Tuesday, 28 September 2010

English? Na klar!

There are very few Germans who would not maintain that they speak fluent English. And indeed, English is everywhere - music, films, social media, brands, youth culture... you name it, it's in English. But when it comes to actually speaking English, Germans are - whether they like it or not - quite shockingly bad at it. Of course, if you go there as a tourist, you're probably quite happy that almost everybody has a smattering of your language, and you won't find yourself totally lost. But proper, idiomatic and proficient speaking of English is almost totally absent. I've been paying quite close attention to this phenomenon since I moved here, and have identified what are, in my mind, the most obvious weaknesses.

1. Pronunication. Only the other day I heard somebody say "Latin Lover" in typically German pronunciation . It sounded like thiss "Lett-hinn luffa". Most Germans don't make any effort to pronounce English as it should be. Annoyingly, they often also transport their own local dialect into the foreign language, so you end up with Swabian English, Berlin English etc.

2. Un-idoimatic use of language. Germans seem to be blissfully unaware of the fact that English is perhaps the most idiomatic language in the world. You simply can't go about in your own way and disregard idioms. It ends up sounding clumsy and naive, and that unfortunately, is mostly the impression created when Germans speak English.

3. Treating English as if it was German. Probably the gravest sin, and probably responsible why Germans think they can easily deal with the language: Just translate word by word and you end up with... gibberish. A good example I overheard the other day: "It is now nice since two days, so I go out." Err? There is also a total disregard for tenses (esp. Present Perfect to indicate an on-going state of affairs and Past Continuous which doesn't exist in German.)

I think there is great scope for improved English teaching at German schools and university. It should be a prerequisite that English teachers have spent a considerable amount of time in an English-speaking country. I do believe it's worth learning to speak a language properly (i..e as native speakers handle it) and not in some pidginified version.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Twitter - Is It Time to Quit?

First there were the spammers, now there are the bores.

If you think that quite a polemical statement, hear me out. WWhen I first started on Twitter, it was like a new world opening up. The Social Media World. I suddenly had access to ideas, concepts, people, blogs and unprecedented creativity. In my first 6 months on Twitter I joined two campaigns, uncovered a spy (no, really!) got two job offers, took part in a collaborative history project, wrote articles for an e-paper, and was generally overawed how Twitter could actively and tangibly change my life.

Maybe I didn't look too closely, or it all happened very stealthiliy.. but it all seems very different now. Has Twitter reverted to type? Is it becoming a catchment area for the terminally bored? Foursquare messages abound, evenings seem to be taken up by chatroom-like conversations with feeble jokes about too much alcohol and page-long farewells "Nite Nite R", "Sleep tight Hon", "Dont let the bed bugs bite xx" and so on and so on until it's time to start all over again in this tedious and pointless routine.

Social Media? Don't kid yourself! Turf wars, pettily observed rules "I will only RT their blog post if they RT mine" spoil the concept and take the fun out of it. Some people get book deals or other publicity through Twitter - this is then cattily discussed and dissected "That's only because..." All very undignified and more akin to office politics then the big wide world of a new web generation!
My personal disenchantment became tangible when a middle-aged matron started jealously policing my access to her partner - someone I'd so far considered my social media guide. Another strand cut off. The whole thing is now more like a scene from a suburban meantown rather than a multi-lateral engagement platform.

Maybe it's me,maybe it's come full-cirlcle. Maybe it's time to quit, and look elsewhere for those once so prevalent creative impulse. Cause one thing's for sure -I don't want to be part of a jealous chatroom crowd.

Friday, 10 September 2010

My Dutch is perfect... My Dutch is non-existent

If you read my posts regularly.... or occasionally, you will know that I have a special interest in languages. As I've said before there probably isn't a European language I haven't at one stage or other studied, started to learn, or at least examined the structure of. It's an obsession, I can't help it!

One language, however, I've never studied is Dutch. I have a funny relationship with that language that many people assume is so close to both German and English (my 2 "perfect" languages) - but which really is full of faux amis, and quite a treacherous little number.

A funny relationship because on the one hand I'm ultra-perfect in it: My pronunciation is pitch-perfect and I defy anyone to conclude that wasn't born and bred in Haarlem when I read out a piece of text. Or speak it. Albeit the latter with an enormously restricted vocabulary, and preferably revolving round ball games, dolls, and "mens-erger-je-niet".

Why? Because I grew up in Holland, learnt the language solely by picking it up orally from our neighbours, especially their two daughters who were my best friends.

Other than that, my Dutch is non-existent. I cannot hold a normal adult conversation. I cannot spell at all in Dutch, I've never written a single sentence. It is a mystery to me how even the most ordinary greeting would be spelt (goej morgen? goeje avond? goed middag?.. something like that, but don't quote me on it!)

It always struck me as a bit unusual that you can feel utterly familiar with a language, and yet totally not know it.