Learning German - Our first lesson

Earlier this week we had our first family German lesson. I approached it with trepidation if I am honest, my reasons were two-fold. Firstly, I was nervous that I would be unable to retain the new information being forty and more mentally set in my ways than I once was. Secondly, I didn't want to fail my children by forgetting what I had learnt with them. When the doorbell rang I was a little nervous plus it was early and I was at least two cups of coffee behind the quantity required to reach my happy place.

My nerves and worries dissipated when I opened the front door – I realised how silly I had been. I don't know about you but I find it all too easy to get stressed prior to a new venture. As soon as Antje spoke I relaxed, she exudes calm which really put me at ease.

The children were excited because they could finally discover who had deciphered the postcard we had received from Germany the most accurately. Taking a look at our individual translations was first on the agenda. We learnt something incredibly important about learning a language from this exercise, something in stark contrast to how I had been taught at school many years ago. Simply put we were told that translating languages isn't an exact science. Translations can rarely be word perfect and must instead be interpreted using not just the vocabulary but also your own knowledge of sentence structure and even colloquialisms. It can be your best guess as it were. It turned out that we had all made a pretty good job of translating the postcard with our only group error being the word grube. I had mistakenly written it as big and my eldest son has translated it to group. It actually meant in the context of the postcard sincerely but when coupled with liebe it can be translated as a colloquial lots of love.

The children were then introduced to a map of Germany and asked the simple question 'what do German people call Germany?' They went on to look at one specific federal state and discussed regional dialects. This was invaluable to us because when you learn a language it is very hard to hear regional differences. I would have no problem telling you if an English person was from Newcastle or Bristol but at this moment I wouldn't be able to hear the differences between two German speakers. At the moment all German sounds the same – will this always be the case I wonder? I look forward to finding out.

We went on to listen to several German words all spelt fairly the same in English such as supermarkt, internet and zoo. The boys and I were surprised to hear just how unexpected some of the pronunciations were. Zoo for example was the hardest one to repeat. The first sound is 'ts' and is followed by the 'au' which is an alien sound to a native English speaker. 'tsau' is extremely unnatural when compared to the way we say z-oo in English. We also encountered difficulty with the guttural rolling of the 'r' sound because we have never had to train our body to produce this sound. It will take some practice because at the moment all three of us sound a bit silly when we try.

My eldest interjected at one point 'I love learning this' which made my heart swell. After the lesson I spoke to them about how they thought the lesson had gone and they both replied that they had enjoyed it. We have splashed out and bought our own copy of the resources we used during the lesson – that is how eager we all are to learn!

Like with any good tutor we were set homework. The children had to complete the first part of a sheet 'all about me' as well as make a collage of objects they think might be spelt and maybe even pronounced the same in German. They relished the activities and are looking forward to seeing if Star Wars, elephant, laser and leopard as well as many others are the same in both languages.

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