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.