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Umlauts

Someone asked me if there was something about the German language that I found amusing. Well, umlauts are fun. Those two simple dots change a vowel’s pronunciation just by hovering over it. They cause more than a headache to Spanish speakers and take hours of practice to master for anyone who attempts to learn German.  Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Umlauts, German language, fun, lustige SpracheIf you can’t get the hang of umlauts, here’s the ultimate tip to be able to pronounce them in no time. This strategy helped me as a native Spanish speaker. I’m sure it’d work for Italian and Portuguese people as well. Here we go!

  • Ü (the head-over-heels happy u): put your mouth in “u” position (as if you were going to say /u/) but say /i/ instead.
  • Ö (the flabbergasted o): put your mouth in “o” position but say /e/.
  • Ä (the scared a): put your mouth in “a” position but say /e/.

Easy peasy.

Come to think about it… there’s something inherently disturbing about this drawing. Her face is just… unsettling. What have I done?! I’ve created a monster!

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The False Friend Realization

Legend has it that, once upon a time, a Spaniard landed in Germany with an unsettled stomach and walked into a café to get a comforting tea. And then false friends happened.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, false friends, Spanish, German, infusion, blunders

From Latin īnfundō (to pour in, upon or into), an infusion originally referred to the liquid which had had ingredients steeped in it to extract useful qualities, hence nowadays we still use the word infusion for beverages such as tea. Later on the term slid into medicine to refer to the administration of liquid substances directly into a vein, i.e. transfusion. False friends may not as distant as they might seem. One just has to find the etymological link between them. : )

German Time Measurements

As if the German language weren’t twisted enough with its random gendered articles and convoluted syntax, even simple time structures can mess up your whole schedule. Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, German time, die Uhrzeit auf Deutsch, Deutsche Sprache schwere SpracheIn the spoken language, 3:00, 3:05, 3:10 and so on are easy: drei Uhr (three hour), fünf nach drei (five after three), zehn nach drei (ten after three). But when the minute hand reaches “half past”, Germans take the next full hour as a reference. In German – unlike most languages – “halb drei” wouldn’t be “half past three” but “half past two”, in the sense of “we are half way to three”.

This incident made me realize two things. First, the reason why Germans think of foreigners as “tardy people whose idea of being on time is showing up an hour late”. If you don’t know how time works and get all your appointments at “half”, you are bound to perpetuate the stereotype of the lazy, unpunctual foreigner.

The other thing I realized is that Germans live in the future. Instead of taking the current hour as a reference, they jump on to the next, as if they were anxious to get past the present. For 3:25 they’ll say “fünf vor halb vier”, literally “five before half way to four”. With such a rush to beat time, no one can really enjoy the present. No wonder everyone is so stressed out.

Expat Gone Foreign, linguist, travel and language comics, life abroad

Abecedarium

Ruminating, I stumbled upon the fact that using the word “alphabet” to refer to the sequence “a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z” is lexically inaccurate. Etymologically, “alphabet” goes back to the Ancient Greek “alphábetos”, with “álpha” and “beta” being the first two letters of the Greek alphabet.
Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, abecedary, alphabet, abecedarium, Greek
Since English uses Latin letters, the right term to refer to “a b c d” – and so on – should be abecedary, or abecedarium if you’d like to be morphologically pedantic.

These are the things that keep me awake at night.