German Lessons

Topics

Pronouncing the Letters V-W and B-D

The German letters V and W can cause some confusion for native English speakers, since the German W is pronounced like the English V, and the German V is pronounced like the English F! One easy way to keep them straight is the fact that not only are they next to each other in the alphabet, but they also form the abbreviation of the auto manufacturer Volkswagen, or VW — pronounced "fau vay" in German. Practice saying VW to yourself, emphasizing the F sound in "fau" and the V sound in "vay."

 

Ein Ford oder ein VW oder was?
A Ford or a VW or what?
Caption 42, Deutschkurs in Tübingen: Weil oder obwohl

 

The word "Volkswagen" itself has both letters V and W in it, so practice pronouncing it properly to keep the pronunciation of the letters straight: folks vah gen. 

 

It's worth noting that in many loanwords like Vase, vage, Universität, Verb and the like, the pronunciation of the German V is the same as the English V!

 

The German letters B and D at the beginning of a word are pronounced like the hard versions of the letters in English, as in "blue," and "dark." But when these letters are at the end of a German word, they soften up considerably. 

 

Das Grab, der Stein, die Blumen.
The grave, the stone, the flowers.
Caption 18, Großstadtrevier: Von Monstern und Mördern

 

The letter B in Grab should not sound like a hard English B, but rather like a soft P: "grap."

 

Keiner kam auf die Idee, das mit der Hand zu machen.
The idea of doing it by hand didn't occur to anyone.
Caption 22, Erfinder: Nie erfundene Erfindungen

 

The letter D in Hand should not sound like the hard English D, but like a soft T: "hant."

 

Further Learning
Make a list of German words ending in the letters B and D, and find examples of them being pronounced by native speakers in a real world context on Yabla German.

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The German Alphabet and Spelling Alphabet

Most of you probably already know the German alphabet. But for cases where somebody might misunderstand you, for example stating your email address to somebody on the telephone, it is good to know the German spelling alphabet (die Buchstabiertafel) as well. That is the alphabet you hear in military jargon, such as (in English) "Alfa Bravo Charlie" for ABC. 

 

Here is a quick review with approximate English pronunciations of the letters of the German alphabet, which consists of the same standard 26 Latin letters as the English alphabet plus ä, ö, ü, and ß. 

 

A = ah; B = bay; C = tsay; D = day; E = ay; F = eff; G = gay; H = hah; I = eeh; J = yot; K = kah; L = ell; M = em; N = en; O = oh; P = pay; Q = koo; R = air; S = es; T = tay; U = ooh; V = fow; W = vay; X = iks; Y = oopsilohn; Z = tset; Ä = like the "e" in melon; Ö = like the "i" in girl; Ü = like the "u" in lure; ß = ess-tset

 

For clarity when spelling your name or an email address on the telephone, it is not a bad idea to learn die Buchstabiertafel too, since letters like B, T, and P can easily get confused. 

 

A = Anton; B = Berta; C = Cäsar; D = Dora; E = Emil; F = Friedrich; G = Gustav; H = Heinrich; I = Ida; J = Julius; K = Kaufmann; L = Ludwig; M = Martha; N = Nordpol; O = Otto; P = Paula; Q = Quelle; R = Richard; S = Samuel; T = Theodor; U = Ulrich; V = Viktor; W = Wilhelm; X = Xanthippe; Y = Ypsilon; Z = Zacharius; Ä = Ärger; Ö = Ökonom; Ü = Übermut; ß = Esszet

 

My name is Miller, and Germans nearly always think I am saying "Müller," so for clarity I often say "Miller mit M und I, also Martha Ida."

 

It helps too, when giving somebody an address or telephone number, to pronounce the number 2 like zwo instead of zwei, because otherwise zwei and drei can be easily confused: 

 

Die Oberfläche von „Kepler vier fünf zwo B“, so der Name des Himmelskörpers…
The surface of "Kepler four five two B," such is the name of the celestial body…
Caption 11, DW-Nachrichten: Erde hat einen „Cousin“

 

Further Learning
Listen to Sissi sing the ABC Song and practice spelling out your name and email address using the German Buchstabiertafel. You can also find other examples of people using zwo for the number 2 on Yabla German.

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When "nicht schlecht" is not "not bad"

This week's fascinating new video Trickdiebe am Frankfurter Flughafen uses a slang expression that is potentially confusing, in that its use of nicht would seem to contradict what the expression actually means. 

 

Beim Präventionstag staunt so mancher nicht schlecht, worauf man alles achten muss.

 

The first impression might be, since the negation nicht is in the sentence, that some people are not amazed. But in fact, the phrase nicht schlecht staunen in this context means nicht wenig staunen: "not a little amazed" or "quite amazed."

 

On crime prevention day some are quite amazed at all the things you have to watch for.
Captions 7-8, Trickdiebe am Frankfurter Flughafen: Die Bundespolizei klärt auf 

 

And another example on Yabla German:

 

Sie zog den Vorhang beiseite und staunte nicht schlecht.
She pulled the curtain aside and was quite amazed.
Captions 41-42, Märchen, Sagenhaft: Das kleine Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern

 

This is the only example that I am aware of in German where the phrase nicht schlecht is used in a possibly confusing way. Even the meaning of the slang phrase nicht schlecht, Herr Specht is pretty obvious in context: "Well done!" The phrase can also be used ironically if somebody has made a mistake or performed badly. Herr Specht probably does not refer to der Specht (woodpecker) here, it is rather just a rhyming word that adds emphasis to the phrase, kind of along the lines of the English catchphrase "no way, José!"

 

The verb staunen also has some other slang or idiomatic phrases associated with it, such as Bauklötze staunen (be very surprised) and aus dem Staunen nicht herauskommen (not cease to be amazed). 

 

Further Learning
Read this interesting article about the use and Berlin origins of Bauklötze staunen, and search on Yabla German to see staunen and nicht schlecht used in other real world contexts.

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Mega-German Mini-Lesson

The slang word "mega" means "big" and it comes from the Greek word megas (μέγας), which means "great." Put "mega" in front of anything and it's instantly much larger than what you started with. As the Collins Dictionary rather stodgily puts it, "Young people sometimes use 'mega' in front of nouns in order to emphasize that the thing they are talking about is very good, very large, or very impressive."

 

As luck would have it, this mega fabulous word "mega" is also used in German! 

 

Und die Clubs sind natürlich megawichtig.
And the clubs are, of course, mega important.
Caption 19, Live-Entertainment-Award: Glamouröse Preisverleihung

 

Am zweiten Jahrestag der Megapleite sind in Frankfurt erneut Menschen auf die Straße gegangen.
On the second anniversary of the mega-crash, the people in Frankfurt took to the streets again.
Caption 6: Finanzkrise: Die Lehman-Pleite

 

Further Learning
You probably won't find "mega" in the works of William Shakespeare, nor will you impress your academic friends by slipping the word into the conversation, but a bit of slang in your spoken German might make you sound just that much more like a native speaker. Read this hilarious article about the 1980s origins of the word as English slang and find some more examples of "mega" on Yabla German to see how it is used in a real-world context.

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Six Ways to Say "Orange" in German

There are a lot of options for describing something as being the color orange in German, though not all of them may be quite correct in formal writing! The standard form, and easiest to remember since it is identical to English, is the German adjective orange

 

Ein Tiger ist ein Tier, das orange ist. 
A tiger is an animal that is orange.
Captions 17-18, Deutschkurs in Blaubeuren: Der Relativsatz

 

Used together with the noun, you could say ein oranger Tiger or ein oranges Tier. Okay, a tiger is actually orange and black, but eventually the student in this video gets it right! 

 

A second and third adjective that we could use is orangefarben, or less commonly orangenfarben, meaning "orange-colored." In that case our imaginary tiger—missing its black stripes—would be ein orangefarbener or orangenfarbener Tiger. Add to that some other similar fourth and fifth "orange" adjectives and you have ein orangefarbiger or orangenfarbiger Tiger. In the latter, orangefarbig is more common than orangenfarbig.

 

The sixth and last way to express the color orange is very common in spoken German, but according to the Duden dictionary, orangen is actually slang usage: 

 

Ich glaube, am besten gefällt mir nicht die orangene Farbe.
I think I don't like the orange color best.
Caption 19, „Mini-Marxe”: In Trier

 

Der orangene PKW wird auf vierzig Kilometer pro Stunde beschleunigt.
The orange passenger car is accelerated to forty kilometers per hour.
Caption 16, Crashtest: Fahrradfahrer profitieren kaum vom Fußgängerschutz am Auto

 

Further Learning
Orange, orangefarben, orangenfarben, orangefarbig, orangenfarbig, orangen: Find some more examples of "orange" and other colors on Yabla German to see how they are used in a real-world context.

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Get Out of My Peel!

This week's exciting finale of the Pfefferkörner episode has a German idiom that could come across a bit as being a bit odd when translated directly:

 

Ja, wahrscheinlich wollte er ihr freiwillig nicht mehr von der Pelle rücken.
Yes, probably he didn't want to go away from the peel of his own accord.
Caption 22, Die Pfefferkörner: Cybermobbing

 

So just what is the Pelle and why didn't he want to get away from it? The word die Pelle is traceable in German as far back as the 12th century, originally as the skin of a wurst or sausage. Later it took on the same meaning as "peel" in English for the peel of a potato or other vegetable. Later on, die Pelle came to take on the idiomatic usage suggesting human skin, much in the same way as the slang usage of der Pelz (fur) is used for human skin. So does this mean that he didn't want to "get away from her skin?"

 

Man muss anderen Menschen sehr auf die Pelle rücken, um die zu schminken.
You need to really push people on the peel to do their make-up.
Caption 31, Kosmetik: Make-up-Artist-Schule

 

The more common expression is jemandem auf die Pelle rücken, literally to "move on someone's peel (or skin)."  What it means is to get too close, to be too intimate, or to invade their personal space. A similar idiom in English might be "to get in their face." 

 

So what then does von der Pelle rücken mean? The best translation is probably "to leave somebody alone," as in the idiomatic expression "get out of my face." So we could translate the first example above as "Yes, probably he didn't want to leave her alone of his own accord."

 

Another similar idiom is jemandem auf der Pelle sitzen (or liegen), which means to bother someone with your continual presence, a similar meaning to the English idiom "to get on someone's nerves."

 

Further Learning
Learn more about this expression in this article, and get into the detailed German explanation on Duden. Look for an example of der Pelz on Yabla German in its slang usage to see how it's used in a real-world context.

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More German Pseudo-Anglicisms

There are a number of English words that have been adopted by the German language but given different meanings or used in different contexts. These are called pseudo-anglicisms, and sometimes lead to German speakers re-importing what they mistakenly think are English words into their non-native English, often with unintentionally humorous or incomprehensible results. 

 

Wo man seinen Sound aufnehmen kann und den dann wieder abrufen kann, ohne Boxen.
Where you can record your sound and then can access it again without speakers.
Captions 32-34, Rhein-Main-TV aktuell: Musikmesse in Frankfurt

 

Die Box is short for die Lautsprecherbox, which means "speaker" or "loudspeaker." A native English speaker might be confused, however, if somebody told him his "boxes" are too loud.

 

Carmen Spindler leitet nicht nur ein Fitnessstudio.    
Carmen Spindler doesn't just run a gym.
Caption 2, Bodybuilderinnen: Lieber zart als muskulös

 

Another acceptable spelling of this word is das Fitness-Studio, which makes the English source more obvious. It's pretty clear what "fitness studio" means, but to English ears it sounds like an unnecessarily verbose word for "gym."

 

Ich hab' ihr schon dreimal auf die Mailbox gesprochen, aber nichts.    
I've already left three messages on her voicemail, but nothing.
Caption 37, Großstadtrevier: Von Monstern und Mördern

 

If somebody told you they were "talking to your mailbox," you'd think maybe it's time they seek professional psychological help. But in German, die Mailbox is just your voicemail or answering machine. 

 

Further Learning
Review an earlier Yabla newsletter about pseudo-anglicisms and look for more examples on Yabla German to see how these words are used in a real-world context.

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Adjective Declensions: Definite Articles

It's sometimes not a bad idea to make sure some of that "old knowledge" is still accurate, so let's get back to basics: adjective declensions with definite articles. To make it as easy as possible, remember the following three rules for adjective endings:

 

1. All adjectives in the singular nominative case end in -e, regardless of noun gender. Here is an example with the singular masculine nominative:

 

Der alte Minister ging in den Saal.
The old minister went into the hall.
Caption 37, Märchen, Sagenhaft: Des Kaisers neue Kleider

 

2. All adjectives in the dative or genitive cases, as well as all adjectives in plural form, end in -en regardless of the noun's gender. Here is an example with the plural genitive: 

 

Der Kaufmann verbrachte die Nacht in einem der schönen Schlafräume.
The Merchant spent the night in one of the beautiful bedrooms.
Captions 25-26, Märchen, Sagenhaft: Die Schöne und das Biest

 

3. This is the hard one: Adjectives for masculine nouns in the singular accusative case end in -en, but adjectives for feminine and neuter nouns in the singular accusative case end in -e. Here is an example with the single masculine accusative:

 

So gibt es hier die elektrische Gitarre für den abgebrühten Rockstar.
Thus there is the electric guitar here for the jaded rock star.
Caption 2, Rhein-Main-TV aktuell: Musikmesse in Frankfurt

 

If the noun above had been feminine (or neuter), it would have dropped the -n: ...für die abgebrühte Musikerin.

 

Further Learning
There is a system for remembering adjective endings that many people find easy to remember called the Oklahoma — see if it works for you. (A special hat tip to Yabla subscriber Mike S. for that!) You can also search for some of your favorite adjectives on Yabla German and review the ways the adjectives end in the different cases with different noun genders.

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Compounds of Spring

It may not be exactly warm out yet in old Berlin, but Frühling is definitely in the air. The sun has been out more than usual and we're starting to see some buds on the bushes and trees! Let's take a look at some compound nouns that can be formed from the German word for "spring."

 

Vielmehr sollten die Tiere jetzt darauf achten, dass ihnen die Frühlingsgefühle nicht durchgehen.
Instead, the animals now ought to take heed that these spring feelings don't get the best of them.
Captions 43-44, Rhein-Main-TV aktuell: Frühling im Zoo

 

Erst ab Mai bekommen sie hier oben Frühlingsgefühle.
Not until May do they get spring fever up here.
Caption 46, Alpenseen, Kühle Schönheiten

 

Das Frühlingsgefühl is a compound noun made by joining der Frühling with das Gefühl. In the first example, it is translated directly as "spring feeling," and in the second case more literarily as "spring fever."

 

Compounds can also be made from der Frühling relating to specific times of day: 

 

Es ist ein wunderschöner Frühlingsmorgen heute.
It is a wonderfully beautiful spring morning today.
Caption 2, Berlin: Eva im Viktoriapark

 

Leopardeneis und Vanilleeis, ein Traum für einen sonnigen Frühlingsnachmittag.
Leopard ice cream and vanilla ice cream, a dream for a sunny spring afternoon.
Caption 46, Eis: Eiskalte Leidenschaft

 

Or about time in a more general sense: 

 

Frühlingszeit ist Fahrradzeit.
Springtime is bike time.
Caption 1, Fahrrad: Frühjahrs-Check

 

Die Frankfurter haben nach dem sonnigen Wochenende auch heute die ersten Frühlingstage am Mainufer genossen.
The residents of Frankfurt have, after the sunny weekend, enjoyed the first days of spring on the shore of the Main today too.
Captions 4-5, Rhein-Main-TV aktuell: Der Frühling ist da

 

Further Learning
Watch the above videos on Yabla German to help get you into the mood for spring and improve your German too! Then check out this list of compound words that can be made from der Frühling. Don't forget to get outside and soak up a little bit of sunshine! 

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Von wegen: more than just "no way!"

A caption in this weeks' latest installment of the Pfefferkörner kid detectives series uses the slang phrase von wegen. Directly translated ("from because of"?), this phrase makes very little sense. Used on its own (Von wegen!), it is a negation to a statement made by somebody else, and means "that is wrong," "not at all," "just the opposite," or just simply "no way!" The Duden dictionary defines von wegen! as auf keinen Fall! Despite some rather crude translations of the phrase on some less than dependable crowd-sourced translation sites, the phrase itself is not vulgar at all, and will only cause offense if the contradiction of a statement is inherently offensive to the person who made it. It's all about context.

 

It's a bit trickier to translate von wegen when it is used in a sentence and references something specific. Here too, we have to look at the context in which the phrase is used.

 

Von wegen Kunstunterricht.
It's not true about art class.
Caption 44, Die Pfefferkörner: Cybermobbing

 

In the above scenario, a girl's parents just found out she was lying when she said that her brother was with friends in an art class. Her father confronts her about her lie using von wegen.

 

But von wegen can also be used in a dismissive sense: 

 

Von wegen körperloser Sport, hätte ich meinen Helm doch gebraucht. 
So much for non-contact sports, I still could've made use of my helmet after all.
Caption 46, Ultimate Frisbee: Oli erklärt das Spiel 

 

The speaker above is talking about the fact that frisbee is generally considered to be a non-contact sport, so he is dismissing this belief as being untrue. And here again as an expression casting doubt on a supposition:

 

Von wegen Öl geht aus. Die lügen doch, die Ölstaaten.    
As if the oil will run out. But they're lying, the oil states.
Caption 29, Culcha Candela: Schöne neue Welt

 

There is also, of course, a standard, non-slang use of the phrase von wegen in a sentence: von [genitive noun] wegen means "for [noun] reasons" or "for reasons of [noun]." Some examples: von Amts wegen (for official reasons), von Rechts wegen (for legal reasons), or von Berufs wegen (for professional reasons). 

 

Further Learning
Read this lively StackExchange article about von wegen and keep your eyes out for examples used in a real world scenario on Yabla German.

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Plural Nouns in German

There is no single standard form for making German nouns plural, but most nouns follow one of ten general patterns. You will instinctively recognize many of them, but others just have to be learned. One thing, at least, is easier: the definite article for German plurals is always die, regardless of the noun's gender.

 

(1) Add -e:

 

Ich fahre nach Stuttgart, weil ich meine Freunde treffen will.
I drive to Stuttgart because I want to meet my friends.
Caption 56, Deutschkurs in Tübingen: Warum, Weil - Erklärungen

 

Der Freund, plural die Freunde.

 

(2) Add -n or -en: 

 

Und all diese Fragen
And all these questions

 

Wir sind ja schon immer als Studenten nach Frankfurt gepilgert.
We have indeed always, as students, gone to Frankfurt.
Captions 14 & 37, Museum: für moderne Kunst

 

Die Frage, plural die Fragen; der Student, plural die Studenten.

 

(3) Add -e and umlaut:

 

Wer würde ihren Haferbrei essen und ihre Stühle zerbrechen?
Who would eat their oat porridge and break their chairs?
Caption 55, Märchen, Sagenhaft: Goldlöckchen und die drei Bären

 

Der Stuhl, plural die Stühle.

 

(4) Add -er, or umlaut and -er: 

 

Allein unter seiner Herrschaft waren es weit über hundert... Männer, Frauen, Kinder...    
Alone under his rule, it was far above a hundred... men, women, children...
Caption 22, Geschichte: Hexenverbrennung im Odenwald

 

Das Kind, plural die Kinder; der Mann, plural die Männer.

 

(5) Change the main vowel to its umlaut equivalent, but make no change to the noun's ending:

 

Die drei Brüder waren entsetzt.    
The three brothers were horrified.
Caption 32, Märchen, Sagenhaft: Die drei Brüder

 

Der Bruder, plural die Brüder. This rule applies especially to family members such as der Vater, plural die Väter; die Mutter, plural die Mütter; die Tochter, plural die Töchter.

 

(6) Add -s:

 

Das sind wirklich die schlimmsten Autos, die jemals hergestellt wurden.
These are really the worst cars that were ever made.
Caption 36, Der Trabi: Das Kultauto aus dem Osten 

 

Das Auto, plural die Autos.

 

(7) Nouns ending in -in, which denote that the person in question is a woman, are always pluralized with -nen: 

 

Emmi und Johanna sind Freundinnen.
Emmi and Johanna are friends.
Caption 3, Fußball und die Frauenwelt: Der Manndecker

 

Die Freundin, plural die Freundinnen

 

(8) Add -ien: 

 

Man muss die Materialien kennen. 
One must know the materials.
Caption 29, Trendberuf Restauratorin: Eine Lebensaufgabe

 

Das Material, plural die Materialien

 

(9) Nouns ending in -nis are pluralized by adding -se: 

 

Die Ergebnisse des Tages sollen natürlich auch Früchte tragen.
The results of the day should, of course, also bear fruit.
Caption 26, Rhein-Main-TV aktuell: Nachhaltigkeit

 

Das Ergebnis, plural die Erebnisse

 

(10) No change at all: plurals are only distinguished by context or in the case of non-feminine nouns, the use of the definite article die: 

 

Die Zimmer sind besondere Hingucker.    
The rooms are special eye-catchers [attractions].
Caption 5, Das Ostel: Über Nacht zurück in der DDR

 

Das Zimmer, plural die Zimmer

 

Last of all, there are the irregular plurals, which consist of nouns that each have their own unique rules for pluralization. These, of course, must be learned individually. A few examples are der Saal (plural die Säle), das Datum (plural die Daten) das Klima (plural die Klimate), der Bus (plural die Busse).

 

Further Learning
Read this article about German irregular plurals and look here for an in depth overview of German plurals. Find examples of plurals used in a real world scenario on Yabla German.

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Wake Up and Smell the Roses

In last week's lesson, we discussed how translating animal names directly may not be wise, and the same applies to flora as well. If you were to directly translate the German word for "dandelion" into English, for example, you would wind up with "lion's tooth" (der Löwenzahn). You may be relieved, however, to recall that, as poet Gertrud Stein once famously wrote: "A rose is a rose is a rose." Or as the case may be, eine Rose

 

With spring hopefully just around the corner, let's take a look at some flower names as they appear in some Yabla German videos. 

 

Eine Kornblume mit vielen Blütengeschwistern.
A cornflower with many sibling blossoms.
Caption 30, Piggeldy und Frederick: Unkraut

 

Das Stoppelfeld, die Sonnenblume, schläfrig am Zaun…
The stubbled field, the sunflower, sleepy against the fence…
Captions 8-9, Sabine und Ivana: Gedichte im Bus

 

Er hat sich die Tulpen überallher bringen lassen. 
He had tulips brought in from all over the world. 
Caption 52, Karlsruher Stadtgeburtstag: die Majolika-Manufaktur

 

The above are quite easy examples, in that they are either coincidentally correct as direct English translations or, in the case of "tulips," are very similar words. 

 

Further Learning
Take a look at this list of German flower names and see how many you can guess correctly without having to look them up. Meanwhile, keep your eyes open for the first flower of spring...

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Avoiding Animal Names Confusion

You may come across the names of some unusual animals on German Yabla, especially in some of the nature series like Abenteuer Nordsee. One problem with a lot of animal names is that the German name, if translated directly word for word, may actually be a completely different animal altogether. 

Ein Butterfisch lauert auf Beute.
A rock gunnel fish lies in wait for prey.
Caption 39, Abenteuer Nordsee: Unter Riesenhaien und Tintenfischen

If you look up der Butterfisch on German Wikipedia, you see that they are part of the Pholidae fish species. If you had translated the name to the English "butterfish," however, you would have wound up mistakenly referring to a completely different fish of the Stromateidae species. A German Butterfisch is in fact a "rock gunnel fish" in English, and an English "butterfish" is a Medusenfisch in German. Looking up an animal's name on German Wikipedia and then going to the equivalent English Wikipedia page (or vice versa, of course) is a good way to be sure you are getting the animals' names right! 

Ein Steinpicker sucht mit seinen Barteln nach Fressbarem.    
A hooknose fish is searching with its barbels for edibles.
Caption 27, Abenteuer Nordsee: Unter Riesenhaien und Tintenfischen

The German term der Steinpicker may translate directly to something like "stone picker," but in English no such species name exists, and as you see above, it's referring to the "hooknose fish."

Taschenkrebse, die berühmten Helgoländer „Knieper“, brechen Bohrmuscheln aus dem Kalkstein.
Brown crabs, the famous Heligoland pinchers, are breaking false angel wing clams out from the limestone.
Captions 29-30, Abenteuer Nordsee: Unter Riesenhaien und Tintenfischen

The example above has two animals which might easily be misidentified, der Taschenkrebs and die Bohrmuschel, which you might be tempted to translate as "pocket crab" and "drill mussel" respectively, but you'd be wrong if you did: neither of these animal names exist in English! In fact, der Taschenkrebs is a "brown crab" or "edible crab," and die Bohrmuschel is not a mussel at all, but a "false angel wing clam."

Further Learning
Watch or re-watch the Abenteuer Nordsee series on Yabla German and pay special attention to the names of animals. Read more about these animals on German Wikipedia and expand your German vocabulary at the same time!

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Twenty-Dollar German Words

The landmark writer's guide The Elements of Style states that you should "not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready, and able." German, however, has quite a number of words that "are so long that they have a perspective," as Mark Twain once wrote. The longest word actually included in the Duden German dictionary is die Kraft­fahr­zeug-Haft­pflicht­ver­si­che­rung (auto liability insurance), with 35 letters. There are, however, many longer words that are acceptable to use although not listed in Duden, such as die Verkehrsinfrastrukturfinanzierungsgesellschaft  (traffic infrastructure financing society) and das Elektrizitätswirtschaftsorganisationsgesetz (electricity economy organization law). Such "20 euro" words are not only found in written German, but also in spoken German, as evidenced by these Yabla German videos!

Auf Weltmeisterschaftsebene sind wir so Mittelfeld, unteres Mittelfeld...
At World Cup level, we are about midfield, lower midfield...
Caption 70, Frisbee: Karlsruher Weihnachtsturnier

Außerdem kann man hierzulande manche Reisestrecke auch ohne Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung erfahren.
In addition, you can, in this country, experience some travel routes also without a speed limit.
Captions 22-23, Reiseland Deutschland: Vielfalt im Herzen Europas

Wir haben die gesetzliche Verpflichtung, regelmäßig die Geschwindigkeitsbeschränkungen auf den hessischen Autobahnen zu überprüfen.
We have the legal obligation to check the speed limits on the Hessian autobahns regularly.
Captions 10-11, Deutsche Autobahnen: Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzungen

Ein Porsche dreihundertsechsundfünfzig B eintausendsechshundert GS Carrera GTL Coupé, Baujahr neunzehnhundertsechzig hat einen Versicherungswert von sechshundertfünfzigtausend Euro.
A Porsche three hundred fifty-six B one thousand six hundred GS Carrera GTL coupé, built in nineteen hundred sixty, has an insurance value of six hundred and fifty thousand euros.
Captions 57-59, Porsche 356: Der erste Porsche

So as you can see, in common conversation about sports and cars and numbers (or a combination thereof), it is possible to find some "mouthfuls" indeed. 

Further Learning
Read some of these fun articles about long German words at The Week and Time, and if you are feeling brave, read this Duden article about writing words together or separately. 

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Bear Trainers on their Legs

If the headline above sounds pretty odd, it's because it's a literal word-for-word translation of a slang expression and an idiom taken from this week's exciting installment of Großstadtrevier. This series has consistently merited a difficulty rating of 4, due in part to its heavy usage of idioms and slang. Let's take a look at some examples from this week's release. 

Das macht nix.
That doesn't matter.
Caption 5, Großstadtrevier: Von Monstern und Mördern

The usual expression das macht nichts is spoken here with the slang word nix used instead of nichts, a form you would usually only see in spoken and very casual written German.

Jannik Sternberg hat dieses Zeug die ganze Zeit geschluckt
Jannik Sternberg was swallowing [slang, taking] this stuff the whole time.
Caption 9, Großstadtrevier: Von Monstern und Mördern

 The verb schlucken, in its standard definition, means "to swallow." Here, however, it is a slang usage referring to the consumption of medications. A corresponding English slang translation would be "to down," as in "downing drinks."

Die sind auf dieser Baustelle bis zum Anschlag mit Wachmachern vollgepumpt.
They were pumped full of "awake-makers" [slang, stimulants] to the limit at this construction site.
Caption 11, Großstadtrevier: Von Monstern und Mördern

The slang noun der Wachmacher refers to a stimulant medication, which we translated literally as an "awake-maker." A literary English slang translation might be "pep pills."

Ich bin kein guter Bärenführer
I’m not a good bear trainer [slang, job trainer]. 
Caption 45, Großstadtrevier: Von Monstern und Mördern

Ich bin seit über vierundzwanzig Stunden auf den Beinen und überhaupt nich' müde.    
I have been on my legs [idiom, busy working] for twenty-four hours and I'm not at all tired.
Caption 3, Großstadtrevier: Von Monstern und Mördern

The noun der Bärenführer standardly means "the bear trainer," but in slang usage connotes a job trainer. To be auf den Beinen, literally "on your legs," means to be busy and active. An good English literary translation could be "on your feet." A proper translation for this week's odd headline could be "Job Trainers on their Feet" or "Busy, Active Job Trainers."

Further Learning
Watch some past episodes of Großstadtrevier and review your understanding of some of the many idiomatic and slang expressions to be found in this interesting crime drama.

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Syllabic Abbreviations in German

A syllabic abbreviation is formed by taking the first syllable of several words and putting them together. It is a common practice in German that is rarely used in English. One English syllabic abbreviation you may recognize is Interpol, formed from "international police." You may not have known that the word for the Nazi secret police terror organization the Gestapo comes from a syllabic abbreviation of die Geheime Staatspolizei. Note that the gender of a German abbreviation is determined by the main noun of the word it is derived from, hence die Gestapo.  Let's take a brief look at some other common German syllabic abbreviations.

Stasi-Akten aus dem Schredder...
Stasi files from the shredder...
Caption 2, DDR zum Anfassen: Ganz tief im Westen

The notorious East German secret police die Stasi also had their own syllabic abbreviation, in this case formed from die Staatssicherheit, the Ministry of State Security.

Das sind Fragen für die Kripo, nicht für uns. 
Those are questions for the criminal investigation department, not for us. 
Caption 14, Großstadtrevier: Von Monstern und Mördern

In this case, die Kripo is derived from die Kriminalpolizei, the department of the police that specializes in criminal investigations. But let's get away from the police while we still can! 

Du musst in die Kita.    
You have to go to daycare.
Caption 14, Spielfilm: Mama arbeitet wieder

Ironic, considering its German origin, that the most common German word for a daycare center is not der Kindergarten, but rather die Kita, an abbreviation of die Kindertagesstätte.

Ich stehe hier vor dem Audimax.
I am standing here in front of the main lecture hall.
Caption 28, Universität: Karlsruhe

At the university level, the term das Audimax is standard student parlance for the largest lecture hall of a given university, and in this case is an abbreviation of the Latin term auditorium maximum.

Further Learning
Take a look at this German article about syllabic abbreviations and go to German Yabla to find some of the words and phrases used in context.  

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Some German Abbreviations & Acronyms

At Yabla, we like to write out words in their entirety (for instance, 2016 is zweitausendsechzehn) in our video captions so that you can learn them better. But you may also come across abbreviations and acronyms in German articles that you are reading, so it's not a bad idea to catch up on some of the more common ones. (An acronym is an abbreviation too, but it's used in speaking.) You won't find many actual abbreviations in Yabla videos since they aren't usually spoken, but there are plenty of examples where words or phrases would be abbreviated if they were in standard written form! 

Unterschrift, Stempel und so weiter und so weiter, ne?    
Signature, stamp, and so forth and so on, right?
Caption 23, Großstadtrevier: Von Monstern und Mördern

One of the most common abbreviations of all is usw., which is short for und sweiter, and pretty much interchangeable (even in German) with "etc."

Merkel hat noch TÜV bis zweitausenddreizehn.
Merkel still has a TÜV that's valid until two thousand thirteen.
Caption 33, Der Merkelpilot: der kleine Mann, der es macht

If your car won't pass the TÜV (an acronym, with the "Ü" pronounced like the "oo" in "foot") inspection in Germany, you'd better get it fixed or get rid of it, because you can't drive it on the street without the certificate from the Technical Inspection Organization or Technischer Überwachungs-Verein. This non-profit organization (eingetragener Verein or e. V.), responsible for overseeing technical inspection procedures in Germany, even owns a registered trademark on the term. Hopefully Chancellor Merkel will get her TÜV approved this year! 

Wir sind sehr zuversichtlich beziehungsweise sehr froh auch.
We are very confident, or rather, very happy too.

Caption 26, Strothoff International School: Interview mit dem Rektor

The word beziehungsweise is often shortened to bzw. in informal writing, and is one of the most commonly abbreviated German words. It's also a very effective word that has no single-word equivalent in English, meaning "and/or" all in a single word. It's a bit tricky to translate because "and/or" is just not an elegant solution, so it's often translated as "respectively" or "alternately."

The undisputed champion of German acronyms, however, must be "for example": 

Hier haben wir zum Beispiel Rohkaffee aus Kolumbien. 
Here we have, for example, raw coffee from Colombia.
Caption 8, Kaffee: Noch von Hand gemacht

"For example" or zum Beispiel takes the acronym z. B., and this being German, don't forget to capitalize the "B" even in its short form! 

Further Learning
Take a look at this list of common German abbreviations and  go to German Yabla to find some of the words and phrases used in context.
 

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German Idioms and Slang

As always, Yabla's German videos show how the language is spoken in a real world context, offering you a lively selection of idioms and slang. Here are some examples from this week's new videos.

So, dann geht's jetzt ans Eingemachte
So then, it's getting to the preserves [to the matter at hand].
Caption 3, Pastewka: Cantz fährt betrunken Auto

In its standard definition, the noun das Eingemachte means canned or jarred food preserves (especially fruit), but in slang usage it means "getting to the matter at hand." An English equivalent might be "getting down to brass tacks."

Frau Korff verarscht uns nach Strich und Faden.    
Ms. Korff is fooling us after stitch and thread [idiom, thoroughly].
Caption 14, Großstadtrevier: Von Monstern und Mördern

The idiom of doing something nach Strich und Faden means to do something very thoroughly. There are no equivalents in English related to sewing, but a literary translation of this might be "to go through something with a fine-toothed comb."

Mann, jetzt halt doch einfach mal die Fresse.    
Man, now simply just shut your mouth.
Caption 37, Pastewka: Cantz fährt betrunken Auto

The noun die Fresse, described by Duden dictionary as derb ("coarse" or "crude"), means the mouth or the face. It is derived from the verb fressen, which means "to devour," but is also used as the verb "to eat" when referring to animals. The phrase die Fresse halten, or literally "hold your mouth," is a definite request to stop talking!

Further Learning
Brush up on your German idioms on this Wikipedia page and go to German Yabla to find the phrases used in context in some Yabla videos.

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