For the past two months, volunteers from Babbel have been visiting the LAGeSo refugee centre in Berlin’s Bundesallee to distribute free online German courses. Sam Taylor talked to some of the project’s participants to find out more about their experiences.
My name is Mara. I’m from Italy and, like many people that work at Babbel (and live in Berlin), I have a child with someone from another country. In this case, with a German. What can I do to make sure my child learns Italian well? What resources are available to me? Here you’ll find out what I’ve discovered.
Little by little, women have secured professional roles that were previously unachievable. As important positions in government and society were once reserved for men, many languages never established a feminine form for certain job titles. How do languages adapt to this new reality? In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we at Babbel – the app for easy language learning – have taken a close look at the feminine form of professional job titles in several languages.
When you’re learning a new language, tongue-twisters are a great way to practice your pronunciation. Tongue-twisters are sentences or series of words that are hard to say. They often have similar alternating sounds, like ‘s’ and ‘sh’ or ‘p’ and ‘b’. Although they are typically nonsense, the English classic “She sells sea shells on the sea shore, and the shells that she sells are sea shells, I’m sure” was actually a popular song in 1908 based on the life of Mary Anning, a famous British fossil hunter and collector.
To celebrate the release of our Swedish tongue-twisters course, we’ve selected eight tongue-twisters in different languages – English, German, Italian, French, Danish, Swedish, Turkish and Russian – and turned them into short animations. Can you master them? (more…)
Read this post in German (Deutsch), Spanish (Español), Italian (Italiano)
If you ask what the Germans are famous for when you are in another country then the chances are that lederhosen, dirndls, beer and the humble Bretzel, or ‘pretzel’ as they are known in the English-speaking world, will be pretty high up the list. The Oktoberfest itself has also made a name for itself as the largest folk festival in the world and is a magnet for visitors from all over. There are enough reasons, then, to make the trip there yourself and to form your own opinions about the colourful happenings ‘on the Wiesn’.
Oktoberfest has a lot more to offer than just beer tents and prezel-chewing visitors in dirndls and lederhosen. Did you know, for example, that there are historical wooden fairground rides dating from the 19th century that are accompanied by their own live brass bands? In the 1930s the Krinoline carrousel was still hand-driven by four powerful men because that was the only way the particular rotary motion could be generated at the time.
In fact, some of the time-honoured traditions turn out to be much younger upon closer inspection. At the start of the 19th century traditional Bavarian costume was not worn at the Oktoberfest at all, rather French fashion…
There is so much to discover. With our Oktoberfest course, beginners can prepare themselves linguistically and of course arm themselves to order beer from a true Bavarian waitress. The short dialogues and information cards are also peppered with cultural and historical facts. In the last of six lessons, courageous learners can try their hand at the Bavarian dialect because this is what every new arrival will encounter sooner or later at the Oktoberfest. So then. O’zapft is! Des wird a Mordsgaudi!
Frauke and Maren are project managers at Babbel and have designed and written numerous German courses together. For the Oktoberfest course they went on a journey of research into the linguistic, historical and gastronomic depths of the so-called Wiesn.
Read this post in German (Deutsch)
British kids usually learn French, Spanish or German at school. I loved learning German. So much so that I studied German to A-Level and then at university. I was finally able to read Schiller, Goethe and Brecht in the authors’ own words. So imagine my disappointment when I found the language actually spoken in Germany was somewhat… familiar. Double Whopper mit leckerem Bacon und Cheddar Cheese, bitte!
And yet something was not quite right. I kind of knew what was meant with these ‘Denglish’ words, so beloved of middle management and Detlef D! Soost. Yet their German equivalents seemed easier to understand. But why? It turns out such words are almost always pseudo-anglicisms, or Scheinanglizismen.
Put simply: they are bad translations. All Germans know Handy does not mean mobile phone in English (although fewer know that handy means praktisch). But did you know that if you ordered ‘country potatoes’ to go with said Double Whopper in the UK you would be met with a blank look? Because we call them potato wedges (Kartoffelecken). My jaw dropped (mir ist der Kiefer heruntergeklappt) when an English-speaking friend invited me to watch the football at a ‘public viewing’, because I assumed someone had died and he had no shame (public viewing = die Ausstellung eines aufgebahrten Leichnams).
It seems these ‘adopted’ words almost always have a different meaning in English. So let me help you out here. At the airshow do not, for example, declare your admiration for the aeroplane that just did a ‘looping’ (it did a loop-the-loop). Neither should you ask the IT guy to set up the ‘beamer’ for your PowerPoint presentation (ask for a projector), or invite someone to go on a ‘wellness’ weekend (call it a spa weekend). English speakers may chuckle (kichern) at signs in Germany for the ‘drive-in’ restaurant (our restaurants get driven through: drive-through restaurant).
People who claim to have worn a ‘smoking’ to a glitzy event (smoking = das Rauchen; der Smoking = tux, tuxedo or dinner jacket) and Kate Moss, I assure you, has never taken part in a ‘shooting’ or the police would probably have been involved (shooting = eine Schießerei); it is more likely she took part in a photo shoot. English speakers might well go to a gym but they would never go to a ‘fitness studio’. And remember, if you ask a DJ at a wedding party to play some ‘evergreens’, he will either think you are talking about Christmas trees (evergreen = immergrüne Pflanze) or a naff (schlecht br. umgs.) song by Westlife. Try asking for some golden oldies instead. On the subject of oldies: don’t ask to take the oldtimer for a spin (durch die Gegend fahren) because in English an old-timer means alter Hase. He would probably object. You might, however, suggest taking the classic, vintage or heritage car for a drive.
But do not suppose that only Germans make the faux-pas of borrowing words incorrectly. We Brits and our American cousins will try ordering a ‘Stein’ of beer at the Oktoberfest (when we mean Maßkrug) or a glass of ‘Hock’ if we would like a glass of wine from Hochheim am Main. You might even hear the air force talking about ‘strafing’ the enemy (when they mean aus der Luft unter Beschuss nehmen). So it’s all swings and roundabouts.
Some typical German mistakes in English are examined in the interactive English course here. Have a go and good luck!
Robert Compton has lived in Berlin since 2009 and works as a translator and proofreader.
This post in: French (Français), German (Deutsch), Spanish (Español), Italienian (Italiano)
“Wos babbelscht’n du do?” – This isn’t German. Or is it…? Actually it is. It’s Hessian dialect for “Was redest du denn da?” (“What are you talking about?”). Listen to Hessian dialect
If you learn a new language, it’s most useful to learn its standard variety. But many languages like German have different dialects which give us the best insight into what the people are like and how they live. We at Babbel thought that making a dialect course might not only be a nice example of what German can sound like, but also be a chance to give a broader idea of how diverse Germany and its people are.
During the production of this course, we had a lot of fun discovering German ourselves, which is the mother tongue of many of our employees. And we were astonished at how many of us can speak a dialect (“Hey, I didn’t know that you can speak Hessian, wow!”). This led to a lot of funny discussions à la “No, I never ever heard that word before in my life!” or “Really, you call a meatball Bagges? No way!” The lunch break was the ideal time to ask colleagues where they come from and where they grew up. Just to be followed by the question “So you surely can speak a dialect, can’t you?” To make a long story short: We got to know each other better and from a completely different angle.
When it came to recording, we were in stitches. Some sentences had to be re-recorded over and over again because our speakers kept collapsing with laughter. But the result was worth the stomach pains from laughing. In the dialect course, which currently consists of six dialects (Berlin dialect, Upper Franconian, Hessian, Swabian, Saxonian and Bavarian), you’ll learn that you’ll get the same bread roll, if you buy a Weckla in Swabia, a Semmela in Franconia or a Schrippe in Berlin. You’ll come to understand a Bavarian if he’s talking about a Hallodri (scallywag) and get to know what a Hessian Kräbbel (jam donut) is. You’ll not only learn regional vocabulary on food and every day life, but also a lot about the region where the dialects are spoken and how their people are wired. And you’ll finally unravel the mystery of why Babbel is called Babbel: it’s Hessian dialect for to talk, to speak. So let’s get started and babbel German with the dialect course!
Maren has been working with Babbel since September 2011. As a project manager she authored the dialect course amongst others. She grew up in Berlin, but since her mother is from Hesse and her father from Bavaria, she got to know the regional varieties of German from her childhood on. Her relatives in Saxony and Thuringia and not least her husband from Franconia contribute to the fact that she sometimes orders a Schrippe in Bavaria or is looking for a Kräbbel in Berlin…
Aishah El Muntasser does not only write blog posts for Babbel. For over a year she has been answering our customers’ questions quite tirelessly. In order to be able to really help she insists on trying all the new stuff herself. Which sometimes means jumping in at the deep end. Read her latest report here:
I’m in my mid-thirties and hopelessly old-fashioned. I recently had an iPad in my hand for the first time in my life—and the Babbel iBook “Learn Spanish: Beginner’s Course 1” was to blame for that. I was impressed. I hadn’t completely taken in this new experience when yet another device was plopped down in front of me: a Kindle, with the new eBook “Learn German: Beginner’s Course 1”. I was again impressed but confused: which one was better? So-called multiple device users would never ask themselves that question. For them it’s the most normal thing in the world to own multiple mobile devices.
Fortunately there are several people on the Babbel team whose life is instinctively tech-inclined. Anne, for example, has an iPad and a Kindle and takes both (!) along with her on vacation. So I asked her, “what exactly is the difference?”
I personally don’t see any big difference, except that the Kindle (Touch) is smaller, not so colorful and “interactive”, which means that there isn’t happening that much. Both have highlighting and note-taking features, and both books introduce essential vocabulary words in conversational situations. Both also have explanations and examples of grammar, as well as review sessions with answer keys.
Anne clues me in that the Kindle doesn’t light up as much, so eats much less energy and rarely needs to be charged. Also the display doesn’t reflect in the sun. Both of these aspects make Kindle the winner for a trip to sunny places. She takes the Kindle Touch from my hand and in the first moment awkwardly swipes around the screen, murmuring that hers is the kind with a keyboard. And then she makes the thing seem so appealing to me that I want to have one too. But just the simple Kindle, I’ll stay old-fashioned.
It’s not a matter of either-or, but rather play-it-by-ear: what does the situation call for, format and handling-wise? Learning vocabulary with an Android telephone on the bus, doing interactive grammar exercises on the couch with an iPad, or flipping through a Kindle book on the beach? After iPhone/iPod, iPad and Android, Kindle is now the fourth possibility to learn with Babbel on-the-go. The Babbel eBook for Kindle is the closest among them to a classic text book.
And for those of you who don’t want to have anything to do with any of it, you can just do the online courses. You can… but don’t have to choose.
Read this post in German (Deutsch), Spanish (Español), French (Français), Italian (Italiano)
Reuters Africa picked up on a little tidbit from a dubiously scientific survey by HSBC International Bank on the “expatriate experience abroad”: Apparently Germany is the number one country in the world for expats to find “love”, with a quarter (24%) of expats located in Germany marrying a local. Germany also came out as the spot where most expatriates (75%, according to the survey) “learned” the language of the host country.
Now, I say dubiously scientific here because I’ve always been suspicious of this whole “expatriate” idea. Not to mention its cutesy shortened form, “expat”. What makes an expat an expat, rather than an immigrant (or shall we say, to make it equallly cute, an “immy”)? HSBC did not set out to define, among the 2,155 persons they surveyed, what an “expatriate” was other than “an individual who relocates to another country”.
The recently published “Berlin – City of Smoke”, playing in 1929/30, is the second book in an eventual graphic-novel triology. Its creator, Jason Lutes, talks about diving into German history without speaking German.
You hadn’t been to Berlin before you started the comic – How did you make a picture for yourself?
I did about two years of research before I started the project. My research consisted of just reading everything I could find about German history, Berlin, etc. All the texts I did consume were translated from German into English, so that limited the material that I had at my disposal. But I just got everything I could from books of art, to maps of the city, books of photographs, novels – anything I could get my hands on. It was until 4 years after I started the project that I actually visited Berlin for the first time – so from beginning researching the project to actually visiting was a period of about six years.
Did you recognize the city from your research?
I did, I was a little apprehensive, no, I was more than apprehensive, I was very anxious — almost terrified — to see the real place, because I was very worried that it would be so different from the story I was trying to tell that it would render what I’d done useless.