Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Gamesforlanguage Favorites During Covid-19 in 2020

Gamesforlanguage Games and Stories Ten years ago, GamesforLanguage started out as an experiment and family project: a language teacher and course editor, a retired engineer, a computer programmer (our son) and his graphic designer wife collaborated on what has turned out to be a fun and rewarding enterprise.

Over the years, we've had a steady stream of users and have gotten valuable feedback. We've also found plenty of incentive for our own language learning by using our own courses, joining online language learning groups and trying out other language programs and apps.

Our site is free to all - without any Google advertisements - a fact that more and more teachers and parents seem to appreciate as well. You can play our Quick Games and Podcasts, and read our Blog Posts by just clicking on the links.

Only our language Courses require a simple registration. This way, players can pick-up the story and continue learning and practicing where they last logged off.

At the beginning of a new year, we usually look back to determine what has interested our users most. Over the last few months of 2020, we've noticed a substantial increase in groups playing our Quick Games and travel-story Courses.

Registrations increased by users with an institutional email address, in particular schools. Most of the students registered that way play Courses in addition to Quick Games.

Although we don't know the email addresses of users who just play Quick Games, Podcasts, or read our Blog Posts, we are able to identify which content receives the most traffic.

Travel Story Courses

Our original purpose for Gamesforlanguage was to combine the idea of learning a new language with a travel story and fun games. Being language learners ourselves, we've used (and are still using) many different language programs.

Like most people, we want to avoid getting bored while learning. One antidote seems to be using stories. You can read about that in our 5 Top Reasons for Learning a language with Stories.Gamesforlanguage.com Registration Page

Not surprisingly, it was our German courses that had the most players from registered users last year. This may also be due to the fact that we have two(2) 36-lesson German courses, as well as an active German Facebook page.

If German or any of our other languages - French, Italian, and Spanish - interest you, click on the registration page or the screenshot above, and register. (Our Course English for Spanish Speakers is still in development and has 3 levels at this time.)

Quick Games

We currently have over 300 Quick Language Games, and we are adding new games every few weeks. These can be played by just clicking on the Quick Games link on our website and selecting the language you want to practice.

Each fun game only takes a couple of minutes or so. It helps you practice a few words, a grammar point or some typical phrases.

We post one of tLearn German - A Game A Day Facebook Pagehe nearly 90 Quick German Games every weekday on our German Facebook page, Learn German -A Game A Day.

Guten Morgen is the most popular German Quick Game, while Numbers 1-20 is the favorite of learners of Italian, and Numbers 21 and beyond of those learning French.

Blog Posts

Since we started Gamesforlanguage in January 2011, we've added nearly 400 Blog Posts about language learning, travel experiences, and related topics. That's an average of over 3 posts per month.

It's always interesting to see which of the older posts have become perennials.Victoria des Los Angeles and La Paloma lyrics Our 2013 post about La Paloma Lyrics - Learning Spanish with a Song, was also a favorite in 2020. (And if you like that idea for learning Spanish, we can suggest one of our partner sites, Language-Zen.)

For those who have tried our travel-story based Courses, it's no surprise that we like stories for learning and practice. We are obviously not the only ones. Our 2016 post: Why Polyglots Also Use Stories for Language Learning has been very popular.

And, as it's quite a short post, we're always surprised to see the 2013 entry - Quick French: “On y va”, “Allons-y!” - to be on our most read list year after year!

Podcasts

We have not yet promoted and expanded our Podcasts. (Something we're going to focus on in 2021.) Most of our podcasts are the MP3 audios and chapters of each of our courses.

Gamesforlanguage:German 2 Podcast screenshot We believe that listening to the story BEFORE or AFTER playing a course lesson, helps you to internalize the sound and rhythm of the language and to memorize the phrases.

In the Podcast section, the German 2 Story “Blüten in Berlin” was the favorite in 2020. No surprise there.

We are planning to add more Podcasts about Language Learning, Culture and Travel.

We're hopeful that in the fall of 2021, we can again travel to Europe. In any case, until travel is safe again, there' s plenty of time to practice languages online, to read books, to listen to podcasts and to watch foreign movies.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

The German Separable Prefix “mit-”

Screenshot of of German prefix "mit" Quick Game German prefixes are hard for English speakers as they often seem capricious. When used in sentences, they are sometimes attached, and sometimes they're not.

And where to put them if they're not?

Mark Twain, who had a love/hate relationship with the German language, put it this way:

"The Germans have an inhuman way of cutting up their verbs. Now a verb has a hard time enough of it in this world when it's all together. It's downright inhuman to split it up. But that's just what those Germans do. They take part of a verb and put it down here, like a stake, and they take the other part of it and put it away over yonder like another stake, and between these two limits they just shovel in German."  (Mark Twain's Speeches, "Disappearance of Literature" in twainquotes.)

Our German Quick Language Game with the separable prefix "mit-" is a popular one. That's not surprising. The separable prefix "mit-" (with, along with) connects to a lot of common verbs, adding the idea of "with [sb]", "along with [sb]", "together with [sb]" etc.

When prefixes in German are added to a verb, they change the verb's meaning, sometimes a lot. But sometimes the new meaning is easy to guess, as in the examples below:

kommen (to come) - mitkommen (to come with, come along).
bringen (to bring) - mitbringen (to bring with, bring along)
nehmen (to take) - mitnehmen (to take with, take along)

What makes German prefixes often tricky is the fact that there are three types of them:

1. Inseparable Prefixes are the easiest ones.

They are never detached from the verb.
Common inseparable prefixes: be-, emp-, ent-, er-, ge-, miss-, ver-, zer-
Examples are:

befreien (to liberate)
empfehlen (to recommend)
entschuldigen (to excuse, apologize)
erkennen (to recognize)
gefallen (to like)
missverstehen (to misunderstand)
versuchen (to try)
zerschneiden (to cut into pieces)

2. Separable Prefixes are the ones that can cause trouble

And there are a lot of them. They detach from the main-clause verb in the present tense and simple past.
Common separable prefixes: ab-, an-, auf-, aus-, bei-, ein-, hin-, her-, mit-, nach-, vor-, zu-, zurück-

abholen (to call for [sb, sth], pick up)
anrufen (to call [sb])
aufmachen (to open)
ausbrechen (to break out, escape)beifügen (to add, enclose)
einladen (to invite)
hingehen (to go there)
herkommen (to come here, approach)
mitkommen (to come with, along)
nachschlagen (to look up [a word])
vorschlagen (to suggest, propose)
zumachen (to shut, close)
zurückgehen (to go back)

3. Prefixes that are Separable or Inseparable

Fortunately there are not that many of them, and we only mention them in case you encounter one of them.
Common examples: durch-, über-, unter-, um-, wider-
The stress on the verb gives you a clue, as in the one example below.

Separable Prefix: umschreiben - to write again, rewrite (literal meaning, "um" is stressed)
Inseparable Prefix: umschreiben - to paraphrase (meaning is not literal, "schreiben" is stressed)

Now, taking our three separable prefix verbs: "mitkommen, mitbringen, mitnehmen", let's look at what happens to "mit-" in the various types of common German sentences.

The Separable Prefix "mit-" in Simple Present-Tense Sentences

In sentences with one subject and one verb, the prefix "mit-" separates from the infinitive and goes the end of a sentence. It is now an independent word.

mitkommen - Kommst du mit? (Are you coming with me/with us?)
mitbringen - Ich bringe ein paar Freunde mit. (I'm bringing a couple of friends with me.)
mitnehmen - Ich nehme es gerne mit. (I'm happy to take it with me.)

The Separable Prefix "mit-" in Simple Past-Tense Sentences

Note: The simple past of verbs is not used a lot in conversational German (except with the verbs "sein" and "haben", and for telling a story or a past event).

You'll see the simple past routinely in books and newspaper stories.It looks like this:Screenshot German "mit" Quick Game

mitkommen - Du kamst mit. (You came with me/us.)
mitbringen - Ich brachte ein paar Freunde mit. (I brought along a couple of friends.)
mitnehmen - Ich nahm es gerne mit. (I was happy to take it with me.)

The Separable Prefix "mit-" as a Past Participle:

Note: The prefix "mit-" attaches to the participle of the stem word, i.e. "gekommen", "gebracht", "genommen".
Here are the same sentences in conversational German.

mitkommen - Du bist mitgekommen. (You came along.)
mitbringen - Ich habe ein paar Freunde mitgebracht. (I brought a couple of friends with me.)
mitnehmen - Ich habe es gern mitgenommen. (I was happy to take it with me.)

The Separable Prefix "mit-" following a Modal Verb:

Not much to worry about here: just use the infinitive.

mitkommen - Du kannst nicht mitkommen. (You can't come along.)
mitbringen - Ich kann ein paar Freunde mitbringen. (I can bring a couple of friends along.)
mitnehmen - Ich kann es gerne mitnehmen. (I can take it with me, no problem.)

Other Verbs with the Prefix “mit-” 

The meaning of most of these is easy to guess.

mitreden - to join in or add to a conversation
Da kann ich nicht mitreden. (I can't add anything to this conversation.)

mitgehen - to go with [sb]
Ja, meine Kinder gehen auch mit. (Yes, my children are also going with me.)

mitgehen lassen - to steal, pinch, swipe
Ich glaube, er hat einen Silberlöffel mitgehen lassen. (I think he pinched a silver spoon.)

mitmachen - to join in, take part in [an activity]
Heute hat er beim Spiel nicht mitgemacht. (Today he did not join in the game.)

mitfahren - to ride along [as a passenger]
Kann ich mit dir mitfahren? (Can a get a ride with you?)

mitschreiben - to take notes
Ich mache heute blau. Kannst du für mich mitschreiben? (I'm cutting class today. Can you take notes for me?)

mitspielen - join in the game, be involved
Willst du mitspielen? (Do you want to join in the game?)

mitkriegen - catch, get [what's been said, or done]
Das habe ich nicht mitgekriegt. (I didn't catch that.)

mithalten - to keep up with somebody
Du rennst zu schnell. Da kann ich nicht mithalten. (You're running too fast. I can't keep up.)

The more you engage with a language - by reading, listening, speaking and writing - the more familiar you become with how it works. Prefix verbs are no exception.

Practice with short sentences until you can confidently push those prefixes around.
And by the time you are able to "shovel in German" between a prefix and the stem verb, you should feel pretty good about yourself.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

German Numbers 0-12 Idioms: “Ach du grüne Neune” and others

Blumenstraße 9b, BerlinIdioms are a wonderful, expressive part of any language. But because you cannot guess the meaning from the words in them, they can be puzzling. And, some idioms are regional.

From time to time, even native speakers come across idioms in their own language that they haven't heard before.

I spent my childhood years in Austria (and the Netherlands) before immigrating with my parents to Canada. In our family, we continued to speak German among ourselves. So when I returned to Austria and Germany as a teenager and young adult, I understood and used most of the idioms I've listed below.

But there was one exception:
When my father-in-law once exclaimed: “Ach du grüne Neune!” I had no idea what he meant. It only was clear that he was surprised at something. But why the number nine?  And with an "e" added on: "Neune".

When I heard this expression again the other day, I consulted the Duden for more German idioms with numbers. The Duden is a German language dictionary published by the Bibliographisches Institut GmbH. It is updated regularly and can be searched online.

Below you'll find thirteen German Numbers Idioms:

German Idioms with Numbers 0-12

0 - Null: Null Bock haben.Ram goat
Idiom: Not feeling like it
Literally: To have zero buck. (Photo by Paxson Woelber on Unsplash)
Duden: Umgangssprachlich für Keine Lust zu, auf etwas haben. (Colloquial for having no inclination to do something or no desire for something.)
Origin: “Null Bock haben” became part of teen slang in the 1980's. A popular novel that came out in 1984 was called "Null Bock auf DDR", which described drop-out youth cultures in East Germany.

There's also some speculation that “Bock” (German for “buck” or “ram”) goes back to the Romani word “bokh”, meaning “hunger”. This would suggest that “null Bock haben” would mean "no hunger/desire for something".

1 - Eins: Jemandem eins auswischen.
Idiom: To pull a fast one on someone.
Literally: To give someone a swipe.
Duden: Umgangssprachlich für “jemanden schaden”. (Colloquial for "harming someone".)
Origin: The quick sweeping movement of a sword is likely the origin of this idiom. First used by fraternities to describe a quick attack in a duel, it gradually entered everyday language.

Hot Dog2 - Zwei: Alles hat einmal ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei.
Idiom
: There's an end for everything.
Literally: Everything has an end, only the sausage has two. (Photo by Charles Deluviu on Unsplash)
Duden: Scherzhaft für "alles muss einmal aufhören". (A humorous way to say that "everything has to end sometime".)
Origin: The saying has shown up in various places, including in Walter Scott's novel "Woodstock or the Cavalier" (1826).

In 1987, the German pop singer Stephan Remmler of the music genre Neue Deutsche Welle composed and produced the song: "Alles hat ein Ende nur die Wurst hat zwei".

3 - Drei: Aller guten Dinge sind drei.
Idiom: Third time's the charm.
Literally: All good things are three.
Duden: Ausspruch zur Rechtfertigung von etwas, was jemand ein drittes Mal tut, oder zum dritten Mal probiert. (A way to justify doing or trying something for the third time.)
Origin: This saying probably goes back to the Middle Ages, when a council meeting took place three times a year. A defendant thus had three chances to face his judges. If he did not appear by the third time that the council met, he would be sentenced by default.

4 - Vier: Alle Viere von sich strecken. Man and dog relaxing
Idiom: To unwind. (Photo by Ralph (Ravi) Kayden on Unsplash)
Literally: To stretch out all fours (i.e. your arms and legs).
Duden: Sich behaglich ausgestreckt ausruhen. (Flop down into a comfortable position and relax.)
Origin: This idiom is based on the number four, the two arms and two legs of a human being.

Fünf - 5: Du musst auch mal fünf gerade sein lassen.
Idiom: Don't be a stickler.
Literally: Sometimes you have to let five be an even number.
Duden: Umgangssprachlich für "etwas nicht so genau nehmen". (Colloquial expression for stretching a point here and there, not insisting on perfection.)
Origin: Five is an uneven number. So, letting five be "even", means that you accept that something is not perfect or correct.

6 - Sechs. Eine Sechs schreiben.
Idiom: To flunk.
Literally: To write a six.
Duden: Eine Arbeit schreiben, die mit der Note 6 bewertet wird. (Write a test or exam that gets an F grade.)
Origin: This phrase refers to the grading system in German schools, which uses a 6 or 5 point scale. In that system, a "6" means a failing grade.

Well-worn Boots7 - Sieben: Mit Siebenmeilenstiefeln.
Idiom: At breakneck speed.
Literally: With seven-league boots. (Photo by Will Porada on Unsplash)
Duden: Mit sehr großen Schritten, sehr schnell voran gehen. (Getting ahead using very large steps, going very quickly.)
Origin: "Seven-league boots" appeared as "bottes de sept lieues" in the fairy tale "Le Petit Poucet" by the French poet and storyteller Charles Perrault.

The tale was published in 1697 as part of Histoires ou Contes du temps passé. The seven-league boots gave to the wearer the ability to travel far and at high speed, i.e. he could do seven leagues in a single stride.

8 - Acht: Eine Achterbahnfahrt.
Idiom: A roller coaster ride.
Literally: A figure-8 train ride.
Duden: Schwanken zwischen Extremen; Auf und Ab. (Fluctuating, wavering between two extremes; Having ups and downs).
Origin: "Eine Achterbahnfahrt" is a high-speed ride in an amusement park set on an elevated rail, which often has the shape of an eight. The ride takes you through tight curves and sudden ups and down.

In our times, you frequently hear people say that the stock market in Germany and elsewhere is "eine Achterbahnfahrt".

9 - Neun: Ach du grüne Neune!
Idiom: Good grief!
Literally: Oh, you green nine!
Duden: Umgangssprachlicher Ausruf der Verwunderung oder des Erschreckens; "Neune" eine Variante für "Neun". (A Colloquial expression of surprise or shock. "Neune" is a variation of "Neun", as in bowling when "all nine" pins fall - "alle Neune". )
Origin: Several stories around the origin of this expression exist. One tells of a theater on the Blumenstraße 9b in Berlin, which had its main entrance on the "Grünen Weg" (Green Road). The theater produced lively local plays. Behind the theater was a garden restaurant with chairs and tables said to have been painted green.

Another theory points to French fortune-telling cards where Pik Neun (English: Nine of Spade) is a green card and forebodes bad luck.

10 -Zehn: Da bringen mich keine zehn Pferde hin.Wild Horses
Idiom: Wild horses can't drag me there.
Literally: No ten horses will get me there. (Photo by Bethany Legg on Unsplash)
Duden: Umgangssprachlich für "unter keinen Umständen irgendwohin gehen, oder etwas tun". (Colloquial for "absolutely refusing to go somewhere or do something".)
Origin: One explanation for this idiom apparently goes back to the Middle Ages when ten horses were not enough compensation for taking a bride.

Another, more obvious one, is that horses are strong animals, but the person's dislike for doing something happens to be even stronger.

11 - Elf : Elfmeter schießen.
Idiom: Kick from the 11 meter penalty spot (in soccer).
Literally: Shooting eleven meters.
Duden: Nach bestimmten schweren Regelverstößen innerhalb des Strafraums verhängte Strafe, bei der der Ball vom Elfmeterpunkt aus direkt auf das Tor geschossen werden darf; Strafstoß.
(A punishment given to a player after specific serious foul-play offenses within the penalty area. The ball can then be kicked from the eleven meter point directly onto the goal; penalty shot.)
Origin: "Elfmeter" signals that the spot is 11 meters away from the goal line. The penalty area (16 meter from the goal posts) and the 11 meter penalty spot were introduced in 1902.

The first "penalty" shoot-out (to decide a tied game score) in the World Cup was on January 9th, 1977, when Tunisia beat Morocco.

5 to 12 on clock12 - Zwölf: Es ist fünf vor zwölf.
Idiom: It's high time.
Literally: It's five to twelve.
Duden: Es ist höchste Zeit einzugreifen, etwas zu stoppen. (It's high time we intervened or stopped something.)
Origin: One story about this idiom goes back to earlier times when a master builder and his crew were working on the scaffolding of a church tower.

At "five to twelve" they would be warned to come down quickly, because the loud ring of the church bells would endanger the hearing of whoever was close by.

Right now, the expression "es ist fünf vor zwölf" is frequently used by health care officials in Germany to warn about the rapid increase of Covid-19 infections. You also hear it as a warning of the impending climate change crisis.

When you think about it, most of these expressions are quite apropos for many moments in our lives right now. How often have I thought to myself: "Darauf habe ich null Bock" (I really don't feel like doing this).

Or: "Ich will nichts als alle Viere von mir strecken" (What I really want is get comfortable and relax). I especially like the idea of "Alles hat einmal ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei".

More seriously for language learners: When you practice these idioms, you also get some insight into how spoken language is put together. And, you can wow your German friends, by dropping one or two of these idioms into a Zoom conversation.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Sausages, Fruits, Ships and More in German Idioms

Sausages on GrillIdioms - in any language - can lead to hilarious laughter or confused looks, when they are translated literally into another language.

I was reminded of that last year in French-speaking Switzerland when a German with obviously limited French skills, express his frustration to his partner like this: “C'est me absolument saucisse!” (Lit. That's absolutely sausage to me.)

From his partner's confused look, followed by a loud chuckle, I concluded that she also understood the German meaning.

The German idiom “Das ist mir völlig Wurst” means “Das ist mir völlig egal” and translates as “I couldn't care less.” (Photo by Khamkhor on Unsplash)

Not surprisingly – Germans are fond of good sausages – and there are several other German, sausage-related idioms. While some idioms can be understood with a little imagination, others are impossible to guess.

And as no. 12 below shows, the meaning of some idioms can change over time. Here are 12 German idioms that you may not be familiar with.

1. Spiel nicht die beleidigte Leberwurst!

Idiom: Don't get bent out of shape, don't be a sorehead!
Literally: Don't play the offended liverwurst!
Explanation: Someone goes off in a huff and sulks because his feelings were hurt.
German: Jemand zieht sich zurück und schmollt, weil er glaubt, dass man ihn gekränkt hat.
Origin: Scholars in the Middle Ages supposedly assumed that a person's emotions - anger, sadness, love, etc. - were produced in the liver. So if someone got annoyed, it's his or her liver where the emotion came from.

Plus, there's another traditional story behind the "offended liverwurst". There, a butcher has all kinds of different sausages in a kettle. When the kettle boils, he takes out all the other sausages first, because they need a shorter cooking time. So, the liverwurst bursts in anger because it's the only one left in the kettle.

2. In den sauren Apfel beißenBiting in a sour apple

Idiom: to bite the bullet
Literally: to bite into the sour apple (Photo by Khamkhor on Unsplash)
Explanation: To do something unpleasant, even though you find it hard to do.
German: Etwas Unangenehmes tun, obwohl es einem schwerfällt.
Origin: This expression is quite old. It comes up in one of Luther's letters where he writes: "Not lehrt in saure Äpfel beißen". (Hard times teach you to bite into sour apples.)

It means, that if you have no other choice, you'll just have to eat the sour apples. For example, if you want to pass your exam, you have to study for it.

3. Mit dem ist nicht gut Kirschen essen.

Plate of red cherriesIdiom: Best not to tangle with him.
Literally: Eating cherries with him is not pleasant. (Photo by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash)
Explanation: He's hard to get along with.
German: Mit ihm kann man nicht gut auskommen.
Origin: For this expression there's an interesting origin. It dates back to the Middle Ages when cherry trees were not abundant and grew mostly just in monasteries or in gardens of the rich. Should you be passing a group of dignified gentlemen eating cherries, it could happen that they would chase you off and spit pits into your face to boot.

So, there are people that you wouldn't want to eat cherries with because they would treat you badly.
That could refer to people who think that they are better than you, and who are clearly contemptuous of who you are.

4. Wie man in den Wald hineinruft, so schallt es heraus.

Idiom: What goes around, comes around.Sunny forest
Literally: The way you call into the woods is the way it comes back. (Photo by Stepan Unar on Unsplash)
Explanation: The way you treat someone will determine their reaction.
German: So wie man jemanden behandelt, reagiert dieser auch darauf.
Origin: This expression probably goes back to the experience of hearing an echo in the woods - your voice bounces back after you've called to someone. The echo has a similar sound to what you called in the first place.

So more generally, if you shout at someone in anger, they often respond in anger too. If you don't treat others with respect, they may not respect you either.

5. Um den heißen Brei herum reden

Bowl of hot porridgeIdiom: to beat around the bush
Literally: to talk around the hot porridge (Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash)
Explanation: Avoid giving your honest and direct opinion.
German: Nicht ehrlich und direkt seine Meinung sagen.
Origin: Initially, the expression was: "Wie die Katze um den heißen Brei herumschleichen". (To tiptoe like a cat around the hot porridge.) The cat was of course looking for a cooler part of the porridge to start eating.

If you talk with someone who in the conversation tiptoes like a cat around the hot porridge, it means that they are afraid or reluctant to broach a certain subject.

6. Auf dem falschen Dampfer sein

Idiom: to bark up the wrong treeOld steamboat
Literally: to be on the wrong steamboat (Photo by ZEKERIYA SEN on Unsplash)
Explanation: To misunderstand something, be totally mistaken.
German: Etwas falsch verstehen, sich irren.
Origin: In the early 19th century, steamboat travel became increasingly popular in Germany, especially on the Rhine.
By 1850, steamship travel up and down the Rhine reached a million passengers. It was considered safer than travel by land, where raids and holdups were still common. By 1900, transatlantic crossings by steamship were well established.

If you now found yourself on the "wrong steamship", it was a real problem since the next harbor was often far off. The image of being on the "wrong steamship" suggests a grave error, that someone was way off in their thinking.

7. Lügen haben kurze Beine.

pairs of legsIdiom: Your lies will catch up with you.
Literally: Lies have short legs. (Photo by Matheus Vinicius on Unsplash)
Explanation: It's not worth it to lie because the truth will come out.
German: Es lohnt sich nicht zu lügen, denn die Wahrheit kommt immer heraus.
Origin: The image of a Lie having short legs suggests that someone with short legs simply cannot run that fast. So, the Truth with its longer legs (as we assume) can easily catch up to the Lie and expose the untruth.

8. Das ist Schnee von gestern.

Idiom: That's old hat. Yesterday's snow
Literally: That is snow from yesterday.
Explanation: The matter is no longer important.
German: Die Sache ist nicht mehr von Bedeutung.
Origin: Possibly, this expression goes back to François Villon's "Ballade des dames du temps jadis", (Literally: Ballad of the Ladies of Long ago), which has the line "Mais où sont les neiges d’automne ?" (But where are the snows of autumn?)

When something is "snow from yesterday", it means that it's not new, not important, not interesting, not fresh.

9. Etwas mit in Kauf nehmen

Idiom: to put up with something
Literally: to accept something along with a purchase you've made
Explanation: To accept something because it's inevitable.
German: Etwas als unvermeidlich hinnehmen.
Origin: This expression comes from the traditional world of trade and commerce. It was often customary for merchants to offer the combination of a high quality product with one of lesser quality. Or, the combination of a product that was high in demand, with one not so in demand. If the buyer needed the former product, he would also accept to take the latter one.

In that sense, "etwas in Kauf nehmen", means that if you really want something, you would accept certain unavoidable disadvantages that come with it. Or, accept the risks of an action that you see as inevitable.

10. Wo gehobelt wird, da fallen Späne.

Wood shavingsIdiom: You can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs.
Literally: Where a (carpenter's) plane is used, shavings will fall. (Image Credit: Clem Onojeghuo on Sawinery)
Explanation: A decision can also have disadvantages.
German: Eine Entscheidung kann auch Nachteile mit sich bringen.
Origin: This is a saying that originated in the world of trades, and points specifically to a carpenter's craft. When you "plane" ("hobeln"), you keep removing layers of wood until you smooth out the rough spots.

On the one hand, this expression can be used to justify ruthless or drastic behavior. On the other hand, it can also be a bit of wisdom: Something that has a lot of positives could also have disadvantages.

11. Aus dem Schneider sein

Idiom: to be out of the woodsTailor at work
Literally: to be no longer a tailor (Photo by Salvador Godoy on Unsplash)
Explanation: "To be out of the tailor" means that you have overcome a difficult situation, that the worst is behind you.
German: Aus dem Schneider sein, heißt eine schwierige Situation überwunden, das Schlimmste überstanden haben.
Origin: In the card game Skat, to be no longer a "tailor" (a profession of low standing in earlier times) means that you have more than half of the points needed to win (i.e. more than 30 points).

The expression "aus dem Schneider sein" is still commonly used in German. Actually, I've heard it multiple times used in connection with the COVID-19 crisis in German TV broadcasts. When will we all be "out of the tailor"?

12. Das passt wie die Faust aufs Auge.

One eyeIdiom 1: They go together hand in glove.
Idiom 2: They go together like chalk and cheese.
Literally: That fits like the fist on the eye.
Explanation: Things go together very well or they don't go together at all.
German: Etwas passt sehr gut zusammen, oder gar nicht.
Origin: The German expression "Das passt wie die Faust aufs Auge" seems to have a clear message: Having someone put their fist on your eye is not a good thing. However, curiously enough, this expression is mostly used to mean the opposite.

Initially, the idiom was "Das reimt sich wie die Faust aufs Auge" (That rhymes like the fist on the eye). For one, "Faust" and "Auge" do not rhyme. Plus, fist and eye don't go together, the fist is hard, the eye is soft and delicate.

But already early on, the idiom was used ironically to mean the opposite, that two things fit perfectly together. Though, the original meaning shows up too.

So, to clearly understand what someone is telling you, you have to pay attention to the context in which it is used, and/or the speaker's tone of voice. For example, what does it mean when your partner tells you that your shirt and scarf go together like "a fist on the eye"?!

Keeping a few idioms in your German language “quiver” will make your language more colorful and authentic. And maybe at the next post-coronavirus dinner party you'll contribute to some laughter and fun.

For the German idioms that are listed here, I consulted a number of different sites. You can find out more about these expressions, or find new ones in these: Redensarten.net, Redensartenindex.de, Geolino Wissen, Wortbedeutung Info.

(For French idioms see Apples, Butter, Rain and more in French Idioms.)

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

How to Use the German Modal Verb "können"

Gamesfrolanguage.com: German Modal Shoot Quick GameNo better way to practice the German Modal Verb "können" than with one of Gamesforlanguage's most popular games: the German Modal Shoot.
It's a three-minute interactive online game that gives you a quick practice of the basic forms of the German modals.

What are Modal Verbs?

Modal Verbs are helping verbs, also called auxiliary verbs. They add a chunk of meaning to the main verb of a sentence.
In conversations they show up all the time.

German has six modals. They express ability, necessity, obligation, permission, a wish, etc.
They are:
- können (be able, can),
- müssen (to have to, must),
- sollen (shall, ought to),
- dürfen (be permitted, may),
- wollen (to want) and
- mögen (to like).

So for example, take the sentence: Ich arbeite heute (Architect greeting foremanI'm working today) and add the modals:
- Ich kann heute arbeiten. (I can work today.)
- Ich muss heute arbeiten. (I have to work today.)
- Ich soll heute arbeiten. (I ought to work today.)
- Ich darf heute arbeiten. (I'm allowed to work today.)
- Ich will heute arbeiten. (I want to work today.)

But: Ich möchte heute arbeiten. (I would like to work today.)
Arggh, here you would use the (subjunctive) "would" form in German: "möchte", not "mag".
(The present forms of "mögen" can't be used with an infinitive verb.)

The modal "können" (can, to be able) is a very useful helping verb.

But its changing forms and conjugations often make it frustrating for the English-speaking learner, who is only used to “can” and “could”.

German Modal Verb "können" - Present Tense

In the Present singular form, "können" changes its stem vowel from "ö" to "a":
- ich kann (I can)
- du kannst (you[fam.] can)
- er, sie, es kann (he, she, it can)
- wir können (we can)
- ihr könnt (you-all can)
- sie, Sie können - they, you[form.] can

Below are examples of different ways you can use it.

"Können" - for a polite offer or request:
- Ich kann Ihnen helfen. (I can help you.)
- Können Sie/Kannst du mir helfen? (Can you help me?)
- Ja, das kann ich. (Yes, I can.)

"Können" to express know-how:
- Er kann Gitarre spielen. (He can play the guitar.)
- Kannst du Deutsch? (Do you know German? i.e. Are you able to speak German?)
- Ja, aber ich kann kein Englisch. (Yes, but I don't know any English.)

"Können" to express possibility:
- Das kann doch nicht wahr sein. (Surely that can't be true.)
- Kann das wirklich stimmen? (Is that really correct?)
- Ja ja, heute kann's regnen. (Yes yes, today it may rain.)

"Können" to ask or give permission:
- Kann ich jetzt gehen? (Can I go now?)
- Nein, das können Sie nicht. (No, you can't. [formal])
- Ja, du kannst. (Yes, go ahead. [familiar])

Did you get all this? If so try this Quiz #1 for "können" on our sister site Lingo-Late.
Or, if you are looking for a fun German Quick Game: Practice "Können"

Modal Verb "können" - Simple Past Tense

Unfortunately the Simple Past is not that simple for English speakers, who conveniently use "could" for all persons.
In German, the stem drops the umlaut, and is "konn-" for all persons. But you still need to add the so-called "weak" personal endings for the Simple Past:
- ich konnte (I could)
- du konntest (you could)
- er, sie, es konnte (he, she, it could)
- wir konnten (we could)
- ihr konntet (you-all could)
- sie, Sie konnten (they, you could)

Past situations:
- Sie konnte mich nicht verstehen. (She couldn't understand me.)
- Ich war in Deutschland aber ich konnte kein Deutsch. (I was in Germany but I didn't know German.)
- Warum konntest du mich nicht anrufen? (Why couldn't you call me?)

For making excuses:
The Simple Past of "können" is also perfect for making excuses, especially when you add "leider" (unfortunately)
- Ich konnte leider nicht anrufen. (Unfortunately, I couldn't call .)
- Leider konnten wir nicht früher kommen. (Unfortunately, we couldn't come earlier.)
- Mein Mann konnte leider seine Autoschlüssel nicht finden. (Unfortunately, my husband couln't find his car keys.)

Modal Verb "können" - Imperfect Subjunctive Tense

This unapproachable-sounding tense is actually easier, if you remember the Simple Past forms above. You just add an umlaut to every Simple Past form.
- ich könnte - I could, would be able
- du könntest - you could, would be able
- er, sie, es könnte - he, she it could, would be able
- wir könnten - we could, would be able
- ihr könntet - you-all could, would be able
- sie, Sie könnten - they, you could, would be able

Use this tense for polite requests (with or without "bitte"):
- Könnten Sie mir bitte sagen ... (Could you please tell me ...)
- Könntest du mir das Salz geben? (Could you pass me the salt?)
- Könnte ich etwas anderes bestellen? (Could I order something different?

Make a polite suggestion:
- Wir könnten jetzt gehen. (We could go now. Let's go now.)
- Ich könnte dich morgen anrufen. (I could call you tomorrow.)
- Du könntest auch später gehen. (You could also go later.)

Express a tentative possibility:
- Das könnte teuer werden. (That could get expensive.)
- Es könnte morgen schneien. (It could snow tomorrow.)
- Wir könnten den 8Uhr Zug nehmen. (We could take the 8 o'clock train.)

Related verbs: können and kennen

Hearing the difference between “können” and “kennen” is often a challenge for the beginning German learner.
We've seen that the auxiliary verb "können" means "to be able, to know how".
On the other hand, the verb "kennen", means "to know, be acquainted with", referring to a person, a place, a song, a book, etc.
You say:
- Peter und ich, wir kennen uns. (Peter and I, we know each other.)
- Ich kenne Helsinki noch nicht. (I don't know Helsinki yet.)
- Kennen Sie London gut? (Do you know London well?)
- Kennst du dieses Buch? (Do you know this book?)

One clue to know whether you hear a form of “können” or one of “kennen” is to listen for another verb: In most cases, the auxiliary verb “können” needs another verb. (But as you've seen above there are exceptions.)

So, go ahead and use "können" as much as you can.
Ich kenne dich nicht, aber ich weiß, du kannst es. (I don't know you, but I know that you can do it.)

Posted on by Peter Rettig

“Offerieren" – “Offro io”: being surprised in Gstaad, Switzerland

Glasses with nose padsSometimes, your day can just become a little brighter after you have been pleasantly surprised. In this case it concerned my glasses. And here is the little story:

During our recent skiing vacation, Ulrike and I decided to walk down to Gstaad. We had skied the day before, and in the evening I discovered that one of the little nose pads on my glasses was missing.

It's about an hour's walk through fields and past chalets to get to Gstaad from Schoenried, where we usually stay. On this day, the weather felt like spring and there was no snow. (Snow was to arrive the next day.)

Mirage – Gstaad, SwitzerlandGstaad Mirage inside

On our way down, we visited Mirage Gstaad, a house made of mirrors that stands in the middle of an open field. It's another installation of such a  house by the well-known American artist Doug Aitken.

The outside walls mirror the beautiful natural scenery that surrounds the house. Inside, as you go through the rooms, you see yourself move reflected in dozens of images.

Gstaad Mirage has become quite a destination for many visitors in the Gstaad area and is an interesting idea. As one of the Italian visitors called out: Che bella idea!

"Offerieren" @ Optik Gstaad

But on to my quest for those little nose pads. Normally, in the US I find pads like that in a drugstore, but I knew it was unlikely that a Gstaad pharmacy or a “Drogerie” (i.e. drugstore) would have them.

In Switzerland, shops are more specialized than in the US. When we asked at a Drogerie, the clerk pointed us to “Optik Gstaad”, the only optician in town.

There I showed my glasses with the missing nose pad to a friendly saleswoman, and she understood immediately. I also asked her for a couple of extra pads in case I should lose another one. She nodded, suggested that we take a seat and disappeared to the back of the store. I had expected that she would just sell me a bag with a few pads.

About 15 minutes later – I was already wondering what could take so long – a young man appeared holding a silver tray: on it were my spotlessly clean glasses, with one new and one replaced nose pad, as well as two additional pads and a little bag on the side.

As I moved over to the payment counter – already trying to calculate what this little repair might cost – the young man wouldn't have any of it and said in Swiss German: “... mi möchtn's offerieren!”. I didn't really catch the first part of his explanation. But it took me only a moment to understand what he meant, i.e. that there was not going to be any charge, neither for the Peter leaving Optik Gstaadreplacement nor for the extra pads.

In fact, in this context “offerieren” did not just mean “to offer” - the usual translation, but to offer the provided service (and product) for free.

I thanked him in my best Swiss German and put on my glasses. As I left the store, the world looked indeed very bright and clear through them.

And where do you think, I will buy my next sun glasses? This Swiss business clearly understood how good will is created. Rather than selling me a few Silicon pads for a Swiss Frank or two, the folks at Optik Gstaad understood that they are also in the service business. (And if you should be traveling to Switzerland in the near future you'll find travel tips in All about Swiss.)

“Offro io” – It's on me, my treat ...Gamesforlanguage.com: In an Italian café

Why did I understand, after only a moment's surprise, what the young man was telling me? Maybe it was because I had recently played our Italian Quick Game: “In an Italian Café”. The game  starts with the expression “Offro io”, which means, I offer it, it's on me.

In English, "to offer something" generally means to provide something, free or with a condition attached. The other person can accept or reject the offer.

by Nader Arman on Unsplash“Darf ich Ihnen einen Cognac offerieren?” - May I offer you a Cognac? If you hear this question asked at a dinner party, you don't expect to have to pay for it. On the other hand, if a waiter asks you that in a restaurant at the end of your dinner, and you accept, you'd better expect to see the charge for it on your check.

So the meaning of “offerieren” and “to offer” without any condition, will very much depend on the context and situation in which it is used.

As a noun, “die Offerte”, just translates as “the proposal” for a service and/or product and  typically includes conditions such as price, delivery schedule, etc. It's used quite frequently in business German.

Well, that's the true fun of learning a language: It gets you out of your monolingual corner and opens you up to surprising moments of discovery and pleasant personal encounters. That way, life becomes so much brighter and more interesting.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

10 Easy Rules to Help Your German:

Know the rules - for German (Updated 3/2021)

Learning German? A few easy rules will give your grasp of German grammar a boost. These rules are a kind of "back-ground language work" that you do, like setting up the frame of a building.

Grammar rules, even easy ones, are not what you think about when you’re engaged in speaking a language. In the flow of speaking, you don’t have time to think much about grammar. Conversations just move too fast. In a conversation, there's too much else going on.

However, when reading, listening to a podcast, doing some online practice, easy grammar rules are good to keep in mind. You'll keep seeing or hearing certain examples over and over again. With time, you’ll start to apply them automatically also for speaking.

1. Diminutive nouns with the ending -chen or -lein are neuter:

Note: in some cases, the stem vowel becomes an umlaut.
• das Mädchen (the girl)
• das Schwesterlein (the little sister) [but: die Schwester]
• das Tischlein (the little table) [but: der Tisch]
• das Gläschen (the little glass) [das Glas]
• der Vögelchen (the little bird) [but: der Vogel]
• das Brötchen (the roll) [das Brot]

2. Nouns ending in -heit, -keit, -ung are always feminine

• die Freiheit (freedom)
• die Gesundheit (health)

• die Freundlichkeit (friendliness)
• die Tätigkeit (activity)

• die Rechnung (bill/check)
• die Bewegung (movement)

3. “die” is the plural article for all nouns (subject forms)

• das Kind - die Kinder (child - children)
• die Frau - die Frauen (woman - women)
• der Mann - die Männer (man - men)

4. All seasons are masculine:

• der Frühling (the spring)
• der Sommer (the summer)
• der Herbst (the fall)
• der Winter (the )winter

5. All says of the week are masculine:weekdays in German

• der Montag (Monday)
• der Dienstag (Tuesday)
• der Mittwoch (Wednesday)
• der Donnerstag (Thursday)
• der Freitag (Friday)
• der Samstag (Saturday)
• der Sonntag (Sunday)

6. Seven common prepositions contract with “das."  

Note: these all imply a “change  of place” or “direction to”:
• an + das:  ans Meer gehen (to go to the sea)
• auf + das:  aufs Land fahren (to go to the countryside)
• in + das:  ins Haus gehen (to go into the house)
• hinter + das:  hinters Auto gehen (to go over behind the car)
• über + das:  übers Meer fliegen (to fly across the ocean)
• unter + das:  unters Buch legen (to place under the book)
• vor + das:  vors Fenster legen (to place in front of the window)

7. A predicate adjective takes no ending

A predicate adjective follows a noun and a form of “sein” (to be).
• Die Straße ist breit. (The street is wide.)
Compare this to "article + adjective + noun":  Die breite Straße. (The wide street.)

• Der Kaffee ist stark. (The coffee is strong.)
• Compare this to "article + adjective + noun":  Der starke Straße. (The strong coffee.)

• Das Haus ist groß. (The house is big.)
• Compare this to "article + adjective + noun":  Das große Haus. (The big house.)

8. Numbers: 

• 1-12 you have to memorize. Eins - one (1); zwei - two (2); drei - three (3); vier - four (4); fünf - five (5); sechs - six (6); sieben - seven (7); acht - eight (8); neun - nine (9); zehn - ten (10); elf - eleven (11); zwölf - twelve (12).

• 13-19 have the same format as English. For example: dreizehn - thirteen (13); fünfzehn - fifteen (15); neunzehn - nineteen (19)

• But 21-29, 31-39 etc. are “reversed” in German and are linked with "und" (and). For example: einundzwanzig - twenty-one (21), neununddreißig - thirty-nine (39), etc.

You can also learn the numbers and practice your pronunciation with our Quick Games: German Numbers 1-20 and 21 and Beyond.

9. The verb forms of formal "you" (Sie) and "they" (sie) are the same.

• Gehen Sie heute ins Kino? (Are you going to the movies today?)
 
• Gehen sie heute ins Kino? (Are they going to the movies today?)
 

Note:
• Formal "you" (Sie) is always capitalized
• The pronoun "they" (sie) begins with a lower-case letter (except at the beginning of a sentence).

10. Word Order: In simple sentences, the verb is in second position.

• Ich gehe heute ins Kino. (I'm going to the movies today.)
• Heute gehe ich ins Kino. (Today, I'm going to the movies.)

Note:
• In the sentence "Heute Abend gehe ich ins Kino.", the verb is the third word, but still in second position, as the (adverb) phrase "Heute abend" is in first position.

• Whatever word/phrase occurs before the verb is emphasized.

You Want to Practice Your German?

Our games and travel-story based courses are also a great way to practice your German.

With our German 1 and 2 courses you'll learn and practice German for FREE - with stories of a young man traveling through Germany and - its sequel - solving a "Blüten"-mystery in Berlin. "The Story" and easy games will let you forget that you are actually learning German! And you can also listen to both Stories by clicking on German 1 or German 2 on our Podcast page.

If travel to Germany is in your near future, you may also enjoy our post: 4 Fun German Language Games Before You Travel.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

European Travels 9 – Fribourg: Kaeserberg, Languages, and more...

Upper and Lower City of Fribourg, Switzerland You may never have heard of the “chemins de fer du Kaeserberg”. And unless you live in Europe or are familiar with Switzerland, you may draw a blank when you hear the name Fribourg, or its German name, Freiburg (“im Uechtland”).

Perhaps you're more familiar with the city's German cousin Freiburg (“im Breisgau”), a picturesque university town located in Southern Germany's Black Forest. 

Well, Fribourg is the capital of the Canton of Fribourg, (see picture above). It is located on the cultural border between German- and French-speaking Switzerland and the seat of the country's only bilingual university. 

Every February, for over ten years now, Ulrike and I have visited my sister in Fribourg before heading to the Berner Oberland for some skiing. While in the city, we always make some new discoveries. This year it was the “Chemins de fer du Kaeserberg". And, we always take advantage of learning more about languages and enjoying Swiss food specialties. Our Swiss experience typically begins in Zurich after an overnight flight from Boston.

Zurich Airport to Fribourg

One of the pleasures of traveling in Switzerland is the ease of train travel.Zurich Airport - Fribourg Map We now know that there is a direct train from Zurich Airport to Fribourg that runs every hour. We often don't have to wait long after buying our train ticket.

A few years ago though, we didn't have time to buy a train ticket. So we just boarded the train. The conductor didn't come by until after the next stop, which is Zurich Main Station. We told him that we had boarded the train without tickets at the airport. He sold us the tickets and was nice enough to waive the penalty fee.

Now you can no longer purchase tickets on the train, and penalties have increased if you're caught without a ticket. However, if you don't have time to buy a ticket at the counter or ticket machine, you can now easily purchase the tickets online with your smart phone.

Just download the free SBB Mobile app for iOS or Android devices to check time tables, purchase tickets, make seat reservations, etc.

Our 2018 Fribourg Discovery: Chemins de Fer du Kaeserberg

Over the years we have visited many of Fribourg's sights, the Cathedrale St-Nicholas, the picturesque lower town you can get down to with a Funicular, the Espace Jean Tinguely-Niki de Saint Phalle in the Musee D'Art et D'Histoire Fribourg, the Musee Gutenberg, etc.

During our visit this year,we spent a whole afternoon at theChemins de fer du Kaeserberg model at night Musee des Chemins de Fer du Kaeserberg. If you're a model railway enthusiast, the railway museum is nothing short of a feast. But anyone from 4 to 90 years old will enjoy this technical marvel.

The model railway was a childhood dream of Marc Antiglio. He had taken over the family construction business as a young man and worked on his dream throughout his adult life. (I had met Marc over 40 years ago when I worked for a few years in Fribourg as a structural engineer.)

It took Marc 17 years to fully realize his dream: A model railway exhibit on three levels, in a custom-designed, multi-level, state-of-the-art building with solar collectors, a geothermal heating system. All of this was completed just a few years ago.

Built at a scale of 1:87, the model exhibit occupies an area of about 6,500 sf, with currently over 6,000 ft of rails (both H0, 16.5 mm, and H0m, 12.0 mm). The rolling stock consists of 300 locomotives and 1,650 wagons and cars, many of which are stored and can be accessed on the depot/station, the first level the visitor encounters when entering.

Lake Scene @ Chemins de fer du KaeserbergThe attention to detail in building and landscape design is amazing. The model imagines a Swiss landscape around 1990, with villages, buildings, railway stations, cars,and people, plus circus tents, lakes and ships – so realistic - that you need to look twice to see that they are not real. Even the background photos of sky and mountains blend in seamlessly.

The introductory video for the visitors we saw was in French with German subtitles. In it, Marc Antiglio recalls how he got fascinated by trains as a little boy. He explains the many challenges he and his team of dedicated professionals and volunteers had to overcome to create the model. (Marc speaks with a slight "Fribourgois" accent. If you want to learn more watch this video on French accents and and French pronunciation.)

We had a wonderful time watching the many trains going through tunnels, over bridges, stopping at and leaving the stations. In the night mode, the changing lights created magic images.

The exhibit is open to the public at certain days during each week, and private visits can be arranged on other days. Check the website for the opening days and hours.

(If you wonder about the name “Kaeserberg” - it has nothing to do with the German word “Käse/Kaese” (cheese), but is the name of Marc Antiglio's late friend, who was instrumental in supporting Marc's passion.)

More about Fribourg

View of Fribourg upper and lower city In the past, the language lines in the city of Fribourg were drawn rather clearly: In the lower town, since the city's founding in the 12th century, people spoke mostly a Swiss German dialect. In fact it was the official language until about 1800.

In fact, today the language spoken on the streets of “la basse-ville” (lower town) is a mix of Swiss German and French called “le bolze”. This swissinfo.ch article - “Nei, dasch zvüu, tu me connais!” - (No, that's too much, you know me!) not only gives some wonderful examples of typical bolze expressions, but also more details of Fribourg's linguistic history. (Sorry, the article is in French and does not solve the origin mystery of  French “bolze" or German “bolz”.)

With the industrialization and the influx of French immigrants, the French population in the upper town became the majority in the 19th century. (see picture of upper and lower town). By the year 2000, nearly 64% of its 38,000 inhabitants spoke French as their first language, and only 21% German. Italian was third with about 4%.

In restaurants, cafes, and shops, etc. you hear a mixture of French, Swiss German, and Swiss standard German, which curiously is called “Schriftdeutsch” (written German). Increasingly, you also hear other languages. In 2008 nearly 32% of the population were resident foreign nationals.

The term “Schriftdeutsch” - written German - is used to distinguish Swiss standard German from the spoken Swiss German dialect. Swiss German children learn to speak Swiss German at home. They start to learn “Schriftdeutsch” in first grade and likely French a couple of years later. That's about the same time that Swiss French-speaking children learn “Schriftdeutsch” as a second language. Also, in many schools children learn English already in fourth grade.

From discussions with family, friends and acquaintances in Fribourg, we've gained the impression that there are more German speakers who are fluent in French, than French speakers who are also fluent in German.

We don't know why that would be. Maybe it's because French speakers are now the majority in Fribourg, or learning French as a third language (after “Schriftdeutsch) is “easier” for Swiss German speakers, or maybe Swiss Germans feel a more personal or economic need to be bilingual than their French speaking compatriots.

A visit to the local market provided a non-representative sample, as most of the Swiss German-speaking farmers easily switched to French, while French-speaking bakers and butchers had more difficulty speaking German.

Language can still be a divisive issue

While the casual observer may be pleasantly surprised by the city's apparent bilingualism, language in Fribourg - as in other Swiss cities and towns that are located on a language and cultural fault line - is often still a divisive issue.

Not much has changed since swissinfo.ch covered this issue in 2004, citing both Biel (where French speakers are the minority of the population, with 28 %) and Fribourg as examples. Family connections, social status, school locations, etc. all influence parents' decisions which language path their children should pursue.

In 2017 the Swiss Bilingualism Foundation awarded Rapper Greis (alias for Grégoire Vuilleumier) that year's “prize for bi- and plurilingualism”. Listen to his “Enfant des Etoiles” song which switches between Swiss German and French.

It certainly seems that in a small country like Switzerland (about 8 million inhabitants), being bilingual or at least being fluent in two of the major languages, German and French, should have great professional and personal benefits.

A couple of years ago just as we were visiting Fribourg, the local Happy in Fribourg songnewspaper, La Liberté, reported that local film makers had adapted Pharrell Williams' song“Happy” from the movie “Despicable Me 2” to Fribourg, similar to what other Swiss cities have done. You can watch the YouTube video which shows many images of Fribourg.

(You may recognize Ulrike in one of the video's scenes while she was at the weekly farmer's market.)

Now Our Swiss Tradition: Cheese Fondue or Raclette

Before heading to Gstaad and Schoenried (more about that in a future post), we typically will have a Cheese Fondue or Raclette with our family.

La Fondue (au fromage)

Probably the best-known dish of Switzerland is a cheese “fondue”. The word is French and comes from the verb “fondre” meaning “to melt”. Used as a noun, “fondue” is the feminine form of the past participle “fondu”. (larousse.fr)

Young women eating cheese fondue Fondue has a lengthy history in Switzerland. The recipe “Käss mit Wein zu kochen” (cheese cooked with wine) was first mentioned in a Zurich manuscript in 1699.

“La fondue” showed up in 18th century culinary literature as “oeufs brouillés au fromage fondu”, scrambled eggs with melted cheese (as noted in the dictionary, Le petit Robert). The dish was particularly popular in the western French-speaking cantons, and there mostly among city dwellers who could afford the rich cheese.

Fondue, as we know it, dates back to around the middle of the 19th century and by 1875, it was named a Swiss national dish. In the 1930s, the Swiss Cheese Union (Schweizerische Käseunion) used the idea of a national dish for its own marketing purposes. That kind of promotion was continued after WWII. Fondue was popularized in the US in the 1960s, helped by being showcased in the Swiss Pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair in New York.

The traditional fondue is served in a fondue pot (un caquelon), which is kept warm over a chafing dish (un réchaud). To make the fondue smooth, you add cornstarch to the cheese mixture as it heats. Each one of you gets a long thin fork for spearing chunks of bread (or sometimes potatoes), which you then dip into the cheese. Eating fondue is definitely a social event that also includes plenty of white wine and/or tea.

Various traditions are observed: for example, if you drop your bread into the pot, you pay a round of wine, or a pot of hot tea.

Cheese Fondue Variations

Many of the Swiss cantons have their own version of fondue, using different combinations of cheeses. For those who want to try, this Epicurious post will give you the recipe for making a perfect traditional Swiss Fondue. Being frequent travelers to Fribourg, the two fondues we know best are the Fondue Fribourgeoise, and the Fondue Moitié-Moitié.

Fondue Fribourgeoise

Fondue Fribourgeoise is prepared with 100% local Vacherin cheese.

Swiss Vacherin CheeseVacherin is a medium-firm cheese made from cow's milk, as the name - vache (cow) - implies.The cheese is melted in a few tablespoons of water over low heat. To our knowledge, this is the only cheese fondue that does not use wine. Often you dip pieces of potato instead of bread.

Fondue Moitié-Moitié

Moitié-Moitié (or half-half), as its name states, uses Gruyère and Vacherin cheese in equal parts. This fondue is made with white wine, (dry and high in acid) and for flavor a shot of kirsch is often added to the mixture. You eat it by dipping chunks of bread.

La Raclette

Traditional Raclette serving Our foray into the world of melted (Swiss) cheese would not be complete without mentioning the “Raclette”. The name is derived from the French “racler”, meaning “to grate or scrape” and that clearly describes the method in which it is served: The melted cheese is scraped off the roasted/heated end of a large piece, most commonly a half a wheel of cheese (as in this picture).

The Raclette Suisse site traces Raclette's origins to the 13th century. In the German-speaking cantons, convent writings mention “Bratchäs” (roasted cheese - note the Swiss spelling of “Käse”) already in 1291 as a nutritious food for mountain cow herders. Raclette cheese is made of raw milk and many variations exist. Only the “Raclette du Valais” is a protected brand under Swiss law.

The traditional method melts the half-wheel of cheese, either right at an open fire place, or in restaurants, with an electric heater. The Raclette cook/server scrapes the melted cheese off unto each customer's plate. (see photo above, courtesy of: Grcampbell-Wikipedia Commons).

The modern, self-serve version uses small pans in which to Modern Raclette heat Raclette cheese pieces right at the table with a special gadget (as in this picture). In eithercase, “Gschwellti” - Swiss German for potatoes boiled in their skin -  are served with gherkins, pickled onions, and often preceded or accompanied by dried meat, such as “Bündnerfleisch” or “viande des Grisons” or “jambon cru”.

A Raclette evening, during which the meal is served the traditional way to a large table, is a social event that can last for hours. As with cheese fondue, locals will warn you not to drink cold water. It doesn't mix well with the hot cheese. However, hot tea, a “Kirsch” (cherry), “Poire” (pear), or “Framboise” (raspberry) Schnaps come highly recommended.

Raclette and Fondue (whether the cheese or meat variety) always make for a lively, social dining experience.

Even after the taste and smells of melted cheese have faded in your memory, you'll certainly remember the fun you had with your family and friends sharing such a meal in a warm and cozy mountain hut after a hard day of skiing, snowboarding, or hiking.

The best kind of travels are those where you can linger in a place, make discoveries, learn new things, and try out new tastes. It's a kind of “slow travel” that lets you soak in some of the local language, history, and customs. You have time to explore different neighborhoods, go to various cafés, bars and restaurants, and visit local shops and markets.

And if you've learned a new language for your trip, you'll have the chance to try out what you've learned. That's one of the great pleasures of travel: Get that sense of accomplishment as you stretch your boundaries.

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 & Ulrike Rettig

4 Languages – Different Language Subtleties

national flags on TVYou know that you're making progress when you start to pick up language subtleties in the language you're learning. Language subtleties can be fun or embarrassing, but you'll especially remember the embarrassing ones.

I'm not only talking about “false friends”, which are not that hard to check. For example, my (German speaking) father quickly learned the English word “gift”, as the same word means “poison” in German.  “Gift” was also the first entry in our earlier post, 20 German False Friends To Watch Out For.

There are also quite a few such “cognates” in Spanish, as we listed in False Language Friends – Spanish: me despierto et al. (And, we just realized that we are still to list the major cognates for Italian and French, Gamesforlanguage's other two languages.)

In the meantime, here are just a few language subtleties we came across recently.

GERMAN SUBTLETIES

One of our sons told us the other day that during a stay in Germany he responded to a question whether the room temperature was ok: “Ja danke, ich bin warm.” But, the correct German expression for "I'm warm" is “Es ist mir warm.” He could not understand the chuckle of the family friend he was staying with.

The friend explained that the answer did not go together with the question:  “warm sein” in German is used to mean to be “gay”, or “schwul”. Although the above exchange occurred over 15 years ago, our son still remembers the different meanings of the two expressions.

Going back even further, I remember when my French-speaking brother-in-law, who also spoke excellent German, was puzzled when he heard one of our friends tell us over a glass of beer:monkey on tricyle cartoon

“Als ich nach der Party mit dem Fahrrad nach Hause fuhr, hatte ich einen ordenlichen Affen sitzen.” (Literally: When I rode home on my bicycle after the party, I had a substantial monkey sitting.)

My brother-in-law laughed as heartily as all the others, but later he asked me: “Why did he have a monkey sitting on the bicycle with him?”

Idioms

As many other languages do as well, German has many ways to express being tipsy or drunk, for example:
• einen sitzen haben  (literally: to have one sitting)
• einen Affen sitzen haben (literally: to have a monkey sitting)
• einen Schwips haben (somewhat literally: to have intoxication)
• einen im Tee haben (literally: to have one in the tea)

And in the various German dialects there are quite a few more.

Words with more than one Meaning

This brings me to German words with more than one meaning. For example, “einen Kater haben” could mean “owning a male cat”. But more likely – and you would know from the context – it would mean “having a hangover”.

In German, there are plenty of words with more than one meaning. There is no way around learning them. Examples are:
• “Linsen” are “lentils”, but also lenses of cameras
• “ein Gericht” could be “a court of justice”, or a meal
• “die Wirtschaft” could mean “the economy” or the local pub
• “ein Bienenstich” is a German cake specialty, made with yeast dough, filled with vanilla custard and topped with almonds, but it also simply means “the sting of a bee”. I still have no idea how this cake got its name.

You can sometimes guess the meaning of a word from the context, but that is often harder for idioms.

SPANISH SUBTLETIES

The other day I was again reviewing the use of “estar” and “ser” in Spanish. One of the explanations of the difference between both is the following: Think about “ser” as a “passive” verb, something “being” that way permanently, e.g. describing a personal trait;  “estar”, on the other hand, is a more active verb describing a (temporary) condition.

Expressions with Ser and Estar

In the examples below the use of either “ser” or “estar” changes the meaning of the adjective. For example:

Bored woman ignored by her dateThe young woman in the picture certainly would NOT want to say: “Soy aburrido” which means “I am boring”, when she really wants to say: “Estoy aburrido” (“I am bored”) - hopefully only a temporary condition with her date!

Similarly, when you tell somebody that you are not ready, say “No estoy listo” and NOT “No soy listo”. The latter means that you are not intelligent or a quick thinker.
Also:

• vivo/a is “alive” with estar, but “clever” with ser
• cansado/a is “tired” with estar, but “tiring” with ser

Remember as well that “estar” is used to indicate your location, as in “Estoy en casa” (I'm at home), but “ser” is used to indicate your origin, e.g. place of birth, “Soy de Austria.” (I'm from Austria.)\

Exceptions

And just when I thought I had understood the differences well enough, I was reminded of a few major exceptions:
• “Está muerto” (he is dead) seems to be quite a permanent condition, but uses “estar” to indicate that somebody is dead.
• On the other hand “ser” is used to indicate time as in “Son las tres de la tarde” as in “It's 3 PM”, which seems quite transitional.

Words with more than one Meaning

As with German, Spanish also has words that have more than one meaning:
• piso: can mean “apartment” or “flat” but also is used for a building's “level” or “floor”
• gato: “cat” is the translation I know, but apparently it is also a “car jack”
• tiempo: can mean “time” or “weather”
• techo: can mean “ceiling” or “roof”

Different Meaning in Different Countries

As Spanish is spoken not only in Spain but also in the Americas, it's not surprising that there are quite a few words that have acquired various meanings in different countries. A few examples include:
• fresa: a “strawberry” in most Spanish speaking countries (but “frutilla” in Argentina); in Mexico it's also a slang term for a “spoiled, egocentric, wealthy youngster”
• coche: a “car” for Spaniards, but a slang term for “pig” in Guatemala (maybe from French “cochon”?), or a “babystroller” in Chile
• torta: a “cake” in most Spanish speaking countries, it also translates as “a punch in the mouth” in Spain.

This iTalki post has quite a few more Spanish words with different meanings in different countries. Only the context of a sentence lets you sometimes figure out the meaning. But because Spanish has phonetic spelling, it is much easier than French with its many homophones, as we'll see below.

FRENCH SUBTLETIES

As with German and Spanish above (and most languages), some French words have two or more meanings.

words with more than one meaning

For example, “voler” can mean either “to fly” or “to steal”. (Maybe the image with the seagulls below will help you remember the two meanings).

seagulls trying to steal food on beachBut with nouns, often the article changes, and that can alert you to which meaning is used.
• la tour (a tower), le tour (a trip)
• la poste (the post office), le poste (a position)
• la mémoire (the memory), le mémoire (the essay)

I'm doing a lot of listening at the moment (on LingQ) to get my French up a notch for an upcoming trip to French Switzerland.

words that sound the same but have a Different Meaning

One feature that makes spoken French particularly tricky are its many homophones, words that sound the same but are spelled differently. Here are a few examples:
• fin (end), faim (hunger)
• verre (glass), vers (a verse, or “towards”), ver (worm), vert (green)
• vin (wine), vain (in vain), vingt (twenty), vint (came)
• saut (jump), seau (bucket), sot (dummy), sceau (seal)
• maire (mayor), mer (sea), mère (mother)
c'est (it is), sait (knows), s'est (reflexive pronoun + est)

Not to mention the various personal verb endings that get swallowed in spoken French.
• (il) est, (tu) es
• (je) parle, (tu) parles, (ils) parlent

You have to pay special attention to the context to get the right meaning and spelling.

Idioms

Idioms pose their own challenge as the literal meaning is often quite far from the idiomatic meaning. A couple of my favorites are:
• poser un lapin à quelqu'un - to put a rabbit to someone (to stand someone up, not show up for a date)
• faire la grasse matinée - to do the fat morning (to sleep in)
• faire le pont - to make the bridge (if Thursday is a holiday, you may as well not work Friday either and take a nice long weekend)

If you like French idioms, check out our post on Other Cats to Whip? The Book of French Idioms. It's a collection of funny idioms with delightful illustrations.

Québecois

Last August, we spent several days in Montreal to attend LangFest 2017. The conference is a popular annual language gathering that attracts language enthusiasts from all over the globe.

We really enjoyed being in a French environment, but it took us a few hours to attune our ears again to the melody and expressions of Québecois, the local language spoken there.

One of the first workshops at LangFest was a quick overview of Québecois by translator and editor Grégoire Lahaia. This was really helpful for us. Lahaia pointed out three major characteristics of how Québecois is pronounced:

1) Dipthongization of long vowels (also called vowel breaking)
• père (pronounced: paèr)
• rêve (pronounced: raève)
• fort (pronounced: faort)

2) The consonants t/d are pronounced ts/ds before the vowels u/i
• tu (pronounced: tsu)
• tuer (pronounced: tsuer)
• tirer (pronounced: tsirer)
• durant (pronounced: dsurant)

3) Many words are contracted
• tu es (pronounced: t'es
• sur la (pronounced: s'a)
• il aime (pronounced: y'aime)
• je suis (pronounced: j'su)

It made us realize again how important it is to listen to different regional accents of a language to train your ear to understand variations beyond standard pronunciation.

ITALLIAN SUBTLETIES

Even if you've figured out the difference in Spanish between “estar” and “ser”, the Italian verbs “stare” and “essere” will provide you with a new challenge.

Expressions with essere and stare

In general “essere” means “to be”, and “stare” means “to stay”. But in some contexts “stare” also means “to be”. As a starter, it's useful to learn a few basic phrases, so you don't have to think about what to use with these.

Use “essere”:

For nationality, profession, possession, essential qualities.
Sono italiano. - I'm Italian.
• Sono insegnate di francese. - I'm a French teacher.
• La casa è di Carla. - It's Carla's house.
• Il tavolo è negro. - The table is black.

For condition or emotion.
Sono malato. - I'm sick.
• Sono felice. - I'm happy.

For Date and Time.
Sono le dieci. - It's ten o'clock.
• È lunedì. - It's Monday.

Use “stare”:

For precise location (but in some cases, you can also use “essere”)
• La sedia sta/è in cucina. - The chair is in the kitchen.
• Lui sta da me. - He's at my place.

For certain idiomatic expressions.
Sto bene. - I'm well.
• Come stai? - How are you?
• Sto male. - I'm feeling bad.

For the continuous tense:
Sta piovendo. - It's raining.
• Sto mangiando una pizza. - I'm eating a pizza.

The little word “ci”

The two-letter word “ci” pops up a lot in conversational Italian. You'll see it on its own and also attached to the end of a verb. It helps to learn basic phrases, but more importantly, just become aware of it as you read or listen to Italian. With time, you'll learn to recognize the various meanings of “ci”.

Personal pronoun “ci” = us/to us/ourselves
Marco ci ha invitato a cena. - Marco has invited us to dinner. (direct object)
• Ci l'hanno dato. - They gave it to us. (indirect oject)
• Ci siamo divertiti molto. - We enjoyed ourselves a lot. (reflexive)
• Ci vediamo là? - We'll see each other there? (reciprocal)

Demonstative pronoun “ci” = about it/on it
Non so che farci. - I don't know what to do about it.
• Ci penserò. - I'll think about it.
• Ci puoi contare. - You can depend on it.

Adverb ci” = here/there; there is/there are; it is/they are
• Qui non ci ritorno più. - I'm not coming back here again.
• Conosco Roma perché ci ho abitato. - I know Rome well because I lived there.
• Ci sono 30 kilometri. - It's (there are) 30 kilometers.
• C'è nessuno in casa? - Is there anybody at home?

Verbs with ci

A number of verbs change meaning by adding “ci”. The meanings have to be learned in context. Here are a couple of examples: 
• pensare - to think
• pensarci - to think/take care of sth; ci penso io (I'll take care of it)

• stare - to be, stay
• starci - to be up for it/to fit in it; non ci sta (it doesn't fit in it)

• credere - to believe
• crederci - to believe it; non ci credo (I don't believe it)


We obviously could only touch the surface of the four languages' many subtleties. But once you start paying attention to them, you'll be a step closer to mastering the language you're learning. The proof will be when you recognize some of the expressions in conversations and can use them yourself.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Silvester Traditions in German Speaking Countries

Frohes Neues Jahr with fireworks(Updated 12-28-2017)

In 2015 we first started this post about Silvester Traditions in German speaking countries. German is spoken in many parts of the world.

German is the only official language in Austria, Germany, and Lichtenstein. It is the "majority" language, and shares official status with the other languages, in 17 cantons of Switzerland.

It is the co-official language in Luxembourg and Belgium, as well as in another four (4) Swiss cantons and the Italian Autonomous Province of South Tyrol, where it is also the majority language.

In France, the German spoken in the Alsace and Moselle regions is deemed a "regional language," and German speakers (who are often bilingual) also live in the border areas of Denmark, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary. 

There are about 95 million who speak German as their first language. With the pockets of German-speaking communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kazakhstan, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine, U.S., South America, and even parts of Africa, it is estimated that about 10 million people speak German as a second language.

In the U.S., communities of Amish (see Discovering Pennsylvania Dutch with “Speaking Amish”), Mennonites and Hutterites speak German dialects. The Pennsylvania Dutch celebrate New Year with a traditional meal of pork and sauerkraut.

Germany

Berlin's "Langer Lulatsch" with Fireworks"- Gamesforlanguage.comNew Year's Eve in German-speaking countries is also called "Silvester," as December 31 is St. Silvester (or Sylvester) Day. The fourth-century Catholic pope and saint became associated with New Year's Eve.

This was after the reform of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, when the last day of the year became December 31, the day of his death in AD 335.

Not only the German-speaking countries, but also Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Israel all use a variant of Silvester's name as the preferred name for New Year's Eve.

St. Silvester, Germanic Gods, and other Superstitions 

Watch out for fish bones - St. Silvester had a frightening reputation: It was said that non-believers would suffocate in his presence. As he died on December 31st, superstitious Germans are very careful when eating fish on the last day of the year.

No laundry - The superstition not to wash and hang up any laundry for drying around New Year's Eve, traces back to the German god Wotan. This custom is said to keep Wotan happy who, together with his buddies, supposedly roams through the gardens on the night of Silvester.

No work - At the end of each year, the gods let the wheel rest to which the sun is attached. Mankind should therefore follow suit and let all work rest on the last day of the year.

Northern Germany

Rummelpotlaufende Kinder In Germany's northern state Schleswig-Holstein, quite a few old traditions survive, for example:

"Rummelpottlaufen," quite similar to Halloween in the U.S., sees costumed children with a self-made music instrument (a can covered with pigskin or thin leather, pierced by a willow-stick, which when turned and rubbed makes hollow and scary sounds), going from door to door on New Year's Eve, singing old tunes and being rewarded with candies and sweets.

Berlin is the site of Germany's biggest New Year's Eve party, which takes place around the Brandenburg Gate; "Berliner" (jam-filled doughnuts) are a particular favorite in Berlin, as in many other German-speaking countries during Silvester.

Southern Germany

In the southern parts of Germany, originating from Austria and Switzerland, a cheese Fondue or Raclette is often also a typical New Year's dinner.

At midnight a "Feuerzangenbowle," a punch made with red wine, orange peels, cinnamon, cloves, and poured over a burning sugar cone supplements or even replaces the German "Sekt" (sparkling wine).

Austria         

Bleigießen:LeadpouringIn Austria, Vienna clearly holds the top spot for New Year's Eve celebrations. Before midnight, small marzipan or chocolate "fortune gifts" (figures of chimney sweeps, little fortune piggies, four-leaf clover, etc.) are exchanged.

As in many other German-speaking regions, "Bleigießen" (lead pouring) - the melting of small pieces of lead, dropped into cold water - results in a popular, fun game: the various forms of the the hardened lead pieces let the participants speculate what a person may experience in the coming year.

Impressive fireworks are part of the Viennese tradition as is a glass of champagne. After the midnight countdown, the Danube waltz plays on all radio and TV stations.

Switzerland

In Switzerland there are many different and often quite curious traditions. We can only highlight a couple here:

"Altjahresu" - Schwarzenburg (Canton Bern)

Altjahresu in Schwarzenburg, Bern, Switzerland In this small town near Bern, about 40 participants dress up as various characters for the "Altjahresu" (old-year-donkey) performances: the donkey guide, the musicians, the priest, the devil, the barrel carrier, the newlyweds, the mailman, etc.

They go from bistro to bistro with their donkey, the musicians play, the newlyweds dance, the mailman distributes the old year's newspaper, the barrel carrier collects white wine in his wine barrels, etc.

At the end of the day, around  9:30 PM, the priest then reads his "sermon" at the town center to the great amusement of all spectators.

"Harder-Potschete" - Switzerland's longest Silvester in Interlaken

Potschen masks at Harder-Potschete in Interlaken, SwitzerlandThe Silvester celebrations end in Interlaken only on January 2. Until 1956 the "Potschen," scary- looking figures with masks - representing dead people - were roaming the streets, screaming at spectators and pulling them along.

That often got out of hand. So, in the late fifties, a new custom was added to tone down the rowdiness. It combined the legend of a delinquent monk marooned on the "Harder," Interlaken's town hill, with that of the masked characters. The scary masks are still there but the celebrations are not as wild as before. See last year's masks in the picture.

I'm not aware of any particular Silvester traditions in Lichtenstein and Luxembourg that differ from those in the other German-speaking countries and regions. (If you do, please let us know!)

Family Traditions

As countries and regions have developed particular traditions and celebrations, so have many families. We are now continuing a tradition with our extended family here in the U.S. that started with my father's family in Berlin, Germany:

The after-midnight snack is "Heringssalat," a Scandinavian/Northern Germany specialty that has many recipe variations. It is served with "wieners" or "frankfurters." The herring, potato, apple, and pickle combination makes a welcome change after the sweet treats of the Christmas season.  And strangely enough, it even goes well with a glass of champagne!

Parts of this post were included in the December 2014 post Molten lead, Red Underwear, Grapes and other End-of-Year Traditions

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