Feb 182008

I have been meaning to write about this whole English/German-thing for ages. I had a post all planned out, it had the working title “Does my blog have a German accent?” and I even thought about recording me reading it. So that you could really judge how bad my German accent is. But then, of course, for the purpose of this blog it doesn’t matter how good or bad my pronunciation is.

Another thing pointing me in this direction was a friend of mine who phoned me and said, “I don’t like reading your blog as much anymore because you’re no longer posting in German. Because with the German posts I could hear your voice.” Implying that with the English she can’t. My husband, on the other side, says that my voice comes through regardless of the language I’m writing in. And I tend to agree.

What prompted me to actually sit down and write this post was Hel’s post about English as a global language. That post brought me back to my own dilemma, to why I post in English. And if that is a good or a bad thing.

It feels weird every time I think about it. Here I sit, a German, in Germany, surrounded by Germans, writing a blog post in English. Why? There are hundreds of perfectly good German blogs out there. My German definitely is better than my English. At least I never have to look up words or phrases.

So, why do I write in English? When I first started this blog I wrote my first post in German. Then I left it at that and didn’t write another post for a couple of months. Then I started reading a few more blogs. I found them through blogger’s “next blog”-button. Not the best method but everybody has to start somewhere. And I got annoyed that a) there were so many really dull blogs out there, and b) I couldn’t read a lot of them because they were written in languages I don’t understand. Then I thought a bit and came to the conclusion that, well, there might be quite a few people not understanding German either. And in what I consider to be my first official blog post I announced a language switch to English. Then I thought of the few people whom I knew of who were reading the blog, and how they were all German and most of them considered reading something in English a mild form of torture (I also know quite a few people who consider any reading a form of torture but those don’t read the blog of course. (And yes, I know quite a few weirdos, obviously.)), and I got torn and tried posting everything in both languages on separate blogs.

I don’t do that anymore and so the people I know in real life, you know mostly Germans, who want to keep up with my life have to read the blog in English. This might be more of a problem if I wrote in, let’s say Portuguese or Mandarin, but most people in Germany have a fairly good grasp of basic English.

I really thought that most people knew English as good as I but I had to learn that that’s not the case. I thought that I had learned English in school, and that was that, until I found out that my husband, who learned as much English in school as I (that’s nine years with English as a main subject in the past two years before university), didn’t have the same vocabulary. We found out that a) the English we learn in school is supposedly British English (I’m a bit doubtful if that resembles anything actually spoken in Great Britain), not American. and b) that reading and talking English for about twenty years after school had also made me learn a thing or two. Also I thought about what I consume and found that I live on an almost exclusive diet of American and English books, movies, TV series, music, and lately blogs.

That’s nothing extraordinary by the way, most of what we watch, read, and listen to comes from the US, only the books and movies get translated. But I’m not alone in my preference for the “original” thing (something Germans have always valued). Nowadays when I want to buy an American book I go over to Amazon.de and – click – it is shipped to my home immediately. About 15 years ago I would have entered the local bookshop, got the saleswoman to look through her catalogue and I would have left the shop with the promise that they would call me after the book arrived about six weeks later.

While I love it that I have all of this foreign culture at my fingertips it also means that German culture is deteriorating a bit. And German language with it. You can see the signs everywhere. At the train station the signs saying “Schalter 1” have been replaced with “counter 1”. The bakery is called a “back shop” (“Back” refers to “backen” which means “bake”. Yes, I know this is funny.) One of my all time favorites was a poster announcing a New Year’s Eve party saying “Sekt for free!” (“Sekt” is champagne.) And I already ranted about “Cashmere Schal”. It’s disgusting.

So, I like to have my languages a bit more separate. While I will still say “T-Shirt” and “Jeans” instead of “Leibchen” and “Nietenhosen” (Those German words were used only during the fifties, and most Germans don’t know them anymore.) , I will at least try to know which language I’m currently speaking and chose my words accordingly.

Sometimes that’s not easy. When writing this post in my head I thought about how I can use words in German “mit schlafwandlerischer Sicherheit”, and there is really no adequate way to say that in English. Well, I could try “with somnambulistic security”. Now you know what I mean, don’t you. It means that you can do something in your sleep, without thinking about it, and without taking a wrong step.

The fact that convinced me to continue posting in English (apart from the fact that the English blog had about three times the readers of the German one and about five times the comments) was the English-writing mommyblogger community. So far I haven’t found a German blogger community I feel at home with. While German bloggers go all about how they like to write stories and post them, most of them have that kind of blog where you post a paragraph or two, maybe only a sentence at a time. While those blogs don’t take so much time to read I find that I prefer blogs with a bit more substance to the post. (Which you can easily tell by the way this particular post keeps scrolling and scrolling along your monitor. Sorry about that, but then look at the upside: there were only about five posts in January…)

When I started writing in English I was a bit nervous of course. Would my posts be full of Germanisms? Would people laugh at how bad my English was? But then I thought about what I’m reading in both languages and how not all of that was well written either. I know enough to avoid the most common pitfalls, like very German syntax, or using the word “normal” all the time, or writing “handy” when I mean “cell phone”. I tried to avoid the mistakes my English teacher had always marked red, until I realized that that’s the exact same thing I’m doing in German all the time! It doesn’t have to do with me being non-fluent in another language, it’s my personal style! And since this is a blog and not homework I am free to write as I like, and you as the readers are free to go wherever you want. Of course I hope very much that you stay, so I try to make things as interesting as possible, and also stay under 5,000 words per post.

I still feel a bit uneasy about the whole thing. While a French accent is considered to be cute and sexy, a German accent only reminds us of war and soldiers. The one with the German accent is always the bad guy. And I know that I have to have an accent, since all the Americans and Brits I ever met who speak German do have an accent. Sometimes only slightly and sometimes so heavy that it grates on my ears after half an hour or so. But then I don’t want to pass as something that I’m not, I only like to mingle with people I like.

So, in one way it’s a problem and in another it isn’t. What do you think? German accent? Or not? (You see, you should always end a blog post with a question so that people feel compelled to comment. But then you should also make your headline a bit more streamlined like “How to blog in a foreign language” because “How to …” and “x reasons why…” is always good.)

P.S.: My son is much better by the way.

  12 Responses to “The language thing”

  1. I don’t hear an accent when I read your blog – and I’m the kind of person who very easily does supply accents for the written word. I may notice the occasional very minor misuse of a word, and when that happens it always takes a minute for me to recall, “Oh, right, she’s writing in a foreign language!”

    Personally, I have such positive associations with Germany that I really love talking to someone with a German accent. I’ve always wondered what an American/Canadian accent sounds like in German – does it sound too mellifluous, like English when spoken by a French-speaking person, or guttural and halting?

  2. i am so glad you picked up on Hel’s post – it’s rattled around in my brain for awhile now, the simple globalization of english and it’s pros and cons, and how you, to have your blog the way it is had to give things up while i gave nothing up at all, but can never know what it is like inside a german mommybloggers group, either.

  3. Although I haven’t heard your speaking voice, I have heard your singing voice, with English lyrics (when there were words 🙂 ). I guess that’s what I hear in my head when I read your blog.

    It’s unfortunate that you had to make a choice – I recall it took quite a bit of time to do both blogs. And now, you blog even less on the one blog, I notice unhappily.

    I would find Germanisms in your writing interesting (dare I say “cute”), because I like a more relaxed, colloquial style.

    Perhaps because Americans have very short “national” memories, I think that most Americans of our generation do not automatically equate Germans with the stereotypes.

    As a child, my second family had a mother who was a German immigrant. They went to Germany every year and had relatives visit here, whom I met. My own family is predominantly German, although in the US for about 300 years. We just found out that one branch of the family that we thought was Scottish is actually descended from Johann Augustus Scheerer of Bayern. So no German prejudice here.

  4. Bubandpie, I have been thinking about how to describe how an American/Canadian accent sounds like in German the whole morning, but I just can’t do it. It certainly isn’t like hearing a French-speaking person speak English. Basically it’s that some of the sounds are off. You probably know how it sounds when a German-speaker speaks English badly – like that only the other way around. Then there are typical errors such as getting the gender of nouns wrong, not being able to speak “ü”, and such.

    I find that a lot of people who are reading my blog are somehow connected with Germany. I thought that there must be negative associations because almost all Germans that I see in American movies are Nazis.

    It’s nice to hear that I don’t “sound” totally German. (I like the wording “occasional very minor misuse of a word”.)

    I had to look up “mellifluous”, though.

    Jen, I don’t know how it is to be inside a German mommybloggers group either. As far as I know there is no such thing. Also German bloggers don’t comment as much. I’m reading one of the top 100 German bloggers and she gets only about half a dozen comments per post. To me it doesn’t feel as if I had to give up something but that the other language opens up a second world for me.

    De, I knew that you have German roots. I’m trying to blog more again (hangs her head).

  5. For me, a German accent means being with my in-laws and b/c I like my inlaws, there is no sinister association whatsoever. I don’t hear a German accent when I read your posts but I do sometimes get a sense of German sense of reserve that comes through in your writing. Now that may have to do with you being German and it may have to do with you being you. I do think, though, that b/c English is a second language for you, you use far fewer colloquialisms and flippant expressions than most bloggers and that’s what contributes to my notion of “reserve.”

    I find that my writing has a strong Canadian accent and that’s not only b/c of the number of “ehs” that pepper the blog. I try to write in a conversational style and my style of conversation is highly regional and colloquial. I usually can tell a Canadian blogger from an American blogger within about 10 posts.

    Hel’s post about language was brilliant. I need to go back and tell her that (I wasn’t commenting at all that week b/c of life circumstances). I am quite disturbed at the way English is leading to the deterioration of other languages. It’s not that having a universal language isn’t useful, it’s just that so much of this gets done in the interests of commerce and language, all languages, are so much more complex and artistic than the guttural expression of dollars and cents.

    Great post, Su. And, as an after thought, thanks for the info on reproductive choice in Germany.

  6. oops. Sorry for so many typos. No time to proof-read.

  7. I would love to write in a second language the way you do in English. It was something I loved about Europe, the multitude of tongues most people spoke in.

    I am so glad your son is better. That photo was so ….vulnerable.

  8. Your German is better than your English? Your German must be stellar then, because your English is awesome.

    To tell you the truth, i thought that English was your first language. I admire anyone who can speak more than one language. I wish i could.

  9. I have to admit, I don’t hear a German accent when I read your posts. Your written English is excellent, and probably better than most people who claim English as their first language believe it or not.

    I’m in awe of anyone who can speak more than one language fluently… primarily because I always wanted to speak French better than I do. (It’s rather pathetic, actually, but I do try on occasion.)

  10. I didn’t know you were German and in Germany. Do you know my friend, Rupert, from Wurzburg?

  11. Hi,

    I found your blog “accidentely”.I am a German exchange-student in Arizona right now.
    Many people tell me that they love my accent.I work really hard on the germanisms,the “th” and all this so “typical” German stuff.
    Most of the people I’ve met didn’t even realize that I was German.They hear my accent,look at me and say “I love your accent!Where are you from?” People thought I was from France,Russia or even Great Britain or Canada.
    I hated listening to students in my English class back in Germany who didn’t even care about their pronunciation.
    I enjoyed reading your blog because I think about my accent a lot the last time.
    In my opinion,your English is excellent. 🙂 (and everyone here in the US will tell you that anyway 😉 )

  12. you write English beautifully..and I was so pleasantly surprised when I popped over to your blog from ravelry and saw it was in english…I hate that I can’t read the other languages as I think people especialy knitters are so very interesting. i also cried when I saw your beautiful yarn for mystic light and saw that there was yet another store full of beautiful things that I totally could not understand…I sure do wish my family had still spoken a little german 🙂

Leave a Reply to Alessa Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.