Nicki Hinz works in the Didactics Team here at Babbel, designing our courses and optimizing lessons to bring users the most intuitive and effective learning experience. As part of our in-house presentation series, Strangers, she recently delivered a breakdown of what gender-neutral language offers us, as language-learners and as a community. A deeper dive seemed in order, and she graciously sat down for a chat about it.
I suppose it should be obvious, given we work with language-learning, but what made you want to tackle this topic as part of the Strangers series?
In the Strangers series we want to really consider the different aspects of diversity from all angles, even from angles that might not be as high-profile or obvious at first glance. But as we’re working with lots of different languages every day, it becomes evident that there are problems inherent to some languages when it comes to how we talk about people. German is an excellent example, as we have the suffix -in to denote that a certain profession is female, e.g. der Lehrer (male), die Lehrerin (female). So what about people that do not identify with the traditional binary gender framework? If you’re genderfluid, for example, you might feel left out. You can see phenomena like this in other languages as well: Is a “gunman” necessarily always male? Other languages like French or Portuguese also denote gender in adjective endings, but it’s still a matter of one of two possible genders. The reality we live in looks quite different: we are transgender, genderqueer, intersex, non-binary, genderfluid, female, male…
Megan, a member of Babbel’s PR team, speaks to fellow Brit and Babbel user Chris Wray about his experience learning German.
Meet Chris Wray. Chris lives in rural Dorset in the UK, and is enjoying retirement with his family after a career in the British Armed Forces. Between June 1968 and December 1983, he was deployed to Germany three times for a total of 10 years as part of military operations. For almost six of those years, Chris didn’t speak German outside of the classroom. When he finally did, he realised that there was more to a country than just being there.
Megan works in Babbel’s Public Relations team. Here, she looks at some of the complexities of filler and interjection words in a foreign language, and why immersion in real dialogue is essential to the language learning journey.
Some of English’s smallest words are currently making the largest headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. While Radio 4 listeners are up in arms over the overuse of ‘so’ on UK live radio and America waits in anticipation for the book release of the proclaimed University of Sydney linguist, Nick Enfield, “How We Talk: The Inner Workings of Conservation”, Babbel takes a closer look at the little words that are captivating our attention.
Filler and interjection words are almost always absent from traditional language curriculums, and yet they’re crucial in every language. Knowing when to use ‘umm’, ‘er’, and ‘yippee’ – each carrying different shades of meaning – bridges the gap between bumbling tourist and cunning linguist.
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…