They say that when you learn a new language you should label your day to day objects, stick a post-it on the fridge, on the oven, on your shelves. Then every time you’re in the kitchen you’ll start to memorise everything around you. My labelling obsession has gone into overdrive. Not satisfied with post-it notes all over my kitchen, I’ve started documenting and labeling the everyday occurrences I come across in Berlin.
Eight months ago I packed up my suitcases and shifted all my stuff from New Zealand to Berlin. I learnt German intensively for a couple of months but was frustrated by my German book which seemed to be stuck in the 90’s – anyone want to know what a video cassette recorder is in German? – and thought there must be something more relevant to me. Unfortunately I no longer have time to attend German classes every day and in Berlin it is so easy to slip into talking English that you have to make a real effort to keep learning. By starting Days of Deutsch I could learn vocabulary that was relevant to my life in Berlin and, by putting it out into the public via social media, I was forcing myself to keep on learning something new every day.
Fast forward 4 months and I’ve learnt 185 words and met a lot of great people along the way.
When I first started out I would see something interesting when I was out and about and I would find the nearest piece of paper to hand, including badly cut pieces of train tickets. Spending time in Germany has made me more efficient and now each time I leave the house I have a load of blank grid paper pieces and a couple of pens just in case I see something exciting. Now my flat is covered in little bits of paper and every time I dip my hand into my jacket pockets I pull out a whole load more. I have yet to learn the efficiencies of throwing things away.
Deciding what to post each day has made me more aware of my surroundings as well as more aware of what’s going on in Berlin. I wanted to put Berlin front and centre in my images, be it pictures of the city, the weather or events specific to Berlin. There are a lot of expats and immigrants here, like myself, who struggle to learn German and I wanted this to be relevant to them and their surroundings too. As it has turned out I’ve now got followers from around the world so they get to see a bit of day to day living in the city too. Other images, like my first soft toy or my Christmas traditions are quite personal to me so there’s a bit of a diary aspect to the images too.
If you want to find words for everyday objects around you then here are a few tips I use for my labels:
- Check a dictionary translating from your native tongue to the other language e.g. English to German.
- Check another dictionary but reverse it from the German to English. See if the translation is the same.
- Look up the word in Google images, do the results look like your object? My biggest mistake was to label up the iconic pipes in Berlin (das Rohr) as smoking pipes (die Pfeife) as the differentiation wasn’t clear in the dictionary and Pfeife just sounded right. Fingers crossed, I’ve learnt from my mistakes!
- Still in doubt? Ask a native speaking friend. I’m ever grateful to my German speaking friends, Katja, Dave, Ben and my mother who help me work my way through the subtle differences between words and meanings.
There are a great many ways to learn a language beyond the classroom such as blogs, Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr accounts and even creating a Pinterest board and following similar boards. Nothing beats being taught the basics by a teacher but social media is good for building your vocabulary and your confidence. See you in the social media stratosphere.
Polly Davidson is a freelance social media strategist. A Londoner getting to grips with Berlin after a long sojourn in New Zealand. Days of Deutsch is her way of learning German words, both useful and utterly useless ones. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Facebook.