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Is it worth learning "German" in the U.S.A.?


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#1 of 33 OFFLINE   Ryan Wishton

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Posted March 29 2007 - 07:17 PM

I've wanted to learn German for a long time... I've been pondering starting lessons for a foreign language requirement; however, is it worth learning in the long run?

Basically, I don't want to spend an abundant time on something I won't be able to use in the future.

#2 of 33 OFFLINE   Yee-Ming

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Posted March 29 2007 - 10:08 PM

German is useful only in Europe, and in particular Germany (duh!), Austria and Switzerland. Most Swiss speak English anyway.

I would've thought for an American, Spanish would be far more useful. Mexico is next door and there's the whole of Central and Latin America (save for Brazil, but I think they'd understand Spanish a bit) to travel to. And even the mothercountry in Europe, Spain.

When it comes to business dealings, I'd imagine any German businessman or company rep sent to the US would speak fluent English anyway, so that wouldn't make much difference.

It is sometimes embarrassing, when you think about it, just how many Europeans (meaning non-Brits and non-Irish) don't just speak English, but speak it fluently, and many other languages beside. I once met a Finn (a witness in a case I was handling) who spoke SIX: Finnish, Swedish, English, German, Russian, and I think Italian. And his daughter was studying in Barcelona, so no doubt spoke Spanish and/or Catalan, over and above the usual Finnish/Swedish/English. And all the Finns I met there spoke English, and the witnesses in the case were all fluent enough so that when the time came, they woudl be giving their evidence in English,without need for interpreters -- it's one thing to speak conversationally, another to give evidence in an arbitration.

I share the embarassment, since my first language (no matter what geography or ethnicity says) is English, and whilst I speak Mandarin as well, the standard of my Chinese is far from high. For instance, I would not be able to give testimony in Chinese (say if I were required to in China or Taiwan), and would have to cop out and ask for an interpreter.

It seems to be quite typical in the English-speaking world, that since we already speak the de facto 'world language', that we don't need to learn any others. Good for you for wanting to learn another. Of course, if you were really gung-ho, the next big language is probably Mandarin Chinese. But be forwarned it is really difficult. German would be relatively much easier, since English is derived in large part from German -- and of course the alphabet is the same, with the addition of the double-dots on three vowels, and the double-s that looks like the Greek letter beta.

#3 of 33 OFFLINE   Ryan Wishton

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Posted March 29 2007 - 11:15 PM

My uncle knows German, Polish, and Arabic from being in the army across seas. He didn't bother to teach his kids any of these. I think that's a shame because they probably would have picked them up much easier as young children.

Mandarin scares me... I don't have the stamina nor time yet; in addition, I'd have absolutely no one to practice with, no television access, no radio access, etc. I don't want to fall on the knife before I get started.

I don't like to use the excuse "I don't have the time," but in this case it's unfortunately true. I believe one needs a few hours a day available to learn Mandarin. I'd love to go somewhere that speaks it; if I had access to it, I would consider it.

I'm half-way to Spanish and have been practicing that for the last two years. I did fall out of it for awhile after getting too bored (and the classes sucked every ounce of fun out of it), but I've started it up again on my own time. Spanish is vastly easier to keep up with because there's so much access to mediums (television, radio, people, etc.)

#4 of 33 OFFLINE   drobbins

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Posted March 29 2007 - 11:33 PM

If I was to learn a second language, I would choose spanish. It is the second most common language and looks like it is becoming more common. Then I could communicate better at the Mexican restaurant.

#5 of 33 OFFLINE   KurtEP

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Posted March 29 2007 - 11:50 PM

I took all of the German my high school had to offer and really enjoyed the language. Unfortunately, I would have been better served with Spanish. The day before yesterday was the first time since high school (Late 80's) that I actually heard someone speaking German anywhere in the US. Of course, they then turned to the bartender and asked for a menu in fluent English.

Really, Spanish is ideal. There are lots of people who speak it. There are TV channels with interesting programming. It would probably even open some doors. You could use it instead of losing it. My (now lost) knowledge of German does me practically no good at all.
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#6 of 33 OFFLINE   Chu Gai

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Posted March 30 2007 - 12:03 AM

I took German in HS (4 years) plus a year in college where we studied Faust which was taught by someone who did his pHD thesis on it. I also did 5 years of French in HS followed by a 1/2 year in college. For some reason, German never quite clicked with me but my French for a while was very good. I spoke French with a passable accent and very good grammar but was weak on the idioms and slang of the day. For a while, I got to practice French when I lived with two guys from Algeria, however they were more interested in improving their English in part because of their studies in the US and a larger part because it allowed them to score with the babes. I get a chance to use it occasionally in business but by I am no longer conversational. I've given some thought to picking up Arabic or Farsi.

As to whether it's worth it, I don't know. When you come into contact with people from other countries I think they appreciate that you've taken some effort to learn their language

#7 of 33 OFFLINE   Al.Anderson

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Posted March 30 2007 - 12:08 AM

I agree with Yee-Ming (or is it Lim ...?) that since almost all Germans know English fluently you wouldn't get as much milage out of that language. (I took 5 years of German, never used it once. And now all I can remember is, "Du bist eine sehr grosse scheisskopf"; which was really week-1 of the junior high class anyway.)

Spanish would be also be my first choice followed by some form of Chinese or Arabic.

And as a last resort French. There is French Canada - plus you get bonus restaurant/wine-list points.

Yee-Ming, I was just reading about Mandarin being a "tonal" language. (A concept I hadn't heard of before.) Wher the same word said differently means differntly things. Is this what makes it so difficult to pick up?

#8 of 33 OFFLINE   Holadem

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Posted March 30 2007 - 02:21 AM

Quote:
And as a last resort French. There is French Canada - plus you get bonus restaurant/wine-list points.
There is also almost all of West and North Africa, and a good deal of Central Africa, and some spots in Asia (Vietnam etc..)

http://en.wikipedia.....ation_2006.png

Now this a map of the Francophonie, which is an organization of French speaking countries, but does not count them all. Notably absent are Algeria (which probably stayed out of it for political reason, memories of the war of independence are still fresh I guess) and Morocco (I easily got by with french when I was there). There are probably a few others.

Plus chicks dig French.

Quote:
Yee-Ming, I was just reading about Mandarin being a "tonal" language. (A concept I hadn't heard of before.) Wher the same word said differently means differntly things. Is this what makes it so difficult to pick up?
So is my native language, Ewe (pronounced nothing like that, the 'w' is a poor subtitute fro the actual sound which does not exist in english): The same sound can mean 20 different things depending on context, pitch, duration etc... Hmmm maybe I should learn Mandarin...

I've considered Spanish and Arabic. Spanish because after years of resistance (I don't much like the language, though I lived in hispanic communities for most of my time in the US), it just looks so easy from where I stand it would be a shame not to, I guess. Arabic.. something new. Doubt it though, too much effort required.

I took 1 year of Italian in high school, it was either that or Russian (long story). Yuck.

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#9 of 33 OFFLINE   Michael Warner

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Posted March 30 2007 - 03:37 AM

If you want to learn a language to get ahead in your career or whatnot then German would be a poor choice. If you want to really set yourself apart go with a Middle Eastern language. While it's certainly great to be able to speak Spanish there's no shortage of fluent speakers of that language in the US.

As for me, I studied German and use it maybe once or twice a year at most -- usually to call out obnoxious tourists making snarky comments. I actually had to speak German just yesterday to order some flowers for my wife who's traveling in Munich. The lady at the local flower shop I called didn't speak English.

I actually plan to start studying French as I hate not having even a casual understanding of that language. I figure I've picked up enough Spanish via osmosis to survive while south of the border.
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#10 of 33 OFFLINE   Walter C

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Posted March 30 2007 - 04:08 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Yee-Ming
I share the embarassment, since my first language (no matter what geography or ethnicity says) is English, and whilst I speak Mandarin as well, the standard of my Chinese is far from high.

I share that same type of embarrassment. I am Korean, but I grew up in America, and pretty much grew up speaking English. Because of my appearance, some people have a very hard time believing that I speak only English.

I can speak only broken Korean, and no chance to carrying a casual conversation. I can remember one time, when I asked where the bathroom is in Korean, and the lady did not understand me at all. She ended up giving me directions in English.

I just don't have the patience for learning a new language, and I end up sounding like someone with his tongue tied (which is not understood in any language).

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#11 of 33 OFFLINE   Francois Caron

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Posted March 30 2007 - 04:13 AM

My languages are English and French Canadian (VERY different from France French!). I'm considering learning Japanese just so I can watch anime with the subtitles turned off. Posted Image

#12 of 33 OFFLINE   Chu Gai

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Posted March 30 2007 - 04:58 AM

As Benny Hill once said, "Kleine titzen, grosse sitzen."

#13 of 33 OFFLINE   MarkHastings

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Posted March 30 2007 - 05:55 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by KurtEP
I took all of the German my high school had to offer and really enjoyed the language. Unfortunately, I would have been better served with Spanish.
Same here. I took German in High School and College....I never spoke it fluently and since I've never had any real reason to use it, I've lost almost all that I've learned.

No offense to anyone, but I unfortunately agree that Spanish would have been a better choice...in fact, it feels like it's going to be mandatory to know Spanish in the near future. Posted Image

#14 of 33 OFFLINE   Garrett Lundy

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Posted March 30 2007 - 06:12 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ryan Wishton
Mandarin scares me... I don't have the stamina nor time yet; in addition, I'd have absolutely no one to practice with, no television access, no radio access, etc. I don't want to fall on the knife before I get started.

I don't like to use the excuse "I don't have the time," but in this case it's unfortunately true. I believe one needs a few hours a day available to learn Mandarin. I'd love to go somewhere that speaks it; if I had access to it, I would consider it.
I guess I'll be the first person in the thread to tell you to get over to Chinesepod dot com and download the 1st 20 newbie lessons. Its free (you pay for written transcripts, vocabulary games and whatnot). Its a Shanghai based program done by an Irish ex-pat and a native who learned English in Australia, so the accents can be a bit odd.

Anyway, in the US your best "furrin" languages are Spanish (obviously), Mandarin Chinese, and Korean.
"Did you know that more people are murdered at 92 degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature? I read an article once. Lower temperatures, people are easy-going, over 92 and it's too hot to move, but just 92, people get irritable."

#15 of 33 OFFLINE   Garrett Lundy

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Posted March 30 2007 - 06:18 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Al.Anderson
"Du bist eine sehr grosse scheisskopf"
Ihre mutter saugt Esel!
"Did you know that more people are murdered at 92 degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature? I read an article once. Lower temperatures, people are easy-going, over 92 and it's too hot to move, but just 92, people get irritable."

#16 of 33 OFFLINE   andrew markworthy

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Posted March 30 2007 - 06:24 AM

There's a German joke that is quite apposite in this instance (obviously this is the translation of it):

Q: What do you call someone who speaks three languages?
A: Trilingual

Q: What do you call someone who speaks two languages?
A: Bilingual

Q: What do you call someone who speaks one language?
A: English

Okay, back on topic. Some languages are easier to pick up than others, depending on your linguistic background. E.g. portuguese is very easy to pick up if you can already speak spanish, italian is relatively easy if you can already speak french. Nearly all the Indo-European languages have some things in common (e.g. some shared vocabulary, grammatical structure etc). Finnish is the exception, simply because it isn't an Indo-European language (nobody is really sure where it comes from). German is a language that some can pick up easily, others will flounder at. A lot of the basic vocabulary sounds similar to english. But: the grammar can be a bitch, and german is a glutinous language (i.e. basic words can be stuck together to make longer words). I took german for a year at high school and gave up (ditto russian, and don't get me started on that). I stuck at french (only because at that time you needed to have a basic qualification in at least one foreign language in order to get into university in the UK) but only passed the exam through rote learning - a *lot* of rote learning. However, others found foreign languages a breeze, and within my own family my mother is a qualified french teacher and her brother was fluent in six languages (and I mean really fluent - e.g. during WWII he spent the latter part of the war interrogating Italian prisoners in their own language). But for some reason, none of this ability passed on to me. But my son, on the other hand, is thirteen and already reasonably fluent in welsh and is making rapid progress in french and spanish. My daughter, on the other hand, tries hard but is pretty much on a par with my abilities. I guess it's just one of those things - either you have the gift or you don't.


Quote:
As Benny Hill once said, "Kleine titzen, grosse sitzen."
Posted Image However, what is less well known is that Mr Hill could speak fluent French (and no, that isn't meant as a joke).

#17 of 33 OFFLINE   KurtEP

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Posted March 30 2007 - 06:58 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by andrew markworthy
There's a German joke that is quite apposite in this instance (obviously this is the translation of it):

Q: What do you call someone who speaks three languages?
A: Trilingual

Q: What do you call someone who speaks two languages?
A: Bilingual

Q: What do you call someone who speaks one language?
A: English

That one is so true, although I usually hear the punchline as "American." Of course, in reality, it's much easier to keep multiple languages in places where you can actually practice them. In addition to my German, I also took some high school French. I have traveled to Quebec for business a few times, but the only people who spoke French to me there worked in the post office. Again, I've never heard it spoken elsewhere in my travels.

The sad thing is that all my grandparents spoke German. My maternal grandfather learned English in the public school system, despite the fact that he was born in the United States. He was even kept on as an interpreter in Germany after the close of WWI because he spoke to a few German POW's in the hospital, something he complained about this until he died. None of them taught it to their children under, I assume, the theory that they were Americans, not Germans now. When they'd get together, they'd all chat away in German, from what I've heard (that was way before my time...).
Lay down your law books now, they're no damned good -- The Eagles

#18 of 33 OFFLINE   TimMc

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Posted March 30 2007 - 11:22 AM

Ryan - Do what you want to do. Ignore all of us, 'cause we're all short-sighted and ignorant and can only advise you to do what we'd do. Oh - and one more thing to consider. Don't know what you do for a living, but if the company where you've been employed gets bought by some large German conglomerate, then a decent knowledge of German will be one of the most valuable things you've ever acquired. Why? Because your new German masters will know that practically no one in a US-based company knows any language but "Amurrican" so they'll often speak among themselves in German in meetings and you'll find out the most amazing things...

Oh - and you probably don't need to let anyone know you've learned another language of any kind. That can get pretty interesting - doesn't matter if you got bought by Germans, are eating in a Japanese sushi bar, or playing against an ethnic team in some sporting competition.

If you just think you'd like German then try learning German. If you want to do it for economic (or scientific or whatever) reasons then you probably should have done the research to know if it will really help you in the way you hope. Good Luck!

#19 of 33 OFFLINE   Garrett Lundy

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Posted March 30 2007 - 12:21 PM

Whats the worst that could happen? You'll learn german and not like it? Darn.
"Did you know that more people are murdered at 92 degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature? I read an article once. Lower temperatures, people are easy-going, over 92 and it's too hot to move, but just 92, people get irritable."

#20 of 33 OFFLINE   MarkHastings

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Posted March 30 2007 - 12:37 PM

I don't think his question really is if it's 'worth' it (any acquired knowledge is worth something), but I think his real question is, is German a wise choice for someone who may want to use it someday.

Other than the local German restaurant, I couldn't think of anywhere I'd use German (if I still knew how to speak it) and even if there were people who spoke it, most people don't know it enough, so I'd be able to get by with English anyways.

Unlike Spanish: It's practically a requirement in order to order anything successfully at Dunkin Donuts or McDonald's in my area.


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