Being taught English grammar from a German point of view

Teaching in Western Europe – outside of Spain

Diary submitted by Lee R., Valencia

“Being taught English grammar from a German point of view.”

To many English people, it is often assumed that everyone outside of the U.K. is able to speak English fluently so there is no need to learn a language. Moreover, in the case of Germans speaking English, the English are left dumbfounded by the ease at which Germans can speak. Regardless of this, what are some of the complications that Germans face when learning English grammar? This section will demonstrate some of the major hardships that Germans may encounter.
As first glance, a potentially problematic aspect of learning is the part of English that relates more to Latin-based languages: progressive forms. Although German and English are grammatically alike with regards to prepositional verbs, German does not contain a progressive form. Instead, one would only use the simple form of tenses, for example, “I do” and “I am doing” are both “Ich mache”. In addition, the gerund form may seem confusing for Germans, especially in the context of using it in the form of a noun and adjective. This is the same form in English (i.e. The smoking man vs. Smoking). However, in German, it is broken down into its own distinct adjectival form (Infinitive + ‘D’) and an infinitive.
Example: “Der laufende Mann“ = “the running man”  “Laufen” = “Running”
Secondly, a small yet significant difference to note too is that every German noun will always begin with a capital letter in written form. As a result, one could say that this may become confusing when deciding which nouns to capitalise in English. Furthermore, punctuation such as commas can be challenging as there are far more rules that do not appear in English. For instance; the word ‘that’ in subordinate clauses is always preceded by a comma in German, therefore, many Germans will say “I believe, that” when it is not grammatically correct.
On the other hand, according to Ba (2016), what Germans have most difficulty with is the concept of auxiliary verbs in the formation of questions and negation – what she describes as a “’Psychological’ hurdle”. This is because German would still use the main verb. An example to describe this would be with the question “Do you speak German?”. In German, one would say “Speak you German?” (“Sprichst du Deutsch?”). Due to this, it may take a lot more time to catch on to the structure. Fortunately, this has been made easier through services such as Netflix, where English subtitling is available so that people may have more exposure to these structures.
What is often underestimated between both English and German is not only the number of cognates that they have in common, but also those that are also ‘false friends’. A prime example of this – what many people struggle with – is the verb ‘to become’. In German, the verb that is similar is ‘bekommen’, which literally translates into ‘to earn’, ‘to get’ or ‘to receive’. Subsequently, many people say, “I’m becoming a hamburger.” rather than “I’m getting a hamburger.”.
In relation to pronunciation, ‘ð’ and ‘θ’ sounds are tough for Germans as the sound has not existed for hundreds of years in most northern Germanic countries (Boston Language Institute, 2013). This results in words such as ‘the’ and ‘think’ being pronounced as ‘zəˈ’ and ‘sɪŋk’ – something that is often stereotyped in the media.
In conclusion, despite both languages being Germanic, there are multiple obstacles that can affect grammar apprehension, specifically in the context of auxiliary verbs and how these structures do not exist. In my opinion and according to what I have been told by Germans, the main problems lay with pronunciation and auxiliary forms.

Bibliography

  • Ba, S. (2016). What difficulties do Germans learning English encounter, any examples? [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.duolingo.com/comment/14062527/What-difficulties-do-Germans-learning-English-encounter-any-examples-Are-apostrophes-used
  • Boston Language Institute. (2016). Having problems with pronouncing ‘th’?. Retrieved from https://bostonlanguage.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/having-problems-pronouncing-th/

Being taught English grammar from a German point of view

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