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Lesson Transcript

Rebecca: Hi everyone, welcome back to the All About series!
Widar: Hello!
Rebecca: You’re in for a very useful lesson today.
Widar: That’s right. We’re here to give you some tips on how to avoid common mistakes made by learners of German.
Rebecca: Now remember, nothing’s wrong with making mistakes.
Widar: It’s how you learn!
Rebecca: Today, we’ll just give you a heads up so that you can be aware, and it will make your German language learning experience a lot easier!
Widar: Let’s get started!
Rebecca: Tip number one. Think German!
Widar: The number one mistake made by beginners is thinking too literally and translating word for word.
Rebecca: Oh, yes. And that’s why our advice is, "Think German!"
Widar: Yes. Think German!
Rebecca: As you progress, you will see that even as a beginner you can learn to think in German, even if it’s just in phrases at the beginning.
Widar: If you just keep translating from English to German, you’re doing something wrong. You might always make the same grammatical or vocabulary mistakes.
Rebecca: That is not what we recommend you to do.
Widar: German doesn’t always put things together like English. So, try to hear German in your head!
Rebecca: Read German books, listen to German podcasts, radio, or television shows and speak German, because that’s an effective way to learn it.
Widar: Exactly!
Rebecca: Tip number two. The thing with "Sie" and "Du." Watch your politeness level!
Widar: Yes. We don’t want you to mess up with people when you’re in Germany. That’s why we want you to watch your politeness level!
Rebecca: In English, addressing someone with "you" works in all kinds of situations. In German, this is different. There are two kinds of "you."
Widar: First, is the "you" used in formal situations, and then another "you" is used for informal, familiar use.
Rebecca: What’s the formal "you" in German?
Widar: It is called "Sie," and if you write it, always start with a capital '-S.' Sie is used to address one person (singular) and multiple persons (plural).
Rebecca: When will we use "Sie?"
Widar: In all kinds of situations, where you have to speak formally. For example, if you are talking to your teachers, or to elders, and anyone else who follows under the category of civil servant, clerk, or officer.
Rebecca: Okay. And what’s the informal, familiar "you"?
Widar: The familiar "you" is called "du" when addressing one person, and the plural is "ihr."
Rebecca: "Du" and "ihr." When do we use them?
Widar: In familiar situations, like when you’re chatting with friends, or speaking with kids or young people.
Rebecca: The English language has known this distinction in the past. "You" was used for "Sie" and "thou" or "thee" were related to "du," "ihr." For some reason, English now uses only one form of "you" for all situations.
Widar: Yeah, and because of this lack of distinction, English speakers often have problems learning when to use "Sie" (formal situations) and "du," "ihr" (familiar situations).
Rebecca: Maybe one example, before we take a look at the next tip!
Widar: Okay. German knows two versions of the question, "What’s your name?"
Rebecca: First, is the formal one, the polite one.
Widar: "Wie heißen Sie?"
Rebecca: And now the familiar one.
Widar: "Wie heißt du?"
Rebecca: Alright. Next one is tip number three. Watch your case!
Widar: Unlike English, which usually doesn’t inflect nouns and adjectives, German still inflects nouns, adjectives, and pronouns into grammatical cases.
Rebecca: What is 'case' anyway?
Widar: In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun indicates its grammatical function in a phrase or clause. The case defines the grammatical roles of a noun or pronoun as subject, object, possessor, and so on.
Rebecca: How many cases does the German language have?
Widar: German knows four grammatical cases. Those four are nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative case. Cases in German are indicated by the endings on articles and adjectives.
Rebecca: Okay, but how do we know when to use the right case?
Widar: Well, the case of a noun depends on its grammatical function in the sentence. So, we use nominative case for the subject of the sentence, the thing doing the action. In the sentence "Peter spielt Fußball" ("Peter plays soccer."), Peter is the subject doing the action.
Rebecca: And so he’s in nominative case. Got it!
Widar: Genitive case is used to indicate the possessor of another noun. For example, "Peters Buch liegt auf dem Tisch." ("Peter’s book is on the table.") The noun "Peter's" is set in genitive case (Peter plus '-s') because Peter is the possessor of the book.
Rebecca: Then we have dative case, which indicates the indirect object of a verb. In the sentence, "Peter gab mir das Buch" ("Peter gave me the book."), "mir" ("me") is set in dative case.
Widar: Accusative case indicates the direct object receiving the action. So, in the sentence, "Peter spielt Fußball" ("Peter plays soccer."), "Fußball" is the thing receiving the action, that’s why it is used in the accusative case.
Rebecca: Okay, that was tough. The next tips are number four and number five. Watch out for semantic differences!
Widar: Okay. First, we should explain what 'semantic' means.
Rebecca: Yeah. Semantic is a linguistic term and refers to the meaning of a word. In many cases, the meaning of a German word cannot be transferred perfectly from German to English and vice versa. Words and their translations don’t match one hundred percent.
Widar: True. They are not one hundred percent equal.
Rebecca: Here, we will show you two considerable semantic differences, and we’re going to explain them.
Widar: We will explain how to distinguish between a friend and a romantic partner.
Rebecca: Interesting.
Widar: Indeed! And we'll take a look at the different meanings of "to study."
Rebecca: You mean as in studying the romantic partner?
Widar: Well, maybe even that. (laughing)
Rebecca: Okay. So, there are two different words for "friend" in German - "Freund," which is masculine, and "Freundin," which is feminine.
Widar: When talking about "more than one female friend," use the plural "Freundinnen." The plural for male friends, or male and female friends together, is "Freunde."
Rebecca: Now that we’ve cleared this up, let’s talk about some cultural habits. I know that Germans are very picky about whom they call a "Freund."
Widar: So true. The German term "Freund" is reserved for close friends. Germans put emphasis on a distinction between public and private spheres and are choosy about who they allow into their personal inner circle.
Rebecca: Okay. So, for that reason, they probably just have a few really good "Freunde," while most people outside their inner circle are "Bekannte" ("acquaintances").
Widar: Yes. But things are even more complicated.
Rebecca: Now we’re talking about the romantic part we’ve promised.
Widar: The words "Freund" and "Freundin" are also used when talking about romantic partners, "Freund" meaning "boyfriend" and "Freundin" meaning "girlfriend."
Rebecca: But then, how do they distinguish between a friend and a lover?
Widar: I'll try to explain this with an example. The sentence "Peter ist mein Freund" ("Peter is my friend.") or ("Peter is my boyfriend.") is ambiguous. Peter could be either her boyfriend or just one of her close friends. To avoid this ambiguity, the phrase "ein Freund von mir," or "eine Freundin von mir" ("a friend of mine") is often used to indicate that someone is just a friend.
Rebecca: So if Germans say, "Peter ist mein Freund," it’s ambiguous and you have to search for other hints that might indicate if he is her friend or her boyfriend.
Widar: Exactly. If Peter is her boyfriend, she might say, "Peter ist mein fester Freund," which means "Peter is my steady boyfriend," putting the adjective "fester" ("steady") before "Freund" ("friend").
Rebecca: Nice! And in this case she says, "Peter ist ein Freund von mir" ("Peter is a friend of mine."). Then it’s clear that Peter is just a friend. Now, let’s move on to the fifth and final tip for today, "to study."
Widar: In English, "to study" means "to learn, to read, to practice, or to memorize," while in German, we distinguish between two verbs - "lernen" and "studieren."
Rebecca: "Lernen" means "to learn," and is used to describe these learning activities, but the meaning of "studieren" ("to study") is very limited.
Widar: It means "to be a university student" or "to major" in a particular subject.
Rebecca: So, a high school student can’t "studieren" ("study") because in German, this verb is limited to college or university use.
Widar: Mostly. A good example that helps you to distinguish both verbs is, "Ich lerne Deutsch" ("I’m learning or studying German, for a test."), and "Ich studiere Deutsch." ("I’m majoring in German at College or University.")
Rebecca: Yeah. That’s quite simple! Now, how about the noun "student?"
Widar: Same thing applies here. The English word "student" can refer to "anyone who attends school," from elementary school to college or university. In contrast, a German "Student" (masculine) or "Studentin" (feminine) is "a person attending a university or another institution of higher education."
Rebecca: Okay. So, you can’t call a middle school child or high school student a "Student" or "Studentin?!"
Widar: No, you can’t. The terms "Schüler" (masculine) and "Schülerin" (feminine) are used to describe "students in primary or secondary education" (elementary schools, middle schools, junior high, or high schools).
Rebecca: Okay. In German, it’s really important not to mix these things up!
Widar: Now, we can’t let you go without a bonus tip. It’s a tricky one, so please give us another minute to explain it.
Rebecca: Here we go. The Bonus tip. Watch out for similar sounding words!
Widar: Now this could happen in any language, but even though German has a relatively huge number of sounds, there are tons of words that sound really similar.
Rebecca: The difference being only one vowel or syllable or something like that. And when you’re starting out and still have a small vocabulary, it becomes even easier to mix words up.
Widar: Right.
Rebecca: Can you give us some infamous examples?
Widar: Sure. The first one is "Lehre" and "Leere." The first "Lehre" means "science" or "theory," and is spelled "-L-e-h-r-e," while the second "Leere" means "emptiness" and is spelled "-L-e-e-r-e."
Rebecca: Okay, that’s quite a difference, but mind you, when I was at a university and they introduced a dozen theories, I felt very empty inside. (laughing) Okay, how about another example?
Widar: "Wände," a noun meaning "walls," and "Wende," a noun meaning "turn" or "change." Their only difference lies in their second letter. "Wände" ("walls") is written with the umlaut "-ä," and "Wende" ("change") is written with the vowel "-e."
Rebecca: Actually, "Wände" and "Wende" were tragic reality for many Germans back in the days when Germany was split into East and West from 1949 until 1989.
Widar: Yes. "Wände" ("walls") were constructed as a partition wall between East and West, and they brought "Wende" ("change") to Germany.
Rebecca: Okay. You can find these and more examples in our accompanying PDF guide.
Widar: Make sure to listen to and practice these examples so that when the time comes, you’ll have the right word with the right pronunciation!
Rebecca: All right, well, there are our Top five tips for avoiding common mistakes in German!
Widar: Keep these in mind and your German learning experience will be made a lot easier!
Rebecca: You’ll be on the right track!
Widar: So, stop by GermanPod101.com and pick up the lesson notes.
Rebecca: It has the conversation transcript.
Widar: Vocab, sample sentences and a grammar explanation
Rebecca: And a cultural insights section.
Widar: Seeing the German…
Rebecca: really helps remember faster.
Widar: But don’t take our word for it. Please have a look for yourself.
Rebecca: And let us know what you think.
Widar: Thank you for listening
Rebecca: See you next time!
Widar: Auf Wiedersehen!
Rebecca: Goodbye!