirror to ourselves.
But you'll also find idioms with food images (not a surprise either), and those that contain parts of the body or commonplace objects.
The clever and funny illustrations, created by Ruxandra, pick up the literal meaning of the images, and these truly will stay in your mind.
For example, the expression “décoiffer la giraffe” (literally, to mess up the giraffe's hair), means “to do something difficult.” Think about it, considering a giraffe's height and hairstyle, and keeping the cartoon in mind, will you ever forget this expression now?
For each of the idioms, you are given two basic items of vocabulary. So, as a minimum, you'll have 80 words, mostly nouns and verbs. You'll learn these naturally, as they show up in context, and not categorized as in a French grammar book.
You'll learn a wide range of common verbs, such as “s'occuper” (to mind, take care of), “tirer” (to pull), “craindre” (be afraid of), “sortir” (to go out), “tomber” (to fall), etc. and everyday nouns such as “échelle” (ladder), “haricot” (bean), “gueule” (slang for mouth, face), “huître” (oyster), “ours” (bear), etc.
Above all, you'll learn that the literal translation of an idiom may be potentially funny, but not especially helpful for the meaning. Sometimes guessing the meaning can really lead you astray.
Consider the expression “sortir de la gueule d'une vache” (literally, to come out of the mouth of a cow), which, for example when referring to a shirt, means “to be creased or wrinkled.” Would you have guessed that one if it came up in a conversation?
LEARNING IDIOMATIC GRAMMAR
In the collection of expressions and the sentences in which they are used, you'll see a variety of grammatical structures. Again, you'll learn these as they come up and not as part of a grammar paradigm.
The grammar in the English translation is often quite different from the grammar in the French original. Because of that, you'll tend to internalize the whole of the French idiom - grammar and all - as a chunk of vocabulary.
Just look at these sentences which use idioms in context: “L'appartement est trop cher, tu te fais prendre pour un pigeon.” (The apartment is too expensive, you're being taken for a ride.) Or: “Tu ne peux pas aller au travail comme ça mon chéri, ta chemise est sortie de la gueule d'une vache !” (You can't go to work like that darling, your shirt is all creased!)
Thus by acquiring the structures of a series of idioms, you're also learning essential conversational grammar.
LEARNing LANGUAGE IN CONTEXT
When using an idiom, you have to be absolutely sure that you understand what it means and that you're using it in the correct context. Some expressions are more informal or slangy than others, so be careful of that, too.
Different languages use different images for corresponding idioms. The image at the center of an idiom in one language may have different connotations in another language.
In other languages, for example, the informal French expression “ne pas avoir la lumière à tous les étages” (literally, not to have lights on every floor; meaning: to be stupid) translates into rather different images.
In English, you say “to have a screw loose.”
In Spanish, you might say “faltar un tornillo” (to be short of a screw).
In Italian, it's “mancare una rotella” (to be missing a small wheel).
In German, you would say “nicht alle Tassen im Schrank haben” (not to have all cups in the cupboard). Would you have guessed that one right off the bat?
“Other Cats to Whip - The Book of French Idioms” will surely make you laugh and learn some French. I think it's a perfect gift for anyone learning or teaching French!
The paperback book is shipped from the UK. The most economical option (including shipping) for the US audience is to buy through the author's website. The paperback book is also available on amazon.co.uk and amazon.com. The eBook version is available on the author's website as well as on amazon.co.uk and amazon.com.
Though the rewards of mastering multiple tongues are immeasurable, nobody says that learning a foreign language is easy. From memorizing new vocabulary to making sense of unfamiliar grammatical structures, the language-learning process is fraught with challenges.
And the difficulties that language learners face go beyond the language itself. From lack of time to lack of money to lack of motivation, the realities of everyday life often prove to be a more significant roadblock on the path to fluency than the complexities of vocabulary and grammar.
Luckily for the modern language learner, there’s a simple and effective way to overcome these common obstacles that life throws at us: playing games. No, language games can’t simplify the grammar of a foreign language: they can’t take away the subjunctive in Spanish, or reduce the number of cases in Russian from six to two. But they can and do provide a host of other benefits for learners – even those of us who are busy, shy, or unmotivated.
Here’s how language games address common problems that learners face.
1. Games are fun.
The problem: It’s undeniably chic to be able to switch your language at the drop of a hat, but the process of getting there isn’t always so glamorous. Indeed, there are some aspects of foreign-language grammar that will prove dense or even outright boring.
How language games help: There comes a point in time when we simply can’t look at lists of irregular verbs anymore without falling asleep. But when we turn these lists into a game, we’re suddenly awake, involved, and perhaps even enjoying ourselves. Free games like this Spanish verbs racemaintain our interest and attention when we’re reviewing topics that can often induce boredom. (Image via NIH / Wikipedia)
2. Games are low-pressure.
The problem: Nobody likes making mistakes, and this goes double for language learners. There are few experiences as uniquely frustrating as making grammatical errors when trying your hardest to communicate well in a foreign language. When interacting with native speakers, this can be a highly anxiety-inducing experience. Our fear of making mistakes can prove debilitating when it discourages us from conversing – and thus improving – in our language of study.
How language games help: Games constitute a perfect casual setting where we can make mistakes freely and without judgment. In conversations with native speakers, a forgotten article or misused verb tense can be embarrassing, but when we’re playing a game like Kloo, we can more easily just laugh it off – after all, it’s only a game!
3. Games aren’t work.
The problem: You’ve just finished a long day at work or school (or both!), and the last thing you want to do is MORE work. Although every language learner dreams of being able to devote their entire day to learning new words and phrases, the realities of school and work get in the way of this. We already have jobs, classes, and responsibilities, and learning a new language can seem like yet another item on our endless to-do list.
How language games help: If you’ve already spent all day in class, you’re not going to want to study even more at home. But what about playing a game? That doesn’t sound so bad! Language games help us view language learning not as work, but as something fun and relaxing. This way, we can look forward to the time we spend learning a language, even after a long day in the office.
4. Games are motivating.
The problem: Even the most diligent language learner will experience a dip in their motivation at some point. Indeed, motivation ebbs and flows, and sometimes we simply just don’t have the drive to stare at the same verb conjugation tables for the hundredth time. Of course, staying motivated is a key aspect of the language-learning process, and it can be difficult to make progress when our motivation is low.
How language games help: Games are goal-based, and are designed to be motivating. Whether the purpose of the game is to solve a puzzle, beat out our competitors, or get a new high score, playing language games is fun and exciting. Even when we’re running out of steam, it’s much easier to muster up the energy to play some games than it is to forge through a new chapter of our coursebooks.
5. Games are social.
Games are great for learners of all ages. (Image via Pixabay)
The problem: Especially if you live in an area where there aren’t many native speakers of the language you’re studying, it can be hard to find people to talk to. Indeed, language learning can be quite a solitary activity for many learners among us. But given that language is an inherently social thing – the purpose of learning a language is to communicate, after all – this lack of social interaction can be a hindrance in the language-learning process.
How language games help: Language learning is best done with friends, and a game is a perfect activity to share with others. If you can connect with native speakers, playing games with them will not only strengthen foreign language skills, but can also strengthen your friendships. And even if you don’t have any native speakers at your disposal, you can set up a friendly competition and challenge your fellow language-learners.
6. Games are quick.
The problem: You’re busy. Unfortunately, for most of us, learning a language is not our only responsibility. When we’re constantly on the move and running errands, it can be hard to squeeze in time for language practice – let alone find the time to devote to language classes every week.
How language games help: If you’ve got just five minutes to spare, it won’t do you much good to try hurriedly getting through half a page of your course book. But just a few minutes is all you need to play quick a quick game like these ones, which help you practice various aspects of French pronunciation and grammar. Games are a great way to fill those scarce moments of downtime in our hectic day-to-day lives.
7. Games are (quite often) free.
The problem: Between classes, course books, audio CDs, and other supplementary materials, learning a language can take a toll on our wallets. Nobody likes spending money, and for many of us, buying expensive courses and materials is simply not feasible.
How language games help: With the ever-growing prevalence of the internet, there are more and more opportunities to play language games – completely free of charge! All of the offerings from Games for Language are totally free, giving anyone with an internet connection the chance to improve their language skills and have fun while doing so.
Indeed, from being nervous to being exhausted to simply being bored, there are plenty of things in our daily lives that can prevent us from studying a foreign language and advancing our skills. But fortunately, taking advantage of language-learning games can help us combat these challenges – despite our social, monetary, and schedule restrictions. Games are a great way for us to stay regularly connected with our foreign language, and can help solidify language learning as a part of our daily routine we look forward to.
Readers: what are your favorite language-learning games? What other benefits does playing games offer us? Let us know in a comment on GamesforLanguage's Facebook Page!
With our Dutch family reunion near Utrecht behind, (see photo of Utrecht Gracht, left) we headed to Westphalia to visit friends we had not seen in a while. Westphalia also has some special significance for me, as my great-grandfather was born in Werden, Westphalia, 1836.
After deciding that priesthood was not his calling, he packed his bags and became a teacher at a newly created HBS or “Hogere Burgerschool” (which intended to provide a “practically oriented education for higher functions in industry and trade”) in Maastricht, the Netherlands.
I always wondered how my great-grandfather had managed to make such a quick language switch - and that at the ripe age of thirty-one! One of my Dutch cousins explained it this way: “For Germans, Dutch is really easy to learn.”
How close are Dutch and German?
Right! The Dutch have a hard time with German articles, cases, and the many word-ending variations. By comparison, Dutch seems pretty simple to Germans. At the same time, producing authentic Dutch sentences that aren't just German-pronounced-the-Dutch-way is not an automatic skill.
As he described in an earlier blog post, my German-born husband, Peter, has been learning Dutch online – on and off since the beginning of the year. His “proficiency test” came in the form of attending our Dutch family reunion in Utrecht a couple of weeks ago.
No surprise: Peter obviously could not converse fluently in Dutch, but he understood most of the Dutch conversations around him. Also, he could function just fine with basics: greetings, pleasantries, ordering “een biertje,” asking for the check, reading information labels in museums, etc.
The Lure of the North, but the “Ruhrgebiet” First
I spent my childhood in Austria. In my early twenties, I lived and worked for two years in Freiburg, and from there traveled around southern Germany. However, I never took the opportunity to explore the north.
Peter, too, knows the south of Germany much better than the north. So, after our family reunion was over, we picked up a rental car in Utrecht and headed towards the “Ruhrgebiet,” (Ruhr) where our friends lived. (The Ruhr lies in the center of North Rhine-Westphalia.)
“Das Ruhrgebiet,” named after the river “Ruhr,” had been Germany's industrial coal and steel powerhouse until the early 70s. Duisburg, Essen, Bochum, and Dortmund are the major cities of a very densely populated area of over 8.5 million people.
Somewhat notorious in Germany for the air and water pollution caused by its coal and steel industries, the Ruhr region underwent a radical transformation after the oil crisis in 1973. With coal and steel industries no longer competitive, the Ruhr area went from heavy industry to high tech and service industries. With that, air and water pollution have become a thing of the past.
However, the old industries also caused the area to be crisscrossed by a series of navigable canals (see picture of barge on Dortmund-Ems canal above) that still today link to waterways connecting the North and Baltic Seas, to the Black Sea, and even to the Mediterranean Sea. This obviously requires numerous locks and boats lifts. One of them is our first Travel Tip:
Travel Tip #1 Schiffshebewerk Henrichenburg
One amazing link in Germany's waterway system is the Schiffhebewerk/Boat lift Henrichenburg near Waltrop. The boat lift facilitates a change in elevation of 42 feet of the Dortmund-Ems-Canal. Built in 1899 and used till 1962, when it was replaced with a new boat lift, this elevator for ships is a marvel of mechanical engineering.
Five giant floats, connected through a massive steel structure were able to lift and lower a basin carrying water and ship weighing over 1,000 tons in only two and a half minutes, much faster than with a typical lock. (Click HERE, if you are interested in more information.)
While the rivers and canals are frequented for recreational boating, there is still a fair amount of barge traffic, mainly for bulk goods such sand, gravel, cement, oil, but also grain, wood, etc.
From the “Ruhrgebiet” to Münster and the North Sea
The north-west of Germany has a number of picturesque university towns. On our way north, we stopped in the city of Münster, the cultural center of the region called Münsterland. We enjoyed the old city with its medieval and baroque architecture, and lively market-place cafés.
From Nordrhein-Westfalen, we headed up to Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) and visited Wilhelmshaven, Bremerhaven, Cuxhaven, Stade, and finally, the city state of Hamburg.
The “Wattenmeer,” (see picture right) or North Sea tidal flats, are a special experience: Now a national park, reaching from the border with the Netherlands to the banks of the outer Elbe river, they are an amazing eco-system, second only to a rain forest, with nearly 4,000 plant and animal species.
And while we, like other tourists, explored these and many other attractions, we also paid special attention to the various dialects we heard.
Dutch and Low German
Although standard High German is generally spoken by the people in these regions, and used in the media, local Low German dialects still have a presence. They have left their distinct mark on local everyday language, especially on the sound and intonation of speech.
Low German, also called “Platt,” in fact shares a number of features with Dutch. Most importantly, although they are “Germanic” languages: English, Dutch, and Low German did not experience the “High German consonant shift.” What does this shift look like
Here are three examples of the high German consonant shift:
-k- to -ch-: make (Eng.); maken (Dutch & Low German); machen (High German)
d- to t-: day (Engl.); dag/Dag (Dutch & Low German); Tag (High German)
I had an interesting experience in Hamburg. We happened to be there during their annual “Theater Night” - an evening during which you can go from theater to theater and sample 30-minute performances.
We included the Ohnsorg-Theater, which stages plays in Platt. At first, I understood nothing. But then I said to myself “pretend that it's Dutch.” Once I had tuned my brain to expecting to hear Dutch, I in fact understood quite a bit!
I suspect that my great-grandfather still spoke the local Westphalian (Low German) dialect, and that this had made it easier for him to learn Dutch.
You can compare it to Ina Müler's “De Wind vun Hamburg” in Hamburg Platt.
Travel Tip #2 Emigration Center and Bremerhaven Harbor cruise
Germany's largest emigration harbor is Bremerhaven. This city, founded 1827, and located at the mouth of the Weser River on the North Sea, was an important link in the Hanseatic Trade routes. (see picture of Bremerhaven waterfront, left).
However, it was also known as the “Brücke nach Übersee” (Bridge to Overseas). Between 1830 and 1974, over seven million emigrants shipped out of Bremerhaven to destinations overseas, with the highest number of people emigrating at end of the 19th century.
The German Emigration Center (“Deutsches Auswandererhaus”) opened in 2005 and has been building a database of information about emigrants that shipped out via the harbor.
On a personal note: It was from Bremerhaven that my family emigrated in the 50ties by ship to Canada.
To get a sense of the importance of the Bremerhaven harbor, a harbor cruise is a must. We were not only amazed by the size of the car carriers, with which thousands of cars are shipped from and to Germany, but also by the way huge container ships are loaded and unloaded.
One gets a sense what a huge economic factor such a harbor is for a city, creating thousands of jobs and business opportunities.
Travel Tip #3: The Old Elbe Tunnel and Lift
When we approached Hamburg, the GPS in our car directed us towards what seemed like a closed street. We searched around for a while (berating the voice on our GPS) until we realized that we had reached the entrance of the (poorly marked) car lift that was to take us under the Elbe River into Hamburg proper.
The car lift and tunnel was build in 1907, and frankly, did not look like it had been renovated much. A couple of cars fit into each of the lifts, plus a number of pedestrians and bicycles.
The ride through the tunnel was somewhat nerve-racking. The car lane was narrow, with the car's tires just fitting between the narrow sidewalks on each side. Occasionally, the tires rubbed against the, maybe, three-feet wide side-walk strip on either side, where pedestrians were walking to and fro. We also did not know how to shut off the head lights of our rental car, which we were asked to do in order not to blind the pedestrians.
In any event, the car lift and tunnel provided a memorable way of entering Hamburg, taking us right to the “Landebrücken,” the center of the maritime traffic in Hamburg. Ferries and tourist boats come and go there continuously throughout the day and evening.
The Old Elbe Tunnel has been declared a monument and houses a museum. Thousands of cars, cyclists, and pedestrians use this way to arrive at the Landebrücken part of Hamburg every year.
Hamburg has much to see and admire. The Elbe and the two Alster lakes, the Binnenalster and the Außenalster, give Hamburg its particular flair. You also notice the many green spaces and trees. (A tour guide claimed that Hamburg has so many trees that there are 36 trees for each dog.)
The next leg of our northern Germany trip will take us to Lübeck and near the border to Poland - but more about that in a later post.
Travels in Europe always present a wonderful opportunity for us to refresh our historical knowledge as well as practicing a language or two. During a recent stay in the Netherlands, I also learned a few facts that I had either forgotten or, more likely, never knew.
My Dutch Experiment
Readers of a previous post may recall that I had started to learn Dutch around the beginning of 2015. Starting with one daily Duolingo lesson in January 2015, then increasing it to 1-2 lessons per day in May, I added the 3-month Dutch Babbel course in early June, while continuing with 1-2 daily Duolingo lessons. I had completed the Babbel Dutch course by the end of August.
In early September, our family reunion in Utrecht gave me an opportunity to listen to a lot of Dutch; I also knew (from my speaking practice with my wife) that I was not yet ready to participate in a fast-moving Dutch conversation.
However, I was quite pleased that I was not only able to follow most Dutch conversations, but also to read and understand the Dutch-only explanations in the various museums we visited.
Dutch is probably one of the easiest languages to learn for a German speaker. Nevertheless, it's good to remember that the 100 hours I invested in Duolingo and Babbel will not produce fluency. For that I'll clearly need more speaking practice.
The Pyramid of Austerlitz
When a Dutch cousin wanted to take us to the “Pyramide van Austerlitz,” near Utrecht, I was somewhat baffled: A “pyramid” and “Austerlitz” in the Netherlands? Wasn't Austerlitz located in the Czech Republic, where Napoleon had won a crucial battle?
Yes, certainly, I remembered correctly, but there was also a surprising explanation:
In 1804, a General Marmont of the French army commanded about 18,000 men. They were stationed in an encampment on the heath between Woudenberg and Zeist (two small villages near Utrecht).
Six years earlier, Marmont had accompanied Napoleon on a military campaign to Egypt and was quite impressed by the pyramids.
As he needed something to do for his soldiers, he ordered them to build a pyramid of sand and turf from the heath, with the hope that the pyramid would carry his name for all eternity.
Unfortunately, two years later, Napoleon's brother, King Louis Bonaparte, renamed it “Pyramide van Austerliz” in honor of Napoleon's victory over the Austrian and Russian armies in 1805.
The transient nature of the pyramid soon became apparent, as it started to succumb to erosion and the pyramid's straight lines turned to a conical hill. In 2007 it was restored, with its stone obelisk now firmly in place.
The French Era and Napoleon's Continuing Legacy
As with many other countries in Europe, Napoleon's influence can still be felt in the Netherlands today.
I did not know, for example, that Napoleon was responsible for the Netherlands to become a unified state and a kingdom. Here is a summary from the Austerlitz Pyramid brochure by Landschap Erfgoed Utrecht (which also provided much of the information above):
“In 1806 he installed his brother Louis Bonaparte as king of Holland and turned our country into a kingdom. Louis committed himself to defending the interests of our forefathers, even if it went against the interests of France. This displeased Napoleon immensely, and he took measures that made it impossible for Louis to reign any longer. In 1810, Louis abdicated, and our country became part of France.
National service was implemented and French legislation was introduced. Napoleon's campaign to Russia, however, meant the beginning of the end of the Napoleonic era. The French army was defeated at Leipzig, and Napoleon was banished to Elba. In 1814, William I became king.
Even though the French Era lasted less than 20 years, it greatly influenced the Dutch society. Our country had become a unified state and a kingdom, and there is no doubt that the positive experience with Louis Bonaparte played a part in it. It was also a first step to becoming a parliamentary democracy.
Laws that were made in 1814 were based on the French legislation introduced in the Netherlands during the French Era.
As a result, the Netherlands became a modern constitutional state, and everyone became equal in the eyes of the law: a radical change from the situation before 1795.”
Clearly in the 19th century, and well into the 20th century, a king was still seen as a unifying force and therefore a necessity. (During our visit to Norway, a few years ago, we had learned that Norway, when it separated from Sweden in 1905, decided by plebiscite that it still needed a king, and it selected a Danish price. See our post :Language Politics...)
Visiting Paleis Soestdijk and Learning about Dutch Royalty
During our family reunion, we all visited Paleis Soestdijk, which is also located near Utrecht in the municipalities of Soest and Baarn. Built originally as a hunting lodge between 1674 and 1678, the palace was significantly expanded with two wings by 1821, after the Netherlands had become a kingdom.
Used by Princess Juliana (Queen of the Netherlands from 1948-1980) and Prince Bernhard as their official residence until both their deaths in 2004, it is an interesting example of a palace with neoclassical furnishings as well as modern features, used until 10 years ago by a citizen-monarch.
In discussing the king/queen situation, we found great support for the constitutional monarchy both with young and old family members. The new king, Willem-Alexander and his Argentina-born wife Maxima seem to be well liked. They are seen as staying above the political fray on one hand while representing the Netherlands very well abroad on business and cultural matters.
Speaking English, German, (a little) Dutch, and Spanish
At my wife's Dutch family reunion, with family members attending from the US, Canada, Mexico, Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands, the three main languages were clearly Dutch, English, and German. Switching between different languages during a conversation, when others join, is quite common. It also gives everybody a good language workout.
I am always amazed how well the Dutch speak English, which many indeed prefer to German, with its three genders (Dutch only has two), its cumbersome endings, and declinations. The Dutch heritage as traders and merchants, and their English school classes, starting even before high school, may explain why over 90% of Dutch people speak English as a second language. Only 70% speak German.
Also, movies are typically not dubbed in Dutch and many are shown in the original language, often English.
These family reunions in the Netherlands are always a wonderful opportunity to connect with family members we have not seen in a while and - for us language lovers - also a chance to practice our languages. I still have a way to go with Dutch, but with more Dutch speaking practice with my wife, I am now confident that next time I'll be able to hold my own...
One out of every six Americans is Hispanic. Professionals in the workforce need to know how to interact positively with this rapidly growing population.
Traditionally, law enforcement departments, hospitals, school districts and organizations have offered Spanish training to their employees in the form of a 2 to 5 day seminar. Providing only 16 - 20 hours of classroom-style language training which has proven to be ineffective. No one can learn a new language in days. While the training might be top-notch and feedback might be great, if people can't apply what they learn on the job, then the training will not stick and will ultimately fail to produce long-lasting results.
The method organizations use today to train needs to be revisited, since ever tightening budgets are forcing organizations to flush many valuable programs ‘down the commode.’ Ten years ago e-training was a novelty, but today e-training is becoming the norm as organizations experience greater ‘bang’ for each buck invested.
Learning online is a very effective method of studying Spanish. Online training gives the learner access to practice and repetition (the keys to success in learning a new language) anytime, 24x7. Instead of a one-shot seminar, the flexibility and lower costs of online learning are ideal to implement at any type of organization.
Spanish e-training is a big bang investment for organizations. First, the scheduling and implementing is less time-consuming than planning and running day seminars. Second, the training takes place in the convenience of the employee’s space, eliminating travel expenses and other expenses associated with seminars. Third, online training can holds employees more accountable than a traditional seminar because attendance, assessment scores, activities, course completions, and participant progress can be monitored and immediately reported through learning management systems. Most important, online training allows organizations to provide a dependable, consistent and high quality training experience for every employee.
When selecting a Spanish training program, organizations need to consider a few core components including the cost, program content, program restrictions and requirements. There are additional concerns to consider when evaluating an e-training program. These other considerations include the method of teaching, the availability of teachers for live support, and how the online platform engages the learner.
In my 25 years of teaching Spanish, I have found the most effective method of studying and learning a new language is by using the spacing effect also referred to as “drip approach” method. Imagine a dripping faucet, where each drop will collect to form a puddle that keeps expanding. Similarly, this method focuses on learning the language in small increments. Think of each word as a drop, phrases and sentences as small puddles which becomes a large pool of Spanish knowledge providing success with language learning.
As you review different programs ask and ask questions. Questions that should address your concerns in implementing the appropriate Spanish program within your organization.
Here are 10 sample questions you could ask when evaluating an online Spanish training program:
What learning approach is used in the online program?
What styles of learners does it address?
Does the program offer individual and group accounts?
What is the cost per seat?
Is there a way an administrator could monitor the training?
How long does the employee have to view all material and complete the training? (Many programs lock you out once the lesson is complete.)
Is there a contractual agreement to sign?
Does it provide live teacher support? If not, how can a student ask questions about the training?
Is the program available on a mobile device?
How does a student review his/her progress?
In my opinion, one last component the e-training must have to be successful are games and activities to make the learning experience fun and educational.
When employees are engaged in their learning, they take greater ownership. Most of us agree that games are a great way to engage in learning and improve retention. It takes time to become confident in a language, games make the learning process fun, interactive and rewarding. Besides engaging, their knowledge increases, performance improves as well as their confidence to communicate in Spanish.
It is estimated the Hispanic community will increase by 24 percent by 2050 in the United States. Employers including Spanish training in the annual training budget will with no doubt see top-line growth.
Mini Bio: Kendal Knetemann is a cross cultural communication consultant, a language blogger and Spanish instructor. You can read more about her at LingoHut where you’ll find free language lessons, activities and articles on how to make language learning easier, or visit LingoHut’s Facebook page. First appeared in Parrot time
Readers of our previous posts on German and Spanish numbers know that we are big fans of at least learning the numbers in the language of the country we want to visit.
To prepare for a five-month stay in Rome, Italy, we spent a several months learning Italian. As this was several years ago and online programs were not yet readily available, we just used CD's. Neither of us had the time nor the patience to work through a textbook.
Once we arrived in Italy, it was clearly helpful to know basic phrases and be able to ask simple questions. In addition, knowing the numbers proved to be essential.
As a matter of fact, numbers were everywhere. We heard and said them when shopping, when paying a bill, or buying tickets; when arranging a time to meet someone, making a restaurant reservation, or asking about bus or train schedules; when hearing or asking about historical dates, or simply chatting with locals about travels in the past.
We were using Italian numbers often during the day and felt pretty good that we had learned them.
Italian pronunciation is quite different from English, so you really have to practice saying the numbers out loud.
The good news is that Italian is largely phonetic, which means that letters or letter groups are nearly always pronounced the same way.
Italian Numbers 1-20
With a couple of exceptions, Italian numbers from 1-10 resemble those in English, and are not hard to learn.
Sometimes seeing them written out helps: "uno" (one), "due" (two), "tre" (three), "quattro" (four), "cinque" (five), "sei" (six), "sette" (seven), "otto" (eight), "nove" (nine), "dieci" (ten). Not to forget that Italian "zero" is "zero."
For the numbers 11 to 16, you combine a mostly shortened form of numbers 1 to 6, with the ending "-dici":
The round numbers 30 to 90 are for the most part delightfully regular.
The number 30 is "trenta," but starting with 40, the tens all have the ending "-anta": "quaranta" (40), "cinquanta" (50), "sessanta" (60), "settanta" (70), "ottanta" (80), "novanta" (90).
Italian Numbers 21-99
The other numbers from 21 to 99 should not be too difficult either. (If you know French, you'll probably agree with me.)
The Italian numbers are combined as in English: for example, "ventidue" (twenty-two), "trentasette" (thirty-seven), "quarantasei" (fourty-six), "cinquantatré" (fifty-three) etc. Note that in these combined numbers, "-tré" (-three) has an accent.
Also, all numbers are said, and written out as one word, without a hyphen.
One thing to remember is that in these numbers, you drop the middle "-i" or "-a" when the second number is "-uno" (one) or "-otto" (eight).
So, you say "ventuno" (21) and "ventotto" (28), in contrast to "venticinque" (25), and "ventinove" (29), etc. You do this consistently right through 99: "novantuno" (91) and "novantotto" (98) as opposed to "novantatré" (93) and "novantanove," (99), etc.
The Hundreds from 100-900
The Italian number 100 is "cento." Multiples of a hundred, simply combine the number 2 to 9 with "-cento."
So you have "duecento" (200); "trecento" (300); "quattrocento" (400); "cinquecento" (500); "seicento" (600); "settecento" (700); "ottocento" (800); "novecento" (900).
Note that a thousand (1000) is "mille," but a multiple of thousand uses the suffix "-mila": 2000 is "duemila"; 5000 is "cinquemila"; 8000 is "ottomila"; 10,000 is "diecimila."
Not to forget that Italian uses a period, where US English uses a comma; and conversely, a comma for the US English decimal point. So, in Italy, ten thousand is 10.000 (with a period). On the other hand, for the US English decimal point, as in 10,450.10 - Italian uses a comma and the number is written in Italian as 10.450,10 - which can indeed be a little confusing.
Italian Historical Dates
Historical dates, of course, are rarely written out. But there are conventions on how to say them.
In Italian, unlike in English, you use "thousands" (not hundreds) to say a specific year between 1101 and 1999. Note also, that Italian written numbers can get very long because they are written (and said) as one word.
So, 1829 - should it be written out - would be "milleottocentoventinove."
MILLIONS, BILLIONS, TRILLIONS
A point of frequent confusion for speakers of American English are the high numbers that are often quoted in news reports about global finances, as for example, in the recent negotiations between Greece and the European Union regarding Greece's financial obligations.
Italian and English agree on "one million" (1,000,000) - "un milione." (Note that "two million" is "due milioni," for plural agreement.) But, for the US English "one billion" (1,000,000,000), Italian uses "un miliardo"; and the US English "trillion" (1,000,000,000,000) is the Italian "bilione." Some misunderstandings are bound to come up here.
We've found that there are many opportunities every day to really learn and internalize Italian numbers:
Practicing them when exercising (e.g. counting numbers of repetitions), while waiting (e.g. counting passing cars or people), or even "counting sheep" before falling asleep.
And, just perhaps, the last suggestion may even have you "learn during your sleep." While not quite the same, recent experiments by Dutch researchers seem to indicate that foreign words heard during nonREM sleep may be recalled better later on.
It is no secret that the key to learning a new foreign language is maximizing your exposure to it.
That's how children learn their first (or second) language.
And, that's why immersion programs - ideally in the country where the language is spoken - are the fastest way for adults to learn a new foreign language.
Yes, for some, total immersion can be stressful, especially at the beginning. But, once you get over the shock of not understanding and not being understood, you'll progress fast.
On the other hand, not everybody has the time or resources to spend several weeks in an immersion course. Besides, once you are out of an immersion situation, you still have to continue to learn and practice your new language by using it as much as possible. Here also applies, as with all learned skills: “If you don't use it, you'll lose it.”
Active vs. Passive – Output vs. Input
Reading and listening, so-called "passive" skills, are very important. They provide you with essential language "input."
So yes, at the beginning you should take courses, online or in-person, learn vocabulary, read in your foreign language, and listen to native speakers as much as you can. This includes audios and podcasts, and films and television programs.
Creating a web-browsing habit, for example, with a Chrome-extension such as Lingua.ly, and regularly watching a soap or series on your computer or television are great ways to absorb a language passively.
But, you also need to "do" something with all that input. In my experience, you'll make the most dramatic progress and gain confidence, if you create and maintain a few effective speaking and writing habits.
At different stages of your language journey, you'll want different activities. Here are three suggestions each, for beginner, intermediate, and advanced learners.
1. Learning the numbers, at least to a hundred, gives you a terrific tool for regular practice. Not only are numbers useful for shopping, giving phone numbers to friends or business contacts, paying in a café or restaurant, etc., they are a handy way to practice pronunciation.(You can get started with these number games French, German, Italian, and Spanish)
Use Numbers for anything countable during your day: count out loud as you do your morning exercises; count as you cut the fruit for your cereal; say telephone numbers in your foreign language before dialing. You can probably think of a dozen more ways yourself.
2. Subscribe to a Newsletter or Blog in the language you're learning, or keep an easy-reader book handy. Several times during the day, take a short break to read a few sentences aloud.
Saying phrases and sentences instead of reading them silently makes a big difference. I read a lot in French, but that doesn't make my spoken French particularly smooth. And although I can speak French quite fluently, reading aloud still works for me now:
A couple of months ago, when visiting family in French Switzerland, I read a bed-time story in French to our nephew's 6 year-old daughter. At first I felt (and sounded) awkward and Céline kept correcting my pronunciation. But after five minutes or so, I got into it. The next day, I noticed that I felt much more relaxed speaking French. The practice I had gotten with reading aloud had boosted my confidence.
3. Copy down phrases that you want to learn. Then, at various times during the day, write these phrases again from memory on a sheet of paper and check against the original for any mistakes.
When we write in a foreign language, we tend to translate first in our head. One way to break this habit, is to practice with idiomatic phrases that don't translate literally. For example,
German: "Das ist mir Wurst!" (literal: 'That's sausage to me!', but meaning: That doesn't matter to me!);
French: "faire la grasse matinée" (literal: 'to make the fat morning', but meaning: to sleep in);
Spanish: "¡A otro perro con ese hueso! " (literal: 'To another dog with that bone!', but meaning: You're kidding me!);
Italian: "In bocca al lupo!" (literal: 'In the wolf's mouth”, but meaning: Good luck!).
(A reader also pointed out the following: "The idiom has a rejoinder namely 'Crepi!', which means 'May [or 'Let'] the wolf drop dead.' It's a typical foreigner's mistake to respond to 'In bocca al lupo' by saying 'Grazie'.")
1. Whether at home or walking around outside, say (aloud) the name of any items that you can see. This seems to be an exercise for beginners, but you'll be surprised how many names of things or actions you can't remember just off the top of your head.
If you have a place where you can put words into flashcards (such as Quizlet.com), write them in and practice them. Otherwise print or write them out and hang the page on your fridge! Needless to say, whenever you practice, say the words aloud.
(With Flashsticks.com for example, you can get Post-its to stick on the various objects in your home.)
2. Several times during the day, talk to yourself for a few minutes in your foreign language. (Or even better, if you can, talk to a partner.) You can comment on what you're doing just then (organizing, running an errand, eating, cooking, cleaning, etc.), you can talk about what you did earlier, or about any upcoming plans.
Even just the effort of changing to another language and searching for words gets your brain going. And if you do this often enough, it will indeed become a habit.
3. At this stage, you're probably ready to participate in groups or forums to practice your writing. There are plenty of foreign language groups on Facebook or Google+ that you can join. Start writing comments in the language you're learning and don't worry about making mistakes. If you ask people to correct your writing, you may get that too.
1. From time to time, write and memorize a short "lecture" about something that interests you and then recite it from memory, or with the help of a card containing a few key words. Pretend that you have an audience and really make an effort to communicate, convince, or persuade.
If you're so inclined, make a video of yourself and play it back. That kind of feedback could be somewhat painful at the beginning, but also enormously helpful.
2. Suggestion #1 above could be also the preparation for speaking with an online language exchange partner or tutor. There are many to choose from.
We like languageexchange.com, Italki.com and Speaklikethem.com. The last one is a new site which lets you find partners with topics of common interest uploaded to the site by its users.
3. Find a “live” partner or tutor to talk with. There's no substitute for having spontaneous conversations on various topics. This will rapidly increase your fluency, but you have to find a way to do this regularly.
I certainly notice that my French fluency always gets a boost when I have my bi-weekly lunches with a French-speaking friend.
Creating a habit is not always easy right away, you have to stick with it, even when sometimes you don't feel like it. Learning to speak and write a language takes time and patience because there are no dramatic results, except for a beginning learner.
But above all, have fun and enjoy the new confidence that you're building.
As readers of previous posts know, I am currently learning Dutch. As GamesforLanguage doesn't have a Dutch course yet, I'm using the Dutch courses of Duolingo and Babbel.
I have reached Level 11 and accumulated over 3500 points with Duolingo and am nearing the end of the course. In three weeks, by the end of my 3-month subscription, I'll have Babbel's Beginner Course 4 done as well, and thereby completed a total of 87 lessons and likely several of the Grammar and Extra section lessons.
While my comprehension skills have clearly improved (my principal goal), my speaking attempts with my wife (who speaks Dutch fluently) have just begun and are less successful.
Although I now spend about an hour every day with these two programs, and Dutch has many similarities to my native German, I feel that my progress is slower than it should be.
However, using both programs in parallel also gives me a good opportunity to compare them. And here is my take on – the good, the bad, and the frustrating ...
Duolingo - My strongest motivation to continue with Duolingo each day is that I don't want to lose my “Streak” (currently standing at 255 days).
Having acquired this daily “Duolingo habit” (now just 1-2 lessons per day) has also made it quite easy to follow up with several lessons on Babbel.
I also like the standard Duolingo lesson setup, which lets me study the 7-8 new words of each lesson for a minute before I start. In many cases I can figure out the meaning from their Germanic roots.
Translating the words and sentences then seems quite easy.
A feature that works well for me is the sentence dictation: "Type what you hear."
Also, I like it that Duolingo has found a way to often accept a spelling error, as well as (limited) alternate translations.
Removing the “three strikes and you are out” penalty and having you redo any sentences with errors towards the end of a lesson are good moves by Duolingo and enhance learning.
Babbel – I like how Babbel first teaches you the 4-8 new words or expressions: you hear them, see pictures and spellings, and then have to complete sentences with them by using the scrambled letters of each word.
The grammar explanations are also very well done, accompanied with simple examples and exercises that let you understand the grammar points.
What I like most, however, are the short stories or dialogs at the end of most lessons. They require me to fill in the words that I learned in the current or in previous lessons. Not only do these sentences make sense, but they also let me hear and see words and expressions that I don't yet know (but may remember for later).
Duolingo – I really don't like translating a Dutch sentence into English by typing the English sentence. I feel that I'm wasting my time as I'm not spelling Dutch. I do understand that it's important to translate from Dutch to English translation to fully understand the meaning. However, I find it faster and more practical to get the translation by clicking on the given English words.
But, what I probably dislike the most, are the nonsensical sentences that come up from time to time. I will never have to use, for example, "mijn neushoorn is een manntje" (my rhinoceros is a male) or "de eenden lezen" (the ducks are reading).
A close second is that in a lesson most sentences are totally unrelated and that I therefore forget them quite easily.
Babbel – While there are no parts with Babbel that I dislike quite as much, there are a few features that I find frustrating, as described below.
Duolingo - I certainly understand that it's difficult to create a program without any glitches. (We are also fighting those in our Gamesforlanguage courses and Quick Games). I find it frustrating, however, that at times the given translation in a word look-up is then not accepted for the translation itself.
I also find it frustrating that the Duolingo app does not give you any grammar information (at least I have not found it), the way you can get grammar help online on a laptop.
Also, the exercises "How do you say ..." and "Tap the pairs" often ignore the gender or number of a noun, or the form or tense of a verb. At times, the correlations are even downright weird.
Babbel – Different from Duolingo, any spelling error during a translation or dictation results in a mistake. You don't have a second try. Moreover, there is only ONE accepted correct translation, which can also be frustrating at times. (This is a technical issue that we can appreciate in our courses as well!)
When I can't remember a word during “fill-in” exercises when using the iPad app, I sometimes wish for a clue, maybe a first letter, etc. (The online/laptop version gives scrambled letters with the “Help” function.)
A final beef that I have with Babbel is the voice recognition feature on the app. It sometimes takes me multiple tries to get the program to accept my pronunciation. My best solution has been to turn this feature off.
I had started learning Dutch mainly to understand Dutch conversations at my wife's family reunion in the Netherlands later this month.
Starting with 1 Duolingo lesson per day in January 2015, then increasing it to 1-2 lessons per day in May, I added the 3-month Dutch Babbel course in early June.
Adding up the time that I spent on all lessons to date, I arrive at a little less than 100 hours. While this still seems quite a bit of time, it also is clearly not enough to become fluent in a language (not even to speak about mastery...)
I am encouraged, however, that when my wife speaks Dutch with me these days, I'll understand most of it – although my responses are still halting and incomplete. We are now making an effort to speak as much Dutch as we can during the day. I'm curious to find out when that is going to make a significant difference in my fluency.
A few years ago, my wife and I were staying in Ajaccio, Corsica. We had just arrived by ferry from Sardinia and on the drive from Bonifacio to Ajaccio noticed many road signs that did not look French. We had read up on the island by using the Lonely Planet's excellent guide Corsica and were aware of its colorful and dramatic history.
Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Ajaccio in 1769, just a year after France had acquired the island from the Republic of Genoa. And although this eventually created a strong link to France, we had also heard from French friends that tensions with Paris still existed regarding autonomy, culture, language, economic development, etc. More about that and the Corsican language later.
During a late afternoon walk, while exploring the neighborhood around our hotel, we came by a movie theater and were intrigued by the title of the advertised movie.
Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis
The French movie playing there was “Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis.” We weren't familiar with the movie and didn't know what “les Ch'tis” meant. At first blush, we thought it referred to a phrase in Corsican. I did, however, recognize the name of the actor, Dany Boon, who is also the director of the film.
On the spur of the moment, and although the movie had already started, we decided to purchase two tickets. Groping for our seats in the dark in a nearly empty theater, we just arrived at the scene in which the new director of the local post office, played by Kad Merad, arrives in town during a rainy, miserable night. He almost runs over the other main character with his car, the local letter carrier, played by Dany Boon, who is to show the new boss his apartment.
The dialog that then develops had us soon laughing ourselves to tears: Boon's character tries to explain to his boss that there was no furniture in the apartment because it had all belonged to the former occupant: “c'était le sien” - it was his (furniture). However, in the dialect of the “Ch'tis,” it sounds like “c'était le chien.” (it was the dog)
Even if you don't understand much French yet, the following YouTube outtakes (“le bêtisier”) video will also make you laugh with the actors who are clearly having a hilarious time with the language.
The video shows the “sien/chien” scene right at the beginning of the clip, and there are quite a few other scenes in which the actors get tangled up in speaking "ch'ti" and have to do the scene again.
And maybe you feel intrigued and want to watch the whole 2008 movie, as we did again a few days ago. The movie is not available on Netflix, but I discovered that you can get it on Amazon either as an instant download or as DVDs in original French, with English subtitles.
How wrong we were...
It was a few years later that we saw the actual beginning of the movie with the set-up of the postal director's involuntary transfer. We had, of course, realized even in Ajaccio, that the movie isn't set in Corsica, but rather in the northern part of France.
When you watch the movie from the beginning, you learn right away how this region is perceived in the south, and why being sent there is seen as punishment. The region, especially the Nord-Pas-de-Calais - quite undeservedly - has a reputation of not only being cold and inhospitable, but really being “in the sticks.”
However, a little “googling” also educated us about the fact that the “chti” or “chtimi” languages are part of the “Picard” group of languages, spoken in the far north of France and parts of Belgium.
A Language or a Dialect?
Picard, is one of the “langues d'oïl,” or “Old French” and belongs to the Gallo-Roman family of languages.
Interestingly, Belgium's French Community has recognized Picard as a regional language. France, insisting on the other hand on linguistic unity, only recognizes one official national language.
If you are interested to learn more about the Picard languages, the different spellings and pronunciations, consult this Wikipedia entry, which I also used for much of the “Picard” information.
You will also quickly see from the few examples below why the “ch” and “s” sounds can be confusing:
I am sorry
How much does it cost?
Combin qu'cha coûte?
Combien ça coute?
The Wikipedia article further notes:
“Today Picard is primarily a spoken language. This was not the case originally; indeed, from the medievalperiod there is a wealth of literary texts in Picard. However, Picard was not able to compete with the inter-regional literary language, which French became, and was slowly reduced to the status of a 'regional language.'
A more recent body of Picard literature, written during the last two centuries, also exists. Modern written Picard is generally a transcription of the spoken language. For that reason, words are often spelled in a variety of different ways (in the same way that English and French were before they were standardised). One system of spelling for Picard words is very similar to that of French. This is undoubtedly the easiest for French speakers to understand, but can also contribute to the stereotype that Picard is only a corruption of French rather than a language in its own right. Various spelling methods have been proposed since the 1960s to offset this disadvantage, and to give Picard a visual identity that is distinct from French. At the present time, there is a consensus, at least between universities, in favor of the written form known as Feller-Carton (based on the Walloonspelling system – which was developed by Jules Feller– and adapted for Picard by Prof. Fernand Carton).”
In the book When Languages Collide, Brian D. Joseph et al. note on page 161: “In the French linguistic tradition Picard has been labeled a dialect.” But one of the editors then says: “Given that Picard is not a dialect of French, as it evolved side by side with French rather than out of French, I prefer to use the label language to refer to Picard.”
Linguists may argue whether Picard is a dialect or a language, but for those learning French, this distinction is irrelevant. If you're a learner, you're just trying to figure out the meaning of what you hear.
So, if you happen to be in a region where “old French” is spoken, familiarize yourself with some of the basic pronunciation differences to standard French, and you at least, will not confuse “sien” with “chien.”
The Corsican Language
During our stay in Corsica, we learned about Corsican history and culture: Its Italian heritage in medieval times, with Tuscany and then Pisa gaining control. In 1282, the island became part of Genoa until 1768, when it was sold to France. An Italo-Dalmatian Romance language, Corsican became “gallicised” after France's acquistion.
While the Corsican language appeared to be in serious decline for many years, in the 1980s the French government reversed its unsupportive stand and initiated some strong measures to save it.
Although Corsica is a small island, its geography may have encouraged the formation of different dialects: Supranacciu, spoken in Bastian and Corte and generally in the north; Suttanacciu, spoken in Sartène and Porto-Vecchio and generally in the south; the dialect spoken in Ajaccio; the dialects of Calvi and Bonifacio, which resemble the dialect of Genoa; the local dialect of the Maddalena archipelago. A Corsican dialect is also spoken in the norther part of Sardinia.
We found this corsica-isula web site especially helpful and interesting, as it not only provides an introduction to the Corsican language, but also links to other sites and Corsican dictionaries.
Corsican also has a rich tradition of writers and poets. To find out more, click here.
We have to confess that in spite of speaking French quite fluently and understanding Italian well, we were never able to understand Corsican conversations in bistros or cafes, maybe also because of the various dialects. We certainly felt that our Italian helped us more than French for picking up a word here or there.
However, the bilingualism of Corsicans is impressive, and we never had any trouble conversing in French.
One of the strong impressions of our 7-day drive through the island - from Bonifacio, to Adjacio, through the middle of the island, Corte, and on to Bastia and Calvi - was this: Corsicans are proud of their land and their language. Nearly all road signs we saw, either had the French name painted over and often, obliterated by bullet holes as in this left picture
While Corsicans are pleasant and accommodating to tourists like us, they don't particularly like foreigners buying land or even condominiums. While we were in Ajaccio, a small bomb exploded (nobody hurt) at the front door of a condominium, which had just been purchased by a German.
We heard stories about the ill-fated French government's efforts to re-settle people who were called “pieds noirs.” They were French citizens who had lived in Algeria, but fled after the country became independent in 1960. A good description of this period (and many other facts about Corsica) can be found on page 197 in the Lonely Planet's Corsica.
The unrest of the seventies and eighties seems to have abated (but, as the bombing incident mentioned above indicates, it's not quite finished).
We found Corsica a wonderful island to visit. We had lots of great experiences: our arrival in Bonifacio, a small town, perched on a limestone pedestal (see picture left); the capital of Ajaccio with its connection to Napoleon; the rugged landscape and the snow-covered mountain tops in April, while we were driving across to Corte on excellent roads (see picture above).
In a museum in Corte we discovered a hand-drawn language atlas which showed linguistic boundaries of individual words, tracing them from the island's south to the north.
And we did not even take advantage of the many great beaches, and the snorkeling and diving opportunities that fill the guidebooks.
Just watching “Bienvenue Chez le Ch'tis” again the other day brought back many memories from that trip and made us think again how powerful and ultimately wrong some misconceptions about people, their languages and pronunciations can be.