Tag Archives: learning

The awful German language

18 Feb

Have you ever tried to learn another language? I know many people who speak two or three fluently, and it’s something I’d like to do as well. Unfortunately, I’m trying to learn German as my second language. Have you ever tried to learn German? It takes learning a new language to a whole new level.

For Valentine’s Day, Sebastian gave me the book “A Tramp Abroad,” by Mark Twain. It’s the story of his travels through Germany and Italy, and it also includes a great essay he wrote called, “The Awful German Language.” It’s nice to know that even Mark Twain struggled with learning German. He writes, “A person who has not studied German can form no idea of what a perplexing language it is.”


I took three years of Spanish in high school. I’m very rusty, but I can still pick up many words and even string together a few sentences. It was an easier language to learn because it had rules and those rules could be followed. Whoever invented German must have hated rules. For every rule, there are at least ten exceptions.

Twain puts it best: “Surely there is not another language that is so slipshod and systemless, and so slippery and elusive to the grasp.” I know it doesn’t sound like it, but his words are actually encouraging, and I can find humor in what he writes.

This section made me laugh out loud:

“Personal pronouns and adjectives are a fruitful nuisance in this language, and should have been left out. For instance, the same sound, SIE, means YOU, and it means SHE, and it means HER, and it means IT, and it means THEY, and it means THEM. Think of the ragged poverty of a language which has to make one word do the work of six — and a poor little weak thing of only three letters at that.”

As did this:

“Every noun has a gender, and there is no sense or system in the distribution; so the gender of each must be learned separately and by heart. There is no other way. To do this one has to have a memory like a memorandum-book. In German, a young lady has no sex, while a turnip has. Think what overwrought reverence that shows for the turnip, and what callous disrespect for the girl.”

Sometimes I feel like I’ll never quite get it, but I’m determined to prevail no matter how long it takes. So as Mark Twain did, and many others before me, I will continue trying to learn this utterly confusing language.