Learning a language can be a challenge, and settling down to learn German may seem even more intimidating. The rumors of complex grammatical structures, super long words, and a million different ways to say “the” might have you trying to figure out how to learn German easily.
There are plenty of strategies out there for sure, from language learning CDs to full-on immersion to help you reach fluency in a foreign language. However, if you’re only starting out in a German language program or maybe you’re considering beginning the journey towards fluency, then you should start off by becoming more familiar with the language.
The best way to prepare is by exposing yourself to the language. Once you have an understanding of how German works and why people find it challenging, then you’ll realize that people perceive German as difficult only because it’s different. And the sooner you can recognize the differences, the sooner you’ll be on the path to fluency. These are nine reasons people find the German language challenging.
At first glance, the German alphabet looks slightly more formidable than the English one. There are 30 letters instead of the 26, and while it’s not a huge difference, the added letters do complicate the language for native English speakers. The “ß” or “eszett” stands out, and the “ä, ö, and ü” are three other letters that English speakers might find strange.
However, the great thing about these unique letters is that they help make sure you pronounce words correctly. This means that even though German may look intense at first, once you learn how to pronounce the words, it becomes much easier.
People tend to use the regular occurrence of large words in German as an illustration of its difficulty. This is because German uses something called “compound words” to illustrate more precise ideas. Take “der Kühlschrank” for instance. “der kühl” means “the cooling,” and “schrank” means closet. Together, “der Kühlschrank” means a refrigerator.
The key is building up your vocabulary to recognize more and more of these words. And after you become familiar with them, it won’t matter how long they are. You’ll recognize that these big words are simply made up of smaller ones. You’ll break them down, understand the meaning, and move forward. By the time you stumble on to, “viertausendeinhundertsiebenunddreißig” you’ll smile, see vier-tausend-ein-hundert-sieben-und-dreißig, and know that it’s just the German way to write out, “4137.”
People often exaggerate the harsh pronunciation of German. This impression comes from a passing glance at the language. The main reason for this has to do with how some sounds are unique to German alone. The “ch” sound, for instance, originates in the throat. The “r” is pronounced differently than in English as well.
And yet, pronouncing words in German is no different than pronouncing words in other languages. Often, you have to learn new ways of speaking and forming words. If it helps, when many Germans learn English, they struggle with the “th” sound in words like “the.” They too have to learn how to form these sounds to speak fluently.
English speakers who aren’t familiar with languages outside of English aren’t usually familiar with words having a gender. Many languages have both masculine or feminine genders. Germany has both of these plus the neuter gender. This creates more possible variations for words, making it more challenging to use the right word.
More important, however, is memorizing the proper article with the word you’re using. Mixing up articles can completely change the meaning of the word. It will also make it easy to remember later on because you will grow familiar with the combination of the correct article along with the word and its meaning.
Without getting too much into the details, German is much more liberal in its sentence structure than English. The result is that if you directly translate German to English, it often sounds more garbled than it is.
The simple reason behind this is that every language follows different structures for connecting words into sentences. Whether it’s French, Spanish, Russia, etc., relying too heavily on a cut and paste translation into your native tongue will come out looking garbled and nonsensical. Don’t rely on your native grammatical systems for understanding German. Instead, embrace German grammar. With time, it will make sense to you.
German uses two forms of the word “you.” When addressing coworkers, professionals, and strangers, it’s proper to use the formal, “sie.” It is also used by younger people to address older individuals. “Du” is more informal and used to address friends and peers in most situations.
Recently, however, the influence of an increasing spread of casual business culture has started creating a shift away from the formal “sie” opting for “du” instead. If you’re ever in doubt, stick with “sie.”
A false cognate is a word with the same or similar spelling in the target language as your native language. An example of this would be “gift” in German. Many English speakers would think that giving someone a “gift” in German would be a pleasant thing, but they would be wrong. “Gift” means poison in German.
There are several more examples like these. And because German and English are quite similar, it can be equally frustrating to think you know a word only to find out that you’re wrong. However, they are often shockingly different than what you’d think they would be, so you’ll be quick to learn from mistakes.
The final problem on this list deals with how saturated English has become throughout the world. English is often a core class in many German schools. Students study it throughout the years and are eager to practice with native English speakers when they meet them. This can make it difficult to lean on German and develop fluency when you know that the person you’re speaking to either can or will respond to you in English.
At first glance, German seems challenging because of all the rules, but the great thing about these rules is that once you understand them, you’re set. German is very structured. This puts it at an advantage over trying to learn a language like English, where there are plenty of exceptions to nearly every rule.
Don’t fall into the trap of believing that learning German is somehow harder than learning any other language. If you want to have an easy time learning German, your best option is to accept the rules and be patient. The rules work themselves out the more you’re exposed to them. Don’t get lost in the grammar looking for the language. With dedication and the best language learning program, you’ll find yourself speaking fluently in no time.