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10 Difficult Concepts in the German Language

July 13, 2017
Languages

You're probably thinking something like, "Hey! You said German wasn't hard to learn! What is this about now?"

I don't think German is hard to learn. But does that mean learning any language is easy? No, not really. It means that I have figured out a way of language learning that works for me. I've tried many methods and committed myself to a schedule that I follow each week. This allows me to learn multiple languages and enjoy doing so.I have studied German intensely and with a lot of dedication. It took a lot of time and effort but I got there and now can seriously get my paperwork started for my move. You can do it if you are willing to commit!

I am still convinced that German is one of the easier languages for native English speakers to learn, but there are going to be concepts that you aren't familiar with. Even things that are considered easy will require you to learn and apply something. Same with German! There are struggles to push through in every language. Here are a few of the most common mess-ups in the German language.

| Voyaging Viking | Is German Hard to Learn?

1. Grammatical Case: German has four cases

Nominative, Accusative, Dative, and Genitive. So basically, this already means there are way too many ways of saying "the". Here is a basic breakdown of the cases: 

Nominative: The noun in the nominative case is the subject of the sentence and correlates to the verb.

For example: Er ist ein Hund. He is a dog.

Accusative: The noun in the accusative case is the direct object of the sentence (the thing the verb acts upon).

For example: Er hat einen Hund. He has a dog.

Dative: The noun in the dative case is receiving the accusative noun.

Er gibt mir einen Hund. He gives me a dog

Genitive: To show possession.

For example: Meines Bruders Hund. My brother's dog.

You can clearly see every case with the masculine nouns. It is a bit more difficult with, say feminine nouns since they do not change every time the case changes.

2. Gender: German grammar has 3 genders

Did you know that nouns can be boys, girls, or the third gender neuter? They are in German! 

3. Plurals: The construction of plural nouns

In English, you add an "s" to make a word plural. Not so easy in German! 

der Apfel becomes die Äpfel

der Mann becomes die Männer

der Hund becomes die Hunde

das Buch becomes die Bücher

das Mädchen becomes die Mädchen (didn't want you to get too comfortable ;) )

Additionally, with four cases, three genders, and the plurals, you have 16 ways of saying "the".

german language

4. Adjectives: Adjective endings change depending on the noun & case

Klein: small

eine Kleine spinne: the small spider

Ich habe einen kleinen Apfel: I have a small apple

Ein großer Hund: A big dog

Die lustigen Frauen: the funny women

5. Case Will Change Definitive Article: When die turns into der

Sometimes you get some extra letters on an article or adjective that will tell you what is going on. Other times, you'll see a feminine word with a masculine article. Say whaaat?

Getting overwhelmed?! Check out some language learning tips to help you out along your German journey!

6. Word Order: Verbs, conjunctions, and past tense, oh my! 

In English, you can for the most part put a verb pretty much wherever. That is not so true in German! The verb must be next to the subject in the second grammatical position of the sentence. Unless it is a question. Or has a conjunction. And if it's past tense...well, kind of.

For example: Conjunctions

Wenn er nicht kommt, gehen wir nicht: We aren't going if he doesn't come.

Da ich keinen Hunger habe, esse ich nicht: Because I am not hungry I will not eat.

7. Compound Words: German is famous for its long words

The German language shows just how practical the Germans are culturally. When they create new words, they use words they already know. It makes you see how they really see the world.

Here you can see some of the building blocks: 

Schwein: pig

Meerschweinchen: guinea pig (literally ocean piglet)

Another example: Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän: a steamboat company captain on the Danube

And another: Fallschirmspringerschule: A parachutist school (Fallschirm = parachute, springer = jumper, schule=school)

8. The German R: To roll or not to roll

Sometimes we get to do the fun roll with the tongue. Other times, it is more of a...throat noise? *shrugs*

9. Präteritum and Past Perfekt: Two past tenses

In English, past tense is weird but may be not this weird. So in English, you can say "It happened" and that is past tense. Another correct way is "It had happened" which is basically double past tense. "I was swimming" past tense + present tense = past tense? 

So in German, there are two kinds of past tense to learn. There is the Perfekt, which is used in speaking. The Präteritum is in things like fairytales, writing....or when people don't feel like using the Perfect.

For example...

I went:

Perfekt: Ich bin gegangen

Präteritum: Ich ging

I was:

Perfekt: Ich bin sein

Präteritum: Ich war

Why do I write so much on the German language? 

10. Präpositionen: If we didn't need more reasons to switch case

Okay, so we switch cases when the object is switched around or added to a sentence. Cool, then we're done!

LOL NOPE

Prepositions are bastards in German. Some of them will cause the accusative case just by their presence in a sentence. Others will cause the dative case. There are some that can cause either the accusative or the dative case depending on movement! *cringe*

Some examples:

Das ist für mich: This is for me. "Für" triggers accusative.

Ich bin mit ihm: I am with him. "Mit" triggers dative

Bonus! 

11. Regional Dialects

Okay, so you mastered Hochdeutsch and book your flight to Germany. You arrive in Bavaria only to find they have a regional dialect. Time to start over!

german language

Want more on German? 

German for Travelers

Is German Hard to Learn? 

If you need more help on learning German, head over to LanguageHaus and sign up for the newsletter and receive access to the LanguageHaus Library! There you can get more phrase sheets and download some phrase books.

| Voyaging Viking | Essential German for Travelers
| Voyaging Viking | Difficult Concepts in German
Siggi Einarson

My name is Siggi-dubbed by my American friends because of the Icelandic yogurt-I am a writer, polyglot, and aspiring expat, not a cup of yogurt (unfortunately).

My love for travelling began with a trip to Iceland and Sweden to visit my family when I was just 15 years old. I spent so long dreaming of the possibilities of life abroad but I always figured these dreams were too far reached. Flash forward almost 10 years, here I am again, both cursing and thanking this damn travel bug.

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