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  • Stephanie wrote a new post, Attempting to learn German 3 years, 9 months ago

    by Richard Dawkins
    I like to think of my life as governed by rational decisions, but I have to admit that my attempt to learn German in my quixotic seventies is governed more by emotion—an emotion that might s […]

    • Good luck with the German! I learned German as a child in my German-American family. I don’t know if I could have learned it otherwise. Although I have a great vocabulary, I still have lapses when I can’t remember the gender of a word. So don’t get frustrated, just barrel ahead. Learning a new language certainly is good exercise for the brain. However, if you are excited about learning German because you think the country is more enlightened than the UK, I must disappoint you. There are just as many anti-immigration, anti-EU cranks in Germany as in the UK. Whether the USA joins the ranks of the uncivilized countries will be determined on November 8th.

    • Instead I think that Brexit hasn’t been so bad, especially in a situation in which the EU is dangerously going to establish a Christian pseudo Union without any real democracy.
      And I do prefer to use my spare time to try to learn Arabic.
      Alif, ba, ta, tha, jim, Ha, kha, dal, dhal, ra, zai, sin, shin, Sad, Dad, Ta, DHa, ayn, ghayn, fa, qaf, kaf, lam, mim, nun, ha, waw, ya, hamza, fatHa, kasra, Damma, and all that. Very fascinating, especially the writing
      ا ب ت ث ج ح خ د ذ ر ز س ش ص ض ط ظ ع غ ف ق ك ل م ن ه و ي ء
      َ ِ ُ
      It is a very useful exercise for the coordination brain-eye-hand, a new world of experiences.
      Then, if I will live long enough, I will try Chinese!

      But, what the devil of interesting is there in learning the German? Politics? The old medieval Christian continent? The fear that Germany can return to monopolize the old continent? The treat of François Hollande to eliminate the English from the list of official languages of the EU?

      I would understand a pain for Brexit if the EU would have shown a tendency toward a secular democratic model of Union. But for that shoddy job that is going to be the EU: a puzzle of ex sovereign states guided by a bureaucratic oligarchy and oppressed by CETA and NATO, united under the cross or the crucifix, I think, pardon me, there is something of very strange in crying for it.

      Enjoy your German lessons.

      Best regards,
      Fiorenzo

    • Excellent observation, Cairsley.

      This may be why my spoken German becomes possible only after a stein or two beer. I no longer care about details and anyway I have an excuse for such slurring….

      Sadly, the capacity is quite narrow in its appearance. A third beer and and I’m tongue-tied again.

    • Fiorenzo #2
      Nov 4, 2016 at 9:05 pm

      Instead I think that Brexit hasn’t been so bad, especially in a situation in which the EU is dangerously going to establish a Christian pseudo Union without any real democracy.

      Brexit has not even started yet! and the value of the pound has dropped like a stone just at the thought of it!
      Months after a referendum where most of the voters had no idea what they were voting for, there are still no details available for scrutiny by parliament, and three judges have just ruled that the UK government can’t just plough on regardless with no plan, and without parliamentary scrutiny or approval!

      EU is dangerously going to establish a Christian pseudo Union without any real democracy.

      I would understand a pain for Brexit if the EU would have shown a tendency toward a secular democratic model of Union. But for that shoddy job that is going to be the EU: a puzzle of ex sovereign states guided by a bureaucratic oligarchy

      This is Brexteer fantasy nonsense!
      The EU has a parliament and council of ministers in charge of accountable officials in the administration, just like the member states and the Fed in United States.

      The fear that Germany can return to monopolize the old continent?

      Germany may well become more dominant if Britain becomes a shambolic sideline, frantically trying to claw back the trade agreements and some of the citizens’ rights the brexiteers are trying to throw away!

      Meanwhile I think English will continue to dominate much of the world, despite the more logical structures and consistent pronunciation of the German language, and the prominent financial position of Germany in Europe.

    • There are two ways to judge fluency in a second language. One is by testing and grading which measures spelling, grammar, etc. If someone learned a language in a classroom setting then they will fare well in this measurement of fluency. However, if they happen to be airdropped into the location where this second language is spoken and only that language, I predict that they will flounder around and will only be capable of minimal interaction with the “natives” there. This is how I learned Spanish and although I could pass tests and get good grades, I’ve never been able to converse in real life. So I don’t speak Spanish. Not at all.

      On the other hand, a second language can be acquired by the total immersion method. I think it must help greatly to have at least some classroom prep on the basic structure of the language. But in a total immersion situation, the strong motivation to pack the lexicon chock full of vocabulary as fast as possible and the necessity to learn some basic sentence structure can speed the student way ahead. What’s more motivating, I need to get at least a C on my test or I’m dying of thirst! How do I say “water”??!!

      Those of us who have learned a second language by immersion may not have the time to memorize the gender of ten thousand nouns. What can we do but wing it? If we don’t take a guess on the gender and stop and falter with every sentence we speak then we won’t have anyone willing to converse with us at all! It’s much too aggravating for the native speaker to stand there and offer words and corrections for every mistake that a new speaker of their language will make. Here’s where suddenly the native speaker will switch the conversation over to English. The very sign that they have had enough of our linguistic butchery.

      I’ve just thought that I’d like to run an experiment to discover which groups of speakers are more tolerant of outsiders who blunder along in their second languages.

      The two languages that I’ve picked up by immersion are French and Arabic. I find the French are very quick to switch over to English when faced with the prospect of listening to me with my American accent and outright butchery of their beautiful language. I know very few genders, swear like a trouper and totally fail in their formality protocols. I generally know the tu form but not the vous form and therefore insult many people right off the bat by speaking to everyone in the tu form. Shop keepers get pissed off at me immediately.

      Even with all of that, I wouldn’t hesitate to move there (because I LOVE the place) and I’m not worried about the language problem at all. Despite my hacked linguistic skill, I can communicate anything I want to say. They understand me even if they get aggravated quickly.

      My other language that is completely hacked is Maghreb Arabic. This actually works out better because the native speakers of Arabic in that region are thrilled and entertained by my crappy competency. They’re so happy that I’m even trying. I swear like a trouper in Arabic too. Certainly there are only a small number of foreigners there who even try to speak Arabic so it’s not like the French who must put up with blunderers every day from their hoards of tourists.

      So Richard, forgive yourself the linguistic mistakes that you will make. I’ve traded grammatical accuracy for a conversational fluidity because with a second language, in my opinion, it’s all about communication and exchange of ideas and getting what we want and need when in a different language zone. Usage. Usage is the priority!

      When you start dreaming in the second language that’s when you know it has really seeped into your neurons.

      I

    • Who was that pope who spoke umpteen languages ? He spoke nonsense in all of them.

    • Olgun

      But if your turkish if good enough for the villagers, what if you dream about an interaction with those villagers. Won’t you be speaking your “good enough” turkish in the dream? Would your somewhat offline brain translate the whole dialog into convenient perfect English?

      When I dream about my in-laws we are always speaking Arabic and French.

    • When I was studying organic chemistry, the lab Meister (a little man with an accent like the MC in Cabaret) referred me to a number of German text books. I protested “But they are in German”. He replied, “It is almost the same. You won’t have any trouble.” To my surprise, he was correct. I quickly learned the limited vocabulary used to describe organic chemistry recipes. It would probably be similar to learning any other language if all I wanted to do was interpret bread recipes.

    • Roedy #11
      Nov 5, 2016 at 5:21 pm

      “But they are in German”. He replied, “It is almost the same. You won’t have any trouble.” To my surprise, he was correct.

      I studied French at school, and only “do” German with a dictionary and phrase-book, but it is possible to get a basic understanding by reading signs notices etc. – particularly when you learn to break up the long words made up of smaller words run together. (Seilbahnstation)

    • @phil, #5

      This may be why my spoken German becomes possible only after a stein or two beer. I no longer care about details and anyway I have an excuse for such slurring….
      Sadly, the capacity is quite narrow in its appearance. A third beer and and I’m tongue-tied again.

      This can be explained by the known dosage-dependent effects of ethanol: in relatively low doses, it depresses first brain networks that typically tend to inhibit basic-drive type of behavior (hence, ethanol has a seemingly stimulant effect). However, as the blood level of ethanol increases, more brain networs are depressed, and that’s when our tongues get tied… and possibly even worse…

    • When you start dreaming in the second language that’s when you know it
      has really seeped into your neurones

      Interesting. However, that’s not how I have experienced it.

      I was born and grew up in Italy, where I spent a bit more than half of my lifetime. I have spent the rest of it in the US, so American English has ‘seeped into my neurons’ a long time ago, but I have no idea of what language I dream in now… I feel it is some kind of ‘proto language’ of which Italian and English are variants…

    • But, what the devil of interesting is there in learning the German? Politics? The old medieval Christian continent? The fear that Germany can return to monopolize the old continent? The treat of François Hollande to eliminate the English from the list of official languages of the EU?

      Mmh, a bit disingenuous to say the least… possibly you are showing your relatively young age here…

      For starters, as a student RD trained as an ethologist, and many of the early ethologists were German (e.g., Oskar Heinroth) and wrote in German scientific journals.

    • ‘HOW TO MAKE YOURSELF UNPOPULAR”- don’t care if I do!

      It’s extremely disappointing, even distressing to read Richard’s arrogant comments on the ‘shame’ of Brexit. And yes, they ARE arrogant since he dismisses the fundamental worth of DEMOCRACY whilst ‘dissing’ the will of the majority.
      As a scientist I can understand his worries about loss of funding from the EU but has it happened yet? WILL it happen? I fear he has let emotion get the better of reason.

      Brexit is NOT about the self-interest of any group but the small matter of sovereignty; that those you elect to represent and govern in your name are able to do so. The foul corrupt EU
      imposes its laws over UK law and makes UK elections a charade. The British Isles has never been part of Europe, nor should it surrender itself to the grandiose plans of the United States of Europe.

    • Richard,

      If your writing is any indication, you have a strong facility for language. Obviously you would need to live in a German-speaking country for a long time to become anywhere near fluent, but with the materials you have I am sure you will do very well.

      If only learning a programming language came as naturally (to me, at least). Have you also thought of learning any of the modern programming languages, like JavaScript? It’s fun!

    • When I was majoring in chemistry in the early 1970s, I took 2 years of German because I was advised one couldn’t do chemistry without it. I seem to have been misinformed. But I did find what a beautiful spoken language it is, and I learned more about English grammar by studying German than I ever learned in English class!

      I also had 7 years of Spanish, and subsequently traveled through Mexico for a couple weeks without speaking English. I don’t remember dreaming in Spanish, but I found that I was able to think in Spanish without translating into English.

      Sadly, I don’t remember much of the German; I can carry on a limited conversation in Spanish… like explaining what a root canal treatment is to one of our many Spanish-speaking patients.

      Good luck with the German, Richard!

      Steve

    • If you’d like a German native speaker from Oxford to help you out, feel free to get in touch: I’d be happy to help. It’s the least I could do as a small token of gratitude for all the thoughts and insights of yours I have personally benefited from. 🙂

    • Gute Entscheidung. Deutsch ist die beste Sprache um einfache Dinge kompliziert auszudrücken.

      Good Decision. German is the best language to express simply things in a complicated way.

      Greetings from Germany and a lot of success.

    • Joining the chorus of voices cheering you on in your German language project.

      Carl Kruse

    • Dear Mr. Dawkins,

      I am glad you are learning German, as it is my mother tongue.
      However I cannot disagree with words of Oscar Wilde:
      “Life is too short to learn German”

      Wish you all the best.
      Chris

    • I think like many interests, if you enter a new hobby with enthusiasm you will be that much more rewarded. What Steve said above is also true, you’ll see English grammar in a new light as well.

      Viel Glück.

      Mike

    • Here’s a way to practice your German and amuse yourself at the same time with classic British humor:

      Python in Bavaria