German Lessons

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Summer Living in Germany

Summer has arrived, which in Germany means that life moves outside. The Biergärten are open, the Freibäder (open-air swimming pools) are busy with swimmers and sunbathers alike, and the smell of Bratwurst and barbecues fills the summer air.

Not everyone has the luxury of having a garden attached to their house, which is why many Germans like to have a Schrebergarten (garden plot or allotment), often with a small hut or house built on it, which they visit for the day or for a vacation.

Ich hab' ja auch so 'nen kleinen Schrebergarten.

I also have such a little garden plot.

Caption 3, Ausbilder Schmidt: Klimabotschafter

If you have neither a garden nor a Schrebergarten, there are many beautiful Seen (lakes) in Germany. Nothing beats a hot summer’s day of lazing by the water, swimming, and riding a pedal boat. Peter Fox sings all about the fun to be had at a German lake:

Und der Mond scheint hell auf mein Haus am See

And the moon shines brightly onto my house on the lake

Caption 18, Peter Fox: Haus am See

When dinnertime comes around, Grillen (barbecuing) is the way to go. Since the laws are more relaxed in Germany, people barbecue in parks and on beaches without any trouble from the authorities, just as long as the litter gets disposed of! 

Wir grillen, die Mamas kochen und wir saufen Schnaps

We barbecue, the mamas cook and we guzzle schnapps

Caption 29, Peter Fox: Haus am See

See not only means "lake" but also “sea,” as in der Ostsee (the Baltic Sea). However, the most common word for sea is das Meer

Du wirst bestimmt irgendwo am Strand sein. -Ja, genau. Am Meer.

You will surely be somewhere at the beach. -Yes, exactly. At the sea.

Caption 50, Konjugation: Das Verb „sein“ 

If you do go to the See or the Meer, you should know that there are two words for “swimming” in German, schwimmen and baden gehen, which literally translates as “to go bathing.” While schwimmen is something you would likely do in a Schwimmbecken (pool), baden gehen is mostly used for swimming in lakes or the sea:

Man kann baden gehen, man kann Freunde treffen draußen.

You can go swimming, you can meet friends outside.

Captions 15-16, Jahreszeiten: Der Sommer

Of course summer isn’t all fun and games. If you are stuck in the city, it can get hot and sticky. Rappers Culcha Candela, while singing about how unbearable it can get, offer a solution.

Feuchtes Tuch auf 'm Kopf

Wet cloth on the head

Ich werd' sonst noch bekloppt vom Hitzeschock

Otherwise I'll just go nuts from heat shock

Captions 29-30, Culcha Candela: Sommer im Kiez 

Extremely popular all over Germany, Eisdielen or Eiscafé (ice cream parlors) are hives of activity during the summer months. 

Kaum scheint die Sonne, zieht es die Schleckermäuler an die Eisdielen.

The sun is scarcely shining and it draws [those with a] sweet tooth to the ice-cream parlors.

Caption 1, Eis: Eiskalte Leidenschaft

And of course, summer is the time to think about vacation, den Sommerurlaub or die Sommerferien. Der Urlaub is a vacation where you go away somewhere, but die Ferien means a break from school, college, or work. Both can bring good memories:

Ich ging früher im Urlaub immer reiten.

I used to always go horseback riding during vacation.

Wir gingen immer in den Sommerferien.

We always went during summer holidays.

Captions 16 and 19, Konjugation: Das Verb „gehen“ 

Schöne Sommerferien!

 

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Wann/Wenn/Als

In English there is only one word for “when,” but in German there are three words: wann, wenn, and als. In German, it’s very important to use the correct word, otherwise the whole meaning of the sentence can change.

Wann is a question word used to ask “at what time” directly as a question, as Diane demonstrates:

Und wann läuft der?

And when does it run [start]?

Caption 40, Diane erklärt: Fragewörter

When you ask a question about the past, you also need to use wann:

Wann hast du Wiener Kurti zuletzt gesehen?

When did you last see "Wiener Kurti" [a nickname]?

Caption 67, Alexander Hauff: Showreel - Part 2

Or when you ask indirectly, as Piggeldy does to Frederick when talking about the arrival of summer:

Dann wollen wir mal den Frühling fragen, wann der Sommer kommt.

Then we want to ask spring when summer is coming.

Caption 17, Piggeldy und Frederick: Sommer

Wenn is the most common form of “when,” referring to time in the following examples:

Wenn er hinter der Bar steht, gibt er alles, wie viele seiner Kollegen.

When he is standing behind the bar, he gives it everything, like many of his colleagues.

Caption 34,  Cocktails mixen: So „shaken“ die Besten

When planning a journey, you would use wenn as shown here:

OK, und wenn ich im Europapark bin, wo kann ich dann übernachten?

OK, and when I arrive at Europapark, where can I spend the night?

Caption 21, Reiseplanung: Gespräch mit einer Reiseberaterin

Wenn doesn’t just mean “when”; in German it is also used to express “if”:

Wir würden uns freuen, wenn alle Menschen auf PETA de [www.peta.de] unsere Onlinepetition unterstützen.

We would be happy, if all people would support our online petition on PETA de [www.peta.de].

Caption 13, PETA-Aktion: Gegen das Wal-Massaker

And the third word for “when” is als, which is always used to describe an event that has already happened or a single point in time. Wann or wenn just wouldn’t be correct here. Remember this and you’re halfway there!

Und haben Sie schon mal gedacht irgendwann, als Sie Ihre Fotos gesehen haben...

And did you ever think, at some point, when you saw your photos...

Caption 30, Bambi-Verleihung: No-Gos auf dem roten Teppich

It's also shown here as Angela Merkel talks about a past atrocity:

als im Herbst eine rechtsextremistische Terror- und Mörderbande aufgedeckt wurde.

when in the fall a right-wing extremist terrorist [organization] was uncovered.

Caption 58 Angela Merkel: Neujahrsansprache - Part 1

So as you see, distinguishing between wann, wenn, and als is not so difficult if you remember the basics outlined above!

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Machen or Tun?

One of the challenges in learning a language is making the right choice among words with similar meanings. Tun means “to do.” Simple enough, but another word means “to do” too. Machen basically means “to make,” and is very often used just like in English (see explanations and examples here), but it also means “to do.” So which one do we use, and when? Usage changes from area to area and sometimes from generation to generation, but as a very general guide, if there is no particular object, machen and tun are usually interchangeable.

Piggeldy and Frederick happen to be talking about a sheep.

Es hat eben gesagt, was es den ganzen Tag tut.

It just said what it does the whole day.

Caption 33, Piggeldy und Frederick: Das Schaf

Piggeldy could have said:

Es hat eben gesagt, was es den ganzen Tag macht.

It just said what it does the whole day.

And here, someone is suspected of cheating at German Monopoly:

Was machst du da an der Kasse?

What are you doing there at the cash register?

Caption 26, Monopoly: Geheime Tipps und Tricks

He could have said:

Was tust du da an der Kasse?

What are you doing there at the cash register?

We've seen how machen and tun can be interchangeable. In practice, though, German speakers will use one over the other in a given situation. So pay attention. Little by little, you will start getting a feel for which one sounds more natural. The important thing is to know when machen and tun cannot replace each other. 

When you are making an apology, go for tun.

Es tut mir sehr leid, dass ich dich danach gefragt habe.


I am very sorry that I asked you about it.

Caption 36, Piggeldy und Frederick: Sprichwörter

When you accept an apology, you’ll use machen.

Das macht nichts.

It doesn’t matter.

When you want to explain that you’re busy, tun is the right verb to use:

Was willst du von mir? Ich hab' zu tun.


What do you want from me? I have [things] to do.

Caption 66, Alexander Hauff: Showreel - Part 2

And pretending to do something is child’s play, as long as you remember to use tun!

Ich könnt' so tun, als ob ich dir zum Beispiel eine verpasse.

I could pretend, for example, as if I were to sock you one.

Caption 89, Bürger Lars Dietrich: Schlecht Englisch kann ich gut - Part 2

Learning tip:



On the Yabla video page, do searches with machen and tun in any or all of their conjugations, and see where they are used. Then go to the video itself to see the context and the translation. 


Another suggestion: Think of a sentence using one or the other, like Was tust du denn so in deiner Freizeit? and Google it to see if and how many times it comes up. If you searched tun where most of the time machen is used, you will find that Google gives results for machen—the more commonly used word.

Have a look at this blog about machen and tun.

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False Friends

You may have come across the phrase “false friends” or “false cognates” (as they are more accurately known) during your language training. So what does it mean? It has nothing to do with disloyal friends, although linguistic false friends can also be treacherous. They are words that sound similar or are spelled identically but have different meanings in their respective language.

Here are some common German phrases with their English “false friend” below them.

Be careful what aktuell actually means:

German: aktuell – topical, current, up-to-date 

English: actuallyeigentlich, tatsächlich, wirklich

Eigentlich stammt es aus dem aktuellen Album der Rocksängerin.

Actually, it comes from the rock singer’s current album.

Caption 9, Liza: ein Lied für Opel

When Germans talk about the imminent future, you may think they're talking about someone's lack of hair:

German: bald – soon

English: baldkahl

…die olympischen Winterspiele, die bald in Vancouver stattfinden werden.

…the Winter Olympic Games that will soon take place in Vancouver.

Caption 3, Deutsche Sporthilfe: Ball des Sports - Part 2

Watch what you give someone on their birthday! 

German: das Gift – poison, venom

English: giftdas Geschenk 

Sein Gift ist vergleichbar mit einem Bienenstich.

His poison is comparable to a bee sting.

Caption 9, Summer Cheergirl 2010: Fotoshooting mit Skorpionen 

If you want to make a marriage proposal to a German, pay attention to how you ask...

German: sich engagieren – to be committed, get involved 

English: to get engagedsich verloben

Find' ich das immer gut, sich für solche Sachen zu engagieren.

I think [it's] always good to get involved in such things.

Caption 8, Luxuslärm: rockt gegen's Saufen

The winter is dragging on and spring seems a long way off, but we all know it will come eventually. However, confusing “eventually” with the German eventuell makes spring seem far less likely:  

German: eventuell – possibly, perhaps

English: eventuallyschließlich, endlich, irgendwann

Eventuell habe ich in der einen oder anderen Situation emotional überreagiert.

Possibly I overreacted emotionally in one or another situation.

Caption 28,  Filmtrailer: Keinohrhasen

You may describe a horse as being brav, but this has nothing to do with being brave! 

German: brav – well, well-behaved, dutifully

English: bravemutig, tapfer

Die schönste Wiesn-Erfahrung? Dass immer die Pferde brav gingen.

The best meadow experience? That the horses always went dutifully.

Caption 9, Oktoberfest München: Auf der Wiesn - Part 2

As you can see, using “false friends” in the wrong context can be embarrassing, but most of the time it is just a funny mistake. However, you should try to learn these deceitful words to avoid any faux pas!

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All You Need Is Liebe

Did you know that the Beatles, owing in part to the time they spent in Hamburg at the start of their career, released a version of "She Loves You” in German? Its title is „Sie liebt dich.

The German noun and verb for love (Liebe, lieben) are used with more variety of meaning than “love” in English. So, liebe (dear) Yabla subscribers, let’s see all of the different ways we can make love work for us in German!

As illustrated above, the adjective liebe/lieber (dear) is used as an informal form of address. We see this usage in the following Yabla video, starting at the very top: with God.

Du lieber Gott, welchen Weg müssten die denn abends zurücklegen, wenn Köln Gulu wäre?

Dear God, which way would they have to travel in the evening, if Cologne were Gulu [a city in Uganda]?

Caption 47, World Vision: Wolfgang Niedecken

Working our way down from God to tattoo exhibitions, we find: 

Liebe Zuschauer, es fand eine Tattoo-Ausstellung in Frankfurt im Hotel „Roomers" statt.

Dear viewers, a tattoo exhibition took place in Frankfurt at the Hotel Roomers.

Caption 1, Tätowierungen: Tattoo-Ausstellung

If you would prefer your Liebe to mean more than merely "dear," listen to how Thomas uses a variation of the root word (lieb) to mean “rather” or “preferably”:

Aber ich glaube, ich nehm' mir lieber ein Taxi.

But I believe I'd rather take a taxi.

Caption 49, Melanie und Thomas: treffen sich

This can work to express superlative preferences as well: 

Am liebsten vermutlich eine Sendung…

Most preferably, presumably, a broadcast…

Caption 54, Frauenfußball-WM: Der Bundespräsident am Ball - Part 1

If you prefer popularity to love, add the be- prefix for a refreshing change of meaning: 

Orangensaft ist sehr beliebt in Deutschland.

Orange juice is very popular in Germany.

Caption 11, Jenny beim Frühstück: Teil 1 - Part 1

Add -haber to lieb to stir up some enthusiasm:

Machst du ja auch Auftragswerke für Kunden oder für Interessenten und Liebhaber.

You also do contract work for customers or for potential buyers and enthusiasts.

Caption 2, Lokalhelden: Art House - Part 2

Liebhaber can also mean “lover” in the more intimate sense:

Tristan und Isolde waren Liebhaber.

Tristan and Isolda were lovers.

And in the end, it is best to make love, even while preparing for war: 

In zwei Sekunden Frieden stiften, Liebe machen, den Feind vergiften…

In two seconds make peace, make love, poison the enemy…

Caption 3, Andreas Bourani: Alles nur in meinem Kopf - Part 1

So you see that in German, the word for “love” (Liebe) is the basis for a number of different expressions ranging from “dear” to “preferably” to “enthusiast” to the actual object of one’s desire. 

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Rutsch and rutschen: A good “slide” into the New Year!

The most typical New Year’s greeting in Germany is the slang phrase Einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr! or simply Guten Rutsch! These can be translated literally as “A good slide into the New Year!” or “Good slide!

Dann wünsch' ich euch schöne Weihnachten, 'nen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr und viel Spaß beim Anschauen. Tschüß!

In which case I wish you a wonderful Christmas, a good slide into [start to] the New Year and a lot of fun while watching. Bye!

Captions 83-84, Weihnachtsinterviews:  Cettina in Linkenheim

The word Rutsch means a downward sliding movement, and the greetings are meant to convey a smooth transition into the New Year, though the origin of the phrase is still uncertain. Let’s have a look at the more ordinary ways Rutsch and rutschen are used. 

In an interview, Germany’s top windsurf star, Bernd Flessner, is asked if he can get from Altenteil Halpen to the Lighthouse in einem Rutsch durch (in one go [literally “through in one slide”]). The answer? Yes!

In einem Rutsch durch? -In einem Rutsch.

In one go? -In one go.

Caption 9, Das "Race around Fehmarn":  Neuer Surfrekord        

A professor involves his talking pet bird named Dodo in demonstrating Newton's law of inertia using the “Dodomobil," (really just a shoebox). The verb rutschen (to slide or skid) is in more common usage than the noun Rutsch:

Dann... theoretisch, fährt dann das Dodomobil oder rutscht, besser gesagt... rutscht das Dodomobil unendlich weiter.

Then… theoretically, the Dodomobile then continues to drive... or slide, rather… the Dodomobile continues to slide infinitely.

Captions 38-39: Das 1. Newtonsche Gesetz: erklärt am Beispiel des Dodomobils - Part 1

Piggeldy and Frederick are playing on a Rutschbahn (a slide):

„Richtig", schrie Frederick und rutschte die Rutschbahn hinunter.

"Right," shouted Frederick and slid down the slide.

Caption 36, Piggeldy und Frederick: Spielen

Watch out, Grandma! Here rutschen takes on another meaning:

Dann rutscht die Oma auf einer Bananenschale aus.

Then the grandmother slips on a banana peel.

Caption 27: Sabine und Ivana: erzählen Witze

So whether you are sliding down a slide, sliding into the New Year, or slipping on a banana peel, understanding this versatile word can help you have a guten Rutsch ins Deutsch!

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Hier liegt der Hund begraben: That is exactly the point!

German has many colorful idioms and slang expressions, some of which closely parallel those in English but many of which have completely different meanings that are occasionally difficult to interpret. German idioms and slang expressions using the word Hund (dog) are plentiful and provide an interesting insight into the wide variety of German expressions.

Here are some examples using the word Hund which parallel the English:

Was kostet ein Hundeleben?

What does a dog’s life cost? [Idiom: What is the price of living in poverty?]

Caption 1, Queensberry: gegen Pelz

müde wie ein Hund sein (to be as tired as a dog)

treu wie ein Hund sein (to be as faithful as a dog)

jemanden wie einen Hund behandeln (to treat someone like a dog)

wie ein Hund leben / ein Hundeleben führen (to lead a dog’s life)

vor die Hunde gehen (to go to the dogs, to be faring poorly)

Ein toter Hund beißt nicht mehr. (Dead dogs don’t bite.)

Hunde, die bellen, beißen nicht. (Literally: Dogs that bark don’t bite; his bark is worse than his bite.)

Es hat keinen Sinn, schlafende Hunde zu wecken. (Literally: It makes no sense to wake sleeping dogs; let sleeping dogs lie.)

Other German slang and idiomatic usages of Hund are more difficult, since they have no direct parallel expressions in English:

Und genau hier liegt der Hund begraben.

And this is exactly where the dog is buried. [Idiom: And that is exactly the crux of the matter.]

Caption 35, Für Tierfreunde: Tierheim Nied

Here are some usages of Hund with no direct English parallels:

ein gemeiner Hund (literally: a mean dog; a mean person, a nasty piece of work)

kein Hund (nobody, no one)

armer Hund (literally: poor dog; poor devil, poor wretch)

jemanden auf den Hund bringen (literally: to bring someone to the dogs; to ruin someone’s health or nerves)

des Pudels Kern (literally: at the core of the poodle; at the crux of the matter) This phrase is from the classic German writer Goethe’s work Faust I: Mephistopheles.

Kein Hund nimmt von jemandem mehr einen Bissen Brot. (Literally: No dog takes a bite of bread from someone anymore; no one wants to know someone, no one wants anything to do with someone.)

Learning idiomatic and slang expressions is not only fun, but it also brings you closer to the culture whose language you are learning—and impresses native speakers. So don’t be a fauler Hund (lazy dog): use Yabla to improve your skills with idioms and slang!

 

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Eben: Exactly just even!

While watching Yabla videos, especially interviews, you may well have noticed that German speakers love using the word eben. Used as an adjective, eben means “even” or “flat or level”; as an adverb it means “evenly.”

But there’s more to it. Let’s take a closer look! 

Der kultivierte Camper ist eben anspruchsvoller geworden.

The cultivated camper has just become more discriminating.

Caption 5, Glamping: Camping mit Stil

Eben is used in this video to emphasize the fact that there are some people who are used to high standards and will not be satisfied spending their holidays in a simple tent made of four poles and a piece of cloth (whereas others surely will!). People are different. Das ist eben so!  (That’s just the way it is!) So the example of eben in this video is used in the sense of “just"or “simply.”

In Unser Universum: Der tiefste Blick ins All, we learn that eben also means ”exactly” or "precisely":

Was wir oder unsere Teleskope sehen, ist das Licht, das von eben diesem Himmelskörper ausgeht.

What we or our telescopes are seeing is the light that radiates precisely from this heavenly body.

Captions 35-36, Unser Universum: Der tiefste Blick ins All

Eben can also describe something that has happened just now:

Marco du hast eben schon aufgelegt

Marco you just DJed

Caption 2, Big City Beats: DJ Marco Petralia

Further Learning

Sicher ist es nicht eben einfach (of course it’s not exactly easy) to implement eben correctly in your conversation right away, but as with everything: Übung macht eben den Meister! (practice just makes perfect!). So why not start right now and create three sentences in which eben is used as “exactly,” another three in which it is used as “just,” and three more in which it has the meaning of “just now.”

Examples:

Das ist eben der Film, den wir gestern in der Vorschau gesehen haben.

That’s exactly the movie we saw yesterday in the preview. 

Ich esse eben gerne mein Frühstück im Bett.

I just love having my breakfast in bed.

Ich bin eben am Flughafen angekommen.

I have just arrived at the airport. 

Viel Spaß! (Have fun!)

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Laufen: Extrapolations on a Useful Verb

Gehen means "to go," rennen means "to run." But what is laufen all about? Laufen can mean all of the above! It means "to walk", "to run," or simply "to go." Note that its noun form, das Laufen, is neuter (in fact, all noun forms of verb infinitives are neuter), and means "a race" or "racing."

In Jan Wittmer: Ich laufe (Tim Bendzko), we have an example where laufen has the meaning of "to run":

Und ich laufe

And I run

Ich laufe davon

I run from it

Und ich laufe

And I run

So schnell und so weit ich kann

As fast and as far as I can

Captions 6-9, Jan Wittmer: Ich laufe (Tim Bendzko)

In this video, Jan Wittmer sings over and over again the line Ich laufe davon. He is running away. He is not just walking, he is running as schnell (fast) and as weit (far) as he can.

You would say Ich laufe jeden Tag ins Büro (I walk to the office every day) if you wanted to use laufen in the sense of walking. Surely you do not run to the office every day in your suit and high heels, with your laptop tucked under your arm, unless you overslept or your profession happens to involve Marathon laufen!

On the other hand, let's say you're in a singles bar looking for the perfect partner, like Tanya and Sandra in RheinMain Szene - Singles der Woche. You might be tempted to say something along the lines of:

Also, mit ein Meter sechsundsiebzig ist es nicht so einfach. Hier laufen so viele kleine Männer rum.

Well, being one meter seventy-six is not so easy. Here there are a lot of short men walking around.

Caption 34, RheinMain Szene: Singles der Woche

So if you want to start using laufen in conversation, just pay attention to the pace you want to emphasize.

Wir drücken dir die Daumen, dass alles gut läuft beim Lernen mit Yabla!

We're crossing our fingers that everything goes well with Yabla learning!

Learning tip

After you’ve established a firm grip on a useful German verb, take the next step. For instance, you’re stuck in traffic. Put the time to good use by composing a simple sentence using the verb in the present tense. (One immediately comes to mind: Ich laufe davon.) Now alter the same sentence, changing its verb tense only, and see how many sentences you can come up with. It’s an ambitious goal, but getting comfortable with all 12 German tenses won’t happen overnight. So let’s get crackin’! No, seriously, think about it: when speaking your own language, notice how often and effortlessly you shift from one tense to another within a single conversation. When you get back home, check your results in Baron’s 501 German Verbs, a must-have for any aspiring German speaker, or click here for a useful website about verbs.

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German Slang Part 1

In the lesson on The Many Ways to say "Well" we covered one way to sound more like a German speaker. This time we'll talk about another: using slang or colloquial language. Tschüss (bye) is a good example of this. It's an informal way of saying goodbye and in many situations of even passing familiarity, it's how people part.

Let's look at some more slang you can sprinkle into your German speech.

In the following example, we learn that:

die Catwalks der Welt sind voll von schicken und vor allem nicht ganz billigen Klamotten.
the catwalks of the world are full of chic and, above all, not exactly inexpensive clothing.
Caption 2, Highend-Fashion aus dem Kloster Ein Mönch als Maßschneider

Klamotten is a very common colloquialism for "clothing." As with all such words, you might use it with a hip store clerk or a friend, but not with a complete stranger or even a less familiar coworker.

Another common slang word is blau, meaning "drunk":

Ich find' diese Aktion "bunt statt blau" total wichtig.
I think this campaign "Colorful instead of Blue [Drunk]" is totally important.
Caption 3, Luxuslärm: rockt gegen's Saufen

Slang can vary greatly according to region. The word Kiez, used in the following example, is fairly specific to Berlin, where it means a small, cohesive neighborhood. It is also used in Hamburg, and to a lesser extent in Hannover, where it is suggestive of prostitution. By contrast, it is entirely unfamiliar in most of southern Germany.

Gitarrist Jürgen Ehle wohnt seit fünfundzwanzig Jahren in dem Kiez und schwelgt in Erinnerungen.
Guitarist Jürgen Ehle has lived for twenty-five years in the area and luxuriates in memories.
Captions 3-4, Pankow: Rolling Stones des Ostens

That just about wraps things up for now. Tschüss and till next time!

Learning Tip

Getting frustrated with the pace of your learning? Try this fun exercise. Watch a video that is a level of difficulty higher than usual and then go back to one you had to work particularly at to master. You will find that you have come a longer distance than you had thought.

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The Many Ways to Say “Well”

Sounding like a native speaker in a newly acquired language can be tricky. There are all of those grammar rules and new vocabulary words and social conventions to be considered. One way you can make yourself sound more like a German speaker is by learning some of the common “filler” words people use in conversation. The word “well” is such a word in English. Let's learn some equivalent words a German speaker might use.

Here are two variations on ja (yes) which are used in this way:

Tja, was hat das mit Hollywood zu tun?
Well, what does this have to do with Hollywood?

Caption 6, Fastnacht - Karneval - Quartier Latin - Part 1 of 2

Na ja, das is' halt mein Titel, ja.
Well, that is just my title, yes.

Caption 83, Bürger Lars Dietrich: Schlecht Englisch kann ich gut - Part 2 of 2

Deciding whether to use tja or na ja is a bit of an art, but you can think of it this way: tja might also be translated as "hmm" or "let me think"; na ja might be translated as "you know."

Also, which is commonly used to mean “therefore” or “so,” often finds its way into conversations like this one:

Also, wir waren schon damals eigentlich...
Well, we were already back then actually...
Caption 33, Bürger Lars Dietrich: Schlecht Englisch kann ich gut - Part 2 of 2

When used as a filler, also is generally applied for one of two reasons. In the example above, it is used because the speaker is thinking back or reminiscing. It can also serve to add emphasis or impact to a declarative statement, like this one about a subject of controversy:

Also, da scheiden sich die Geister.
Well, here the spirits divide [opinions differ].
Caption 13, Fastnacht - Karneval - Quartier Latin - Part 1 of 2

Well, that's it for now! 

Learning Tip

Trying to learn how to pronounce German? Go through a video that is short and sweet at least two or three times. Then practice saying the things that are said by the participants of the video. Take turns speaking each individual participant, so that you start to get the hang of some of the nuance of tone and pronunciation.

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If Wishes Were Horses and When Pigs Fly - Wenn

English speakers learning the word wenn for the first time often find the parallels to “when” helpful at first. But wenn can also mean "if." For example, a German child pleading for something and promising to be good in return can expect to hear:

Wenn das Wörtchen wenn nicht wär, wär mein Vater Millionär.

If the word "if" did not exist, my father would be a millionaire.

This is comparable to the English expression "If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride" and can be translated more idiomatically as "When pigs fly."

While the uses of wenn in German are varied, it is most commonly used in such simple cases as:

Ich habe kein Geld, wenn ich Dinge einkaufe.

I have no money when I buy things.

Caption 40, Deutschkurs in Tübingen: Die Konjunktion "wenn"

The German use of wenn... dann is also parallel to the English “if... then.” We see this in the following example.

aber auch wenn die Zeit noch 'n bisschen schwierig ist,  

dann nimmt man sich gern zu Hause 'n bisschen Ablenkung davon...

but even if times are still a bit tough, 

then it is nice to have a bit of distraction from that at home...

Captions 7 and 8, Auftrumpfen: Mit Kitsch und Protz

Sometimes wenn really does mean "when": 

und der, wenn er wild wird, uns Sand in die Augen weht 

and the one that, when it becomes wild, blows sand into our eyes

Caption 17, Piggeldy und Frederick: Der Wind

So now you see that that Wenn das Wörtchen wenn nicht wär, there would be quite a few things you'd have trouble expressing!

Learning Tip

When going through your videos, pay particular attention to a specific aspect of the language, such as a tense, a part of speech (such as the wenn above) or a tricky bit of vocabulary. And then reward yourself by watching one of the fun episodes to allow your mind to process.

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Your Royal Highness or Hey you - Forms of Address in German

It's important to know how to address people. In the following example, an interviewer asks the host of the fashion show, Floria, Princess of Hesse, how she is to be properly addressed:

... also das ganz Korrekte ist „Königliche Hoheit",

... that is, the really correct [way] is "Royal Highness,"

Caption 8, Modedesignerin Nina Hollein: Floria Prinzessin von Hessen - Part 2 of 3

Germans have a reputation for formal address. Traditionally, even co-workers of many years always addressed each other in the formal second person (Sie) and used both formal titles (Herr Doktor) and the person's last name. Anyone who has watched "The Sound of Music" knows that young ladies are to be addressed as Fräulein.

All of these things have changed a great deal in the past twenty years, and it is now much more common to address even a band you've never met before, as in the following example, in the informal second person (du or ihr, not Sie), or at least only use their first and last name without a formal title.

Und [...] ihr habt ja auch was mitgebracht...

And [...] you have also brought something along...

Caption 8, Undertube: Jeans Team - Part 1 of 2

The way of distinguishing between married and unmarried young women has all but disappeared, so if you meet a woman for the first time it is always appropriate to address her with Frau and her last name. Even Princess Floria concludes her thoughts on the topic, which began this lesson, by saying that the formal mode of address would be inappropriate in this context.

...aber das ist, glaub' ich, etwas fehl am Platz.

...but that is, I believe, somewhat out of place.

Caption 9, Modedesignerin Nina Hollein: Floria Prinzessin von Hessen - Part 2 of 3

It is still most polite to wait to be offered the informal (du) if the person you are meeting is your senior or in a position of authority.

Remember that while Sie sounds like the third person feminine or third person plural (sie), it is distinguished from them by always being capitalized. Also, it is conjugated like the third person plural (Sie/sie haben), not the second or third person singular (du hast or sie hat).

Learning Tip

When learning a new vocabulary noun, memorize the definite article (der, die, das) along with the vocabulary word itself. That way you won't have to figure out what the grammatical gender is when it comes time to use it.

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Inseparable Prefixes

Inseparable Verbs: verbs with an unstressed prefix that are not separated when used in a sentence, e.g. beschreiben, erfinden, entspannen.

As Piggeldy and Frederick stroll down country roads in Das Fernweh (the yen for faraway places) Piggeldy gushes at the way his brother Frederick has aptly described this unknown concept.

So schön kann nur mein lieber Bruder Frederick 'Fernweh' beschreiben.

So beautifully can only my dear brother Frederick describe "fernweh".

Caption 36, Piggeldy und Frederick: Das Fernweh

Beschreiben (to describe) is the inseparable verb in our example and if we subtract the prefix be- it becomes schreiben (to write).

Different prefixes alter or change the meaning of their respective unadorned infinitives or root words, which may even be other parts of speech. See this list:

Be-: often makes a transitive verb from an intransitive verb, e.g. siegen (to win) vs. besiegen (to defeat)

Er-: tends to relate to creative processes, e.g. erfinden (to invent), erörtern (to discuss)

Ent-: usually describes processes of removing, e.g. entfernen (to remove), entführen (to kidnap)

Zer-: is used for destructive actions, e.g. zerstören (to destroy), zerdrücken (to crush, to mash)

To put this rough rubric into practice, let's look at another inseparable verb in one of our clips. Reporter Raudy, from the trendy magazine RheinMain Szene, tells recording artist "Der Graf" (the Count) to relax, when the Count admits that at times he still experiences stage fright.

Echt? Entspann dich doch! Ich bitt' dich!

Really? Hey, relax! I'm asking you!

Caption 7, RheinMain Szene: Unheilig - "Der Graf" - Part 3

As we can see from the list above, the inseparable prefix ent- reverses a process in place. In this last example, it "loosens the strings" of the Count’s tightly strung psyche, hence entspannen means “to relax.

Further practice

Review the lesson Separable or not separable... that is the question!, and then test yourself with this exercise on separable and inseparable verbs.

Learning Tip

Pick out a troublesome German phoneme, like the pesky R-sound. Create a word set by selecting only words that have this phoneme, whether in the initial or intermediate position. Then go back to the newly created word set and practice those words. Don’t be discouraged if you find progress slow in coming. It takes time, effort, continuous monitoring, and even trial and error, before you get it all right. When you meet a German who can no longer immediately peg your land of origin you’ll be glad you made the effort!

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Separable or not separable... that is the question!

Separable Verbs: verbs with a stressed prefix, that are separated when used in a sentence
i.e. mitkommen, mitfeiern, einladen

In each and every episode, we've all come to almost know by heart Frederick's blustery invitation to his younger brother, spoken as our beloved porcine brothers embark upon another stroll in the country. Let's all chime in with Frederick…

Komm mit."

"Come with [me]."

Caption 5, Piggeldy und Frederick: Langeweil

Mitkommen means "to come" or "to come along." The prefix mit- is stressed which indicates that it is a separable prefix verb. Notice in this present tense construction: the verb is in the second position and the separable prefix is at the end. Here the German appears benignly analogous to our English. However, Vorsicht! Don't be lulled to sleep.

In this next clip that reports the celebration of World Pi Day, notice what happens when additional information is included in the predicate.

Da feierst du jetz' auch nich' mit beim Welt-Pi-Tag, oder?

Now you also don't celebrate along on World Pi Day or [do you]?

Caption 67, Welt-Pi-Tag: Unser Leben mit der Kreiszah

Where does the additional information, (namely... jetzt, auch, nicht) appear? Richtig! It is sandwiched between the conjugated verb and the prefix.

This is also the case for einladen (to invite):

Heute lade ich alle meine Freunde zu mir nach Hause ein.
Today I will invite all of my friends to my home.

Note:

The prefixes of separable verbs are, by and large, prepositions or adverbs, but sometimes even verbs or nouns, all meaning that they are independent words. And, since no one is born a master, you can learn more about separable verbs here and here.

Learning Tip

To practise recognizing separable verbs, select 3 clips. Watch each with both captions on. Pause and analyze the sentences which you think might contain a separable verb. Pay close attention to the correct pronunciation of the verb. Use the loop function of the Yabla Player to listen to it repeatedly and say the infinitive out loud, stressing the prefix, until you get it right. Do this exercise for all 3 clips (add more if necessary)! This will help you differentiate between stressed and unstressed prefixes and any remaining "separation anxiety" will end in smoke.

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Modal Particles: schon, ja, halt

Modal or "flavoring" particles: words used in colloquial speech indicating a certain attitude of the speaker

schon, ja, halt

Although Germans have a fondness for foreign cuisine, they will always stay faithful to their Currywurst (curried sausage). There are an estimated 2,000 sausage stands in Berlin and even a museum solely dedicated to this popular German snack. Berliner Frank Spieß, owner of the unique sausage stand "Curry and Chili," offers 12! levels of spiciness, emphatically ensuring that some, indeed, like it hot!

Also, die Leute haben schon, äh, Spaß daran,
So, the people indeed have, uh, fun with it,
Caption 48, Currywurst: Berlins schärfstes Stück

As a modal particle the word schon (in bold) means "indeed" as opposed to the literal meaning "already" when used as an adverb.

Ich bin schon ein Fußballfan, aber kein eingefleischter.
I am indeed a soccer fan but not a die-hard one.

By adding a ja to her sentence, Eva, who takes us on a tour through Berlin's Viktoriapark, implies that it's well-known that the Kreuzberg ("cross hill") isn't really that high with its modest 66 meters.

Das ist ja nicht besonders groß

That isn't particularly tall

Caption 14, Berlin: Eva im Viktoriapark

Halt is another very commonly used modal particle which can be translated as "just", "simply" or "as a matter of fact." Drummer Thomas Holtgreve of German band Frida Gold uses it to add accent, attitude and emphasis.

Ein bisschen auf die Spitze getrieben halt, so.

Just pushed it a little bit to the extreme, so.

Caption 19, Frida Gold: Making of "Zeig mir wie du tanzt" - Part 1

For a list and more example sentences of German modal particles you can go here and here.

In conclusion, modal particles are uninflected parts of speech used to convey impatience, surprise, disbelief, or urgency along with the statement. Try them out and give your next conversation "auf Deutsch" an authentic, casual feel.

Learning Tip

If you want to fine tune your understanding of modal particles go to the Videos tab on german.yabla.com and enter the modal particle you want to practice into the search box. All videos containing said particle will appear. Focus only on watching those clips and your understanding of informal German along with the selected modal particles is sure to improve.

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True Friends!

True friends: word pairs in two languages that look or sound similar, AND share a common meaning

The lesson Beware of False Friends! showed that German words that have similar sounding and written English counterparts aren't what one might take them for, at first glance.

The good news is that there are hundreds of these jewels, the so-called "true friends," lying about in plain sight. Yours for the taking! After studying articles and tenses for countless hours, what a welcome change! They are, indeed, "true friends" to the savvy German learner who is bound and determined to keep his eye pealed for them, ready to pocket them and place them in the strongbox of his Wortschatz (vocabulary, literally "treasury of words"). In the text below are some dead reliable "true friends."

German children lernen (learn) from early on, that at bedtime der Sandmann (the sandman) comes around with his bag of sand to tell a story and then sprinkle Sand (sand) in their eyes, which is said to make them sleepy. The stories of pig brothers Piggeldy and Frederick form a part of this collection. In every episode Piggeldy asks his older brother a question which they then try to explore together. The questions revolve around the simplest of matters, around almost philosophische Konzepte (philosophical concepts) like rain, the sky, tidying up...

In the following example you can see that "true friends" do, in fact, contribute to sentence comprehension.      

Sie liefen eine Weile durchs Moor

They walked a while through the moor
Caption 7, Piggeldy und Frederick: Regen

For more examples of true friends, please go here.

Learning Tip

Have you noticed that every clip features the speech rate under the Videos tab of our GermanYabla site? If not, go to the Vocab tab (which you will find on the Videos page below each clip). In addition to a vocabulary list for the clips, you will also find the speech rate at the top.

As a rule, pick videos with a speech rate that is right for your level and stick with it until you feel comfortable increasing it. If you feel up to the challenge, try a couple of clips out of your comfort zone with higher speech rates and see how much content you can glean intuitively. You may be pleasantly surprised.

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Beware of False Friends!

False Friends: word pairs in two languages that look or sound similar, but differ in meaning.

Have a look at the text below about the video Balztanz: für Fortgeschrittene, which includes a few false friends in German (in bold italics) and see if you can determine their true meaning in English!

A recent study investigating male dance moves that catch a woman's eye has shown that certain dance moves executed by men are more likely to grab women's attention than others. Neither robot impersonation and windmill-like flailing of the arms nor dezente dance moves (...noch dezente Tanzbewegungen...) set female hearts racing! Men might sich auch blamieren if they dance in circles (Männer könnten sich auch blamieren, wenn sie im Kreis tanzen.)

If they, however, emphasized upper body movement, paid attention to the right action in the left shoulder, the neck and the right knee and incorporated variety into their dance patterns they might bekommen what they are after ( ...könnten sie bekommen, was sie suchen). This just leaves one question open: Which traits lie hidden behind those moves?

  • dezent = discreet, subtle ≠ decent
  • sich blamieren = make a fool of oneself ≠ to blame
  • bekommen = receive, get ≠ to become
  •  

Consider an example from one of our videos.

Bitte, seien Sie jetzt ganz still.

Please, be completely silent now.

Caption 60, Magie - Die Zaubershow

For more examples of false friends, please go here. This quiz will test your grasp of some common false friends!

Learning Tip

Pick two to three clips from one category, e.g. food, which discuss the same or a similar subject. Watch them in ascending order according to their level of difficulty. While watching you will notice that some of the vocabulary is the same. This exercise will enhance your contextual understanding, as well as, reinforce familiar words, consolidate your grasp of newer words and improve your listening skills.

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