I have a friend who is learning German from CDs; these CDs are designed much the same way as their French or Spanish equivalents. My stepson is about to start German at school; he will be taught it much the same way he has been taught French. I have acquaintances who have attended German night classes; which were much the same as French and Spanish night classes.
This is madness.
German isn’t like French or Spanish because German, like English, is a Germanic language. That means English and German are fundamentally the same language; but English and French, and English and Spanish, are not. This should completely change the way we tackle it, because it also makes German easier, not harder.
There is no point in the endless nonsense of teaching people how to order a vanilla ice cream or ask the way to the station, when in fact they may never need to do so and this merely wastes time doing much more obvious things to make a new language accessible. If it is not accessible, people (particularly boys) will lose interest.
A few immediate vocabulary hints would suddenly make the language more accessible from the beginning:
– hier ‘here’, ich kann ‘I can’, wir machen ‘we make’, neu/alt ‘new/old’, etc.
A quick sound shift suddenly makes more words much more obvious (note this shift generally does not apply to Dutch, given in brackets, with the exception of the last one):
– Apfel (appel), Pfeffer (pepper), Schiff (schip) – ‘apple’, ‘pepper’, ‘ship’ (thus German <f/pf> to English/Dutch <p>)
– geben (geven), haben (hebben), leben (leven) – ‘give’, ‘have’, ‘live’ (thus German <b> to English <v>)
– Wasser (water), Fuss (voet), Zehn (tien) – ‘water’, ‘foot’, ‘ten’ (thus German <s/z> to English/Dutch <t>)
– Kirche (kerk), Kind (kind), Hecke (heg) – ‘church’, ‘child’, ‘hedge’ (thus German/Dutch <k/g> to English <ch/dg>)
Generally, some German prefixes can be ignored (at least initially), notably be-, g(e)-, er-:
– begreifen (begrijpen), Glueck (Geluk), erschiessen (schieten) – grip/grasp, luck, shoot [and hit]
Generally, German ver- may be ignored or switched to ‘for-‘:
– vergeben (vergeven), verschiessen (verschieten) – forgive, shoot [and miss]
German -en may be a verb ending corresponding to (‘to…’); -er/-est may be a verb ending corresponding to ‘-er/-est’ as in English; or they (together with -em, -es or just -e) may be adjectival endings we don’t need to worry about at the start:
– schiessen (schieten), lauter (luider), reichem (rijke) – ‘to shoot’, ‘louder’, ‘rich’.
There now… we have already made a raft of German texts more accessible, and we’ve thrown in exactly the same service for Dutch at the same time. They, like English, are West Germanic languages and ultimately they derive from precisely the same source and are thus fundamentally (I use that word carefully) the same.
Forget your vanilla ice cream or your directions to the station, the above text alone would take someone new to German (or even Dutch) far further than a year’s course set up for French and Spanish rather than German (or Dutch).
We must completely change the way we treat Germanic languages.