The school holidays have just started for the kids. But for me school has just started. My youngest daughter has decided she can’t put up with my German any more and gave me a grammar lesson this morning. It was the proper thing with a small test and then some homework. I did reasonably well – just one error.
I speak German quickly and confidently and I have picked up a broad vocabulary after 25 years- but I never quite mastered the grammar. And because most people I meet are pleased to find an Englishman speaking German, they never bothered to correct me. Mind you, German grammar is complicated. It starts off with the fact that there are three genders (very modern!) – masculine, feminine and neutral. Then you have 4 cases (which I learned this morning). On top of that, you have a strange word order. Some sentences are so constructed that you don’t know what happens until the very last word. Anyway, after a quarter of a century of winging-it, I am now getting some schooling and quite enjoying it.
Even though my grammar is pretty poor, I have been around long enough to recognise the different accents around the country. Just like in Britain, the regional accents are very different. A Bavarian and a Hamburger sound very different – they even have a different vocabulary. The Swabian accent is (apologies to any local friends that might be reading) pretty ugly. The locals here tend to mumble a bit ( or as they say in German “nuscheln” – which in this case is onomatopoeic). Along with the East-German dialect from Saxony it’s my least favourite accent. The cleanest and clearest German is spoken around Hannover, more or less in the middle of the country. At the other end of the scale, the Cologne dialect has a sing-song feel to it but is almost impossible for mere mortals to understand. Up in the far north some people still speak an old form of the language called “Plattdeutsch”. Some of it sounds quite familiar to my ear, because it had a strong influence on English. In Plattdeutsch, the “s” is often replaced by the “t”. So was becomes wat, or wasser becomes water.
I suppose my daughter is entitled to sit me down and give me a German lesson. I do correct her English when she makes a mistake – which isn’t too often any more. OK, she has a head start because of her English Dad, but on the whole, the standard of English teaching in the schools here is very good. They do seem to teach a sort of american pronunciation, but apart from that they do well. I always thought the English were the most polite people on the planet – who else apologises when somebody bumps into them? But the Germans do have a polite tick of their own. Whenever they speak English they usually start by saying “I am sorry, but my English is not so good.” And then they speak fluently.
But tonight Europe is speaking “the language of music”. It’s the Eurovision song contest tonight! Before it started, German TV actually showed a serious woman (accompanied by a large transvestite – I am not kidding) using the Eurovision song contest as a metaphor for a better Europe. “More tolerant, more open and with a common understanding”. I had to bite my tongue and not say “yeah, on the other hand – completely crap, takes itself too seriously and is rife with cycnical block-voting”. But I kept quiet – I get told off for shouting at the television.