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Very often people ask how they can learn or improve their German. Thus, I decided to tell you something about language and language learning, hoping that it will help you to overcome all the obstacles you could face.
First of all, you learn German like most languages, too.
1. Accumulation of vocabulary
The first step of successful language learning is the acquisition of words, e.g. nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, articles, prepositions, etc. Transparent Language Online can support you with this. Virtual cue cards will help you to acquire words and even short phrases and sentences.
Advice: Even when you do not know the grammatical rules how to combine the words into phrases and sentences or when you cannot conjugate verbs (correctly) learn as many words as you can and like. In the end, grammar is not the most important thing to make yourself understood or to convey a meaning.
2. Don’t focus on your native language when you learn a second language
All or, at least, most second language learners focus on their native language when they learn a second language. They extrapolate and reason the (grammatical) rules of the second language from their native language. That is, they tend to verbalize a thought in the same way their mother language does suggest it. In linguistics you call this contrastive analysis. But keep always in mind that each and every language is unique. It is misleading to say that you can translate a word, phrase, or sentence, for example, from English to German par for par. Each and every translation from one language to another is just a quasi translation, so to say.
Let’s take a German-English example in order to illustrate this fact. When you are hungry or thirsty you say in German: “Ich habe Hunger” or “Ich habe Durst”. When a German speaker would apply the German structure to the English language it would result in: “I have hunger” and “I have thirst”. Since I am not a native speaker of English I cannot judge about its degree of acceptability but I know it is more common to say: “I am hungry” and “I am thirsty”.
Advice: Don’t try to search for logic in everything. What seems to be logical in your native language can be illogical in German. Language is not mathematics, so you will always come across ‘rules’ that seem to be illogical. Just except some rules how they are and don’t bring every little detail into question. The more you progress in the German language the more will the language be accessible to you.
3. Language is economical
A lot of second language learners get confused when they come across a word they already know and find out that it also means something different or the other way around: you come across a new word and you find out that it denotes the same thing like another word that you already know. Let’s have a look at some examples.
One and the same word denotes different things: The German word Messer can mean “knife”, “meter” (a measuring device), or even “a person who is measuring something”. The German word Schloss can mean “castle” or “lock”. The German word Glas and the corresponding English word “glass” denote in both languages the same: it can refer to a drinking vessel or to a transparent material.
Different words refer to the same thing: The German verb schlafen means “to sleep” in English. Both the German and the English language have further words at their disposal to express the meaning of schlafen (to sleep): pennen – to doss, schlummern – to snooze, ein Nicherckerchen machen – to nod, ratzen – to kip.
In summary, languages are economical. That is, each word of every language has at least three meanings (that is a scientific fact!), thus, there are at least three different words that can denote one and the same object, subject, and action. But please, don’t be alarmed! In the majority of cases it is enough to know just one word and their accompanying meaning.
Advice: Don’t argue when you come across new words and be open-minded toward them. See the words always in the linguistic context and try to conceive the whole meaning of a phrase or sentence. Idioms always require particular words.
To be continued…