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.