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It’s easy to be hard on German. It’s a fun language to complain about. It sounds needlessly harsh to untrained ears, it’s got a bewildering system of declensions that serve no conceivable purpose (I’ve heard Russian is worse, which is enough for me to keep a safe distance from that language), and something about German history and the stereotype about their sense of humor makes us feel okay giving Germans a good ribbing now and again. Even Mark Twain famously blessed German with a full essay of hilarious complaints entitled “the Awful German Language.”
But I love German, I really do. And my reasons aren’t noble or provocative or even particularly insightful. What I love about German is the sum total of a good many small but wonderful details which delight me. For one, like the comic above, I’m always tickled to think about the literal translations of certain German words. A friend once told me, “German words are just exactly the thing that they are.” Like the comic above (and I’ve made another), most nouns, when translated directly, are amusingly on-point descriptions of whatever they are. It’s great. I’m constantly learning a new word (like Streichholz, which means “match,” and literally means “strike-wood”) and thinking, of course that’s what it is. It couldn’t be anything else.
I also love the backwards sentences. As you may know, and as I’ve pointed out, German often places the verb at the end of the phrase, making your brain do backflips when you try to put one together. It’s wonderful to get it right, because it makes you feel like you’re successfully performing a loop-de-loop. And a final example of one of German’s endearing qualities is the fantastic compound words. Säuglingsgeschrei (the cry of a newborn baby), Ehefähigkeitszeugnis (certificate of marriage eligibility) and Bundesverfassungsgericht (constitutional court) are just three of my favorites. They have a way of making bureaucracy that much more enjoyable.
As a result of these and many more little delightful details, German itself delights me, and it makes learning German a delight. And isn’t that the point?
We learn languages because it’s fun, not because it’s work. Don’t get bogged down by what’s tough about a certain language – every language has its difficulties. And like anything worth doing, they’re mostly going to be a challenge to master. So focus on the delightful details. Find those nuances that make it a joy to speak or read in the language you’re learning, and remember them. Life’s too short to be depressed by declensions.
Instead, choose to be delighted.
What about you? What delights you about the language you’re currently learning?