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LEARNING

12 brilliant German words you won’t find in English

Unfortunately English let you down when you were trying to think of these things to say.

12 brilliant German words you won't find in English
A woman walks up actual 'Treppen' in Berlin in March. Photo: DPA

1. Verabredet

A woman writes in her caldendar. Photo: DPA

Germans don’t just agree to meet up at 2pm, and then rely on their mobile phones to explain why they’re late. They make utterly clear, unambiguous appointments. And then they describe themselves as “verabredet.”

“You are late. We were verabredet. I am simply not understanding this.” It’s an adjective that defines a whole culture.

2. Fahne

A man takes a nap after a few too many beers in Cologne. Photo: DPA

This does not just mean flag. It’s also the special type of “flag” (or the stench of booze) that flutters in your face and stings your eyes when a drunkard tells you he always loved her, you know, honestly, really loved her, despite how it looks. “Please wave that Fahne somewhere else.”

3. Drachenfutter

Roses. Photo: DPA

You’ve stayed out late and you weren’t supposed to. Your wife has put the kids to bed, made your dinner, and given it to the dog. What you need is Drachenfutter – a gift that will, literally, feed the dragon, outmoded sexist interpretations of gender roles notwithstanding.

“Oh no, I hope the late-night shop is open. I’m absolutely off my face and I need some Drachenfutter.”

4. Kummerspeck

Photo: DPA

The English have “comfort food,” but the ever-thorough Germans have taken that concept to its obvious biological conclusion. Kummerspeck, literally “sorrow bacon,” is the extra bulges that develop once you’ve consumed too much comfort.

“Is that Kummerspeck, or are you just pleased to see me?”

5. Fremdschämen

PFile photo: DPA

This is a truly vital word, missing from English, and indeed every language in the world (probably) – except German. It means to be ashamed FOR someone else. How often have you wanted to express that feeling in one neat, perfect word?

“Yes, I was very fremdgeschämt when Donald Trump got the date of the US election wrong.”

6. Rabenmutter

A T.V. show depicting a mother who pushes her children into show-business. Photo: DPA/ARTE

In keeping with their 19th century image of family roles, Germans have a special word for a bad mum. It literally means “raven mother”. Apparently baby ravens in the wild eat nothing but ketchup and are allowed to play with scissors.

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Die Rabenmutter

“Look, that child has not got a hat on and it’s below 20 degrees Celsius. What a Rabenmutter.”

7. Pechvogel/Glückspilz

Mushrooms Photo: DPA

In the Germans’ skewed image of the universe, the bird, soaring free through the sky, is an unlucky beast, but to be a mushroom is a fate associated with good fortune. It’s fun to be a fungi.

“Oh no, my fungi has ceased to grow. I am such a Pechvogel.” 

Pech means bad luck and Glück is good luck. See if you can work the rest out yourselves.

8. Quergebäude

Photo: DPA

Germans, it turns out, have specific names for different parts of a building, largely because of the structure of blocks of flats in Germany. There’s a Vorderhaus (front bit), a Seitenflügel (side bit), a Hinterhof (back bit) and something called a Quergebäude, which is, erm, the across bit. Quer means across, and can also be used as in the wonderfully literal term querlegen – to obstruct.

9. Handschuhschneeballwerfer

A glove-wearing snowball thrower in Gelsenkirchen, North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: DPA

Everyone hates the coward willing to criticize and abuse from a safe distance. The Germans equate that person with the lowest of the low: the one who wears gloves when throwing snowballs. As far as they’re concerned, a snowball fight is not a snowball fight until someone gets frostbite.

10. Treppenwitz

Stairs in the foyer of the Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg. Photo: DPA

Another wonderful German word, for a bittersweet situation familiar to everyone on the planet. The Treppenwitz, literally “stair-joke,” is the brilliant comeback you think of when you’re already out of the door and halfway down the stairs.

“And you, sir, are a prick! Ach! If only I’d thought of that at the time!”

11. Verschlimmbessern

Photo: DPA

There’s being ham-fisted, or putting your foot in it, or there’s just plain clumsiness, but in German there’s the very specific act of verschlimmbessern, which is when you make something worse in the very act of trying to improve it.

“Oh no, that extra piece of cheesecake, far from being nutritious, has just verschlimmbessert my digestive tract.”

12. Radfahrer

Cyclists in Göttingen, Lower Saxony. Photo: DPA

This is a deceptively simple word that weirdly hints at Germans’ darkest perversion. It just means cyclist, but in some German circles it refers to an employee who sucks up to his superiors while treading on his inferiors, thus imitating the posture of a cyclist. Not literally. That would be truly horrid.

For all The Local’s guides to learning German CLICK HERE

Member comments

  1. My personal favourite is “Ausstrahlung” – the radiance or feeling that someone gives off… kind of like your aura, but somehow in german it sounds less poncey 😉

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LEARNING GERMAN

‘Brutal’: What it’s really like to learn German in Austria

Anyone that has tried to learn German in Austria will say it’s a challenge. But why is that? And what can international residents do to make the process easier?

'Brutal': What it's really like to learn German in Austria

Learning a new language anywhere is hard, but learning German in dialect-speaking Austria can seem impossible at times.

To find out more about why learning the language is such an issue in Austria – and to provide some useful tips – we asked readers of The Local to share their experiences in a recent survey.

READ MORE: Eight ways to talk about the heat like a true Austrian

Most foreigners only have elementary level German 

To start with, we asked readers about their language skills to get an overview of their proficiency.

The most common German language level of the respondents was elementary, or A2, with 29 percent saying this was their skill level.

This was closely followed by intermediate (B1) at 28 percent. But only 11 percent said their language level was advanced at C1, and just three percent said they speak German at level C2.

The results of The Local’s survey about learning German in Austria.

Additionally, 60 percent of those surveyed said they didn’t have any German language skills before moving to Austria. This can make the learning process harder when locals tend to speak a dialect, but German classes are in Hochdeutsch (High German).

To break it down even further, 39 percent said they mostly speak Hochdeutsch in Austria, 36 percent said they speak a mixture of Hochdeutsch and dialect and 21 percent revealed they only speak English.

But the process of learning a new language can’t be fully explained in statistics, so here’s what the respondents really had to say about the experience in Austria.

FOR MEMBERS: ‘I’ll probably return to the UK’: Moving to Austria as a Brit post-Brexit

Learning German is ‘brutal’

A common response when asked to describe the process of learning German in Austria was “difficult”. Jonnie in Vienna simply said “brutal” and another described it as “shocking”.

Louise in Tyrol even went as far as to say the experience was “shameful and traumatic”.

Lisa Wolfinger in Linz, Upper Austria, provided a bit more context and said: “I’ve gone to classes at a local school which were helpful but hard to understand since every word is spoken in German.”

Paul in Vienna described learning German as: “Like someone handing you a violin with the expectation you will play with the symphony in three years.”

Whereas Cat in Salzburg summed up the slow process of learning German in Austria with: “You think you’re making progress in a class but one simple exchange in public makes me realise I don’t understand Austrian!”

And Asem, who has lived in Austria for 15 years, simply said “die trying” when asked to provide tips on how to learn German.

‘Austrian is fun to learn’

It’s not all doom and gloom though, and some respondents said the varying Austrian dialects actually make it easier to learn the language.

Tanita in Vienna said: “The German grammar rules you bend over backwards trying to learn are practically non-existent in dialect. I haven’t stressed about the whereabouts of the Dativ and Akkusativ tenses. 

“I’m sure as I go along further I will learn Austrian grammar, but I just don’t feel the pressure like with Hochdeutsch. Austrian is so fun to learn.”

FOR MEMBERS: Will a 4-day week and free German lessons help Vienna’s transport network find staff?

But for those living elsewhere in Austria, Tanita added: “Learn dialect outside of Wien. Viennese is basically a Hochdeutsch too. Salzburg or Graz have the middle-Bayerische dialects.”

Sian Staudinger, in Lower Austria, said although learning the language is “quite difficult”, she has “patient” work colleagues that help her with the local dialect. 

She said: “Keep learning Hochdeutsch and you will eventually start picking up dialect and new words.”

Likewise, Ardee in Vienna said: “Immerse yourself by listening as much as possible to the locals when they speak and if you have a TV at home just let it run in the background so you get the sound of the language.”

Similarly, Andrew in Vienna advised: “As challenging and frustrating as it can be, maintain focus on learning proper Hochdeutsch to establish the foundation, and then assimilate dialect idiosyncrasies. Find groups that foster a supportive environment to practice, such as Internations.”

Amelia, in Mondsee, Upper Austria, also advised others to embrace the local dialect and said: “There are set phrases that they use a lot in dialect. When you know these it is easier to sound like a local and understand the locals.”

Learning German in Austria is a stressful experience for some. Photo by energepic.com / Pexels.

English as a safety net

For some international residents surveyed by The Local, the solution to the issue of learning German in Austria was to mostly speak English.

One respondent in Graz said: “All courses are taught in high German but then in daily life everyone is speaking dialect. It gets very difficult to understand and reply with security in German, so I just prefer to use English.”

READ ALSO: 11 Austrian life hacks that will make you feel like a local

But others warned against using English as a safety net, which often just prolongs the learning process.

Terence in Vorarlberg said he now only speaks English “on the phone” after ten years in Austria, adding that “immersion is the only way” to get to grips with the language.

Find the right teacher

Several respondents said finding the right teacher or course was a key part of successfully learning German in Austria.

This is an approach advocated by Vienna-based German teacher Sarah Maria Malik who told The Local: “Finding the right German teacher is crucial and important because we spend around several hours together each week.

“Ask yourself, do you want to spend so many hours a week with your teacher or group? Always observe your emotions and feelings when studying German, personal reflection is very important.”

READ MORE: MAP: Who are the foreigners in Austria?

Sarah also said it’s crucial to identify the reasons for wanting to learn a language before diving in.

She said: “The important question when learning German is, what is my personal reality? It’s very individual, so find that out first.

“Once you know your most important goal or motivation, you should then find the best course. Some people like group courses because they want to get to know others, or they want a social environment. 

“But for others, time is precious, and they need to learn fast, so they take private lessons instead.”

Sarah also said fear is a big barrier for people learning German in Austria, which is something she aims to break down with her students through coaching and counselling.

She said: “The thought that it is too difficult to learn can be hard to overcome, but it can be a fun challenge and not a negative challenge. If you change your mindset and get a different attitude, then learning German starts to become fun.”

Useful links

Internations 

City of Vienna 

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