Category Archives: German Hacks

Kirsten Winkler, the host of German Hacks, shares practical tips and methods to hack the German language. With the German Hacks minimal effort maximum effect approach you’ll be able to concentrate on the important points of effectively speaking German.

German Hacks

German Hacks Episode 6 – Umgangs- und Jugendsprache

German Hacks

Hi and welcome to a new episode of German Hacks. I’m your host Kirsten Winkler.

This is the second episode about hacking German colloquial language or Umgangssprache as we call it in German.

Funny is that the speakers of Umgangssprache don’t actually call it like that as to them it’s simply the way they speak on a daily basis.

Let’s have a look at the different forms of colloquial German and slang and who are the people who speak these.

1) Anglizismen

Anglizismen refer to the influence of English on German and other languages as well. People who see this influence as a negative thing, call this combination of German and English Denglish – Denglish.

Most funny in this first group are the so called “Scheinanglizismen”. These are words that German believe to be actual English words, but when said to a native English speaker he or she won’t understand, or at least the word has a different meaning in English.
A true classic is the noun das Handy – das Handy which is a cell phone or mobile phone whereas the English handy – something is handy translates to “praktisch” or also “bequem”.

Another one I like is how Germans use Peeling, again a noun das Peeling which is exfoliation to us or also used for body scrub.
A good part of the German population now also translates the English “it makes sense” with “Es macht Sinn” instead of the correct German “Es hat Sinn”. So we’ve switched the verb from haben to machen.

Germans also like to use job titles of English origin such as Facility Manager instead of the simple (maybe too simple) Hausmeister or Key Account Manager für Betreuer wichtiger Kunden.

A third example in this group are verbs of English origin that we now use in German as if they were German and have never been anything else! Let’s take the verb to check – checken in German. As you can see we simply add our usual German -en ending to the verb and would then also conjugate in the traditional way: ich checke, du checkst, er/sie/es checkt and so on. And that’s how an English verb becomes a German one! Its meaning remains almost unchanged.

2) Jugendsprache

Jugendsprache is the mostly oral way how teenagers or young people of different age groups express themselves.
The influence of English is dominant which is for instance represented by the omnipresent “cool”.

Moreover, Jugendsprache is pretty explicit, it exaggerates, provokes and is ironic.

Without really having a function in a sentence, German teenagers constantly use the term “und so” – which I would roughly translate by “you know” (instead of the literal ‘and so’). Also “irgendwie” – somehow/somewhat is pretty popular. Irgendwie can then be combined with other words to express both positive and negative things. Examples that come to mind are terms like irgendwie schön, irgendwie cool or irgendwie scheisse.

Coming back to the verb “checken” I mentioned earlier in this podcast. It’s a favorite of German teens and can be used in various ways.
As a question for example in class: Checkst du das? Do you understand what we have to do? What is the exercise about?
As a recommendation using the imperative “Check das mal!” or also as an insult which is a newly created word “Nullchecker” which describes a person that doesn’t understand anything.

Lastly, teens also create their own words. Some of which are hard to understand and need an explanation but others quickly make their entrance into normal Umgangssprache. For example, “Egosurfen” describes the action of looking for your name on the Internet and “Fail or also epic Fail” is of course a big mistake or failure.

That’s it for this episode of German Hacks. Next time, we’re going to hack German grammar again. That should be fun! You can download this episode and all previous episodes of German Hacks on iTunes or via FairLanguages.com Until then, tschüss, bye, bye!

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German Hacks

German Hacks Episode 5 – Colloquial German is Geil

German HacksHi and welcome to a new episode of German Hacks. I’m your host Kirsten Winkler.

Today, I’d like to give you an introduction to German colloquial language or as we call it in German die Umgangssprache.

Umgang translates as contact or intercourse, so Umgangssprache is basically how we deal and speak with people in our daily lives.

This is why Umgangssprache is also called Alltagssprache – everyday language. This so called everyday language can have very different forms, such as people speaking in their regional dialect.

But what most people define as saloppe Umgangssprache, in English slang, is eine nachlässige, saloppe oder derbe Ausdrucksweise in contrast to Standardsprache (high or standard German in our case) or gepflegter Ausdrucksweise. nachlässig is an adjective and means careless or negligent – nachlässig; salopp also an adjective is casual, sloppy – salopp and lastly the adjective derb here means gross or rough. So profanity, colorful expressions or slanguage vs. style and diction.

In Germany, such as elsewhere, factors like age, social and sociological reasons and regional specialties define our German everyday language. This is why Umgangssprache is sometimes also referred to als der Volksmund – Volksmund, literally people’s mouth = how people really speak.

For Germany, Luther’s translation of the bible set the tone for a first standard German language as he wanted that really anyone would understand his bible.

Today, we can see more and more words that have their origin in German Umgangssprache being used on TV or in newspapers and magazines as well. Umgangssprache is shaping Standardeutsch.

I still remember the episode when I brought home the word “geil” for the first time. I was about 9 or 10 years old and it somehow appeared in school. From then on everything was “geil” for us. Literally geil means randy, but for us it was just similar to cool, so not really with a sexual or even vulgar connotation. To the contrary, it was a qualifier and made something better, greater more cool. However, you might imagine when I used it at home for the first time the reactions weren’t nearly as enthusiastic as my family understood it in its original vulgar sense. Today, virtually everybody keeps straight-faced. geil has made its way into everyday language, I wouldn’t say it’s the best word but it’s definitely not a shocker anymore.

Probably, the most famous or infamous example of “geil” in everyday language is an ad of a big electronics retailer: Geiz ist geil! – Geiz ist geil! ‘being stingy is cool or even sexy’ comes closest.

Normally, being stingy has more of a negative connotation but in Germany a bargain-hunter-mentality is seen as something smart, to be proud of. That’s why this blunt slogan really worked so well. It basically defines the 2000s in Germany, everybody could identify with it and still knows it today. When you congratulate a German on a bargain (yes, Germans show-off with bargains, others are jealous that they didn’t get such a deal or are simply impressed – but that’s a whole story in itself and says quite a bit about our mentality) Anyhow, when you congratulate a German on a bargain, he might proudly answer: Tja, Geiz ist geil!

Next time, I’ll give you some examples on how different social and ethnic groups in Germany use Umgangssprache and how they differ from one another.

See you next time for a new episode of German Hacks, tschüss, bye bye!

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German Hacks

German Hacks Episode 4 – More German Stereotypes

German HacksHi, I’m Kirsten Winkler. Welcome to episode 4 of German Hacks.

Here we are with stereotypes – in German “Klischees” once again, and today I would like to talk about some things about German people and their culture that I consider to be true. So, let’s see how I can demystify some things about the German character a bit.

OK, I hope you’re ready for a fun ride to hack German culture with me!

Certainly, a stereotype is always a simplified version of an opinion or an image about a nation, but sometimes these Klischees are based on reality whether that’s positive in some cases and rather unfortunate in others.

Deutsche sind unfreundlich – Germans are rude
We don’t see it like that, and if we knew that others perceive our behaviour as rude in a particular situation we would probably try to adjust and to rephrase it.

Germans simply want to be direct, we see that as something very positive for different reasons:
1) Being direct equals being honest for Germans. We will directly give our opinion on what we think about a proposal, an idea etc.

2) If a German person says yes, it means yes and you can count on that. The respective person will have thought their answer before telling you. On the other hand, this is true for a no. A no is a no, it’s not an instrument to negotiate for a better deal or something. We’re definitely not masters of disguise. You will know what we think when dealing with us, may it be in private life or doing business with Germans.

3) Germans don’t like to waste time with politeness and formulas. I have often found myself in situations here in France when I thought “OK, come to the point”! When you want something from me, say it directly (and don’t waste my time beating around the bush). I know that other cultures don’t see it as “um den heissen Brei herumreden”. This is what beating around the bush means in German. For them, it must be part of initiating a relationship or business relation, and they’ll come to the point next time because they feel the set the tone, established something. Not so Germans! We like to know what we’re up to the first time already. We like to be clear what something is about and not to waste our or the other party’s time.

For me, this is one of the nice things when I go to Germany as I know exactly what people think. No decoding, it’s just intuitive. But I know that others have to learn how to crack the code, just like I have to when I deal with other people.

Deutsche sind immer pünktlich – Germans are always punctual
Well, at least we do our outmost to be! Punctuality is considered a virtue, it shows your respect for friends and family and of course for your business partners.

It is seen as rude when someone is not punctual, a lack of respect for the other person. You should at least call when you can already see that you most likely will not be punctual.

9 o’clock means 9 – period. Don’t worry about politeness or think that the others might not be ready. When they told you at 9, they will be ready. So, being late is not seen as polite or to give the other party time to prepare, quite the opposite is true! It’s really impolite to let someone wait for you. Though I found this to be true in other countries when it comes to work and business appointments, Germans also apply this principle in their private life. When your host tells you you’re invited and to come at 8pm you should be there at 8.

Living abroad I’ve become a bit more relaxed over the years and won’t mind about 5 minutes or even 15 min (the famous academic quarter = das akademische Viertel) but I definitely switch back to German mode when I’m in Germany. My German friends wouldn’t understand or appreciate. Being late is what we call southern = südländisch.

The thing with the towels = Handtücher auf Liegen im Urlaub

That’s quite embarrassing to admit but it’s true.
When Germans are on holidays and the hotel or resort has a pool or beach, many scan the situation upon arrival to verify what the best places are to spend the sunbathing. To secure the “best places” each and every day, German are ready to do a lot. They get up very early in the morning, like 6ish, to put their towels on their favorite sun loungers.

If you’re what I would call a normal tourist and arrive at the beach at around 10 am wondering why there is no place anymore, the Germans will feel very smart. You’re going to hear phrases like “Hier ist besetzt” occupied / “Die Liegen sind reserviert” reserved, and admittedly the situation can get rather grotesque or escalade with people getting up a little earlier every day. Sad but true, I’m speaking from experience.

The same is true when you go on an organized trip by bus. Germans will check for the best seats (front row that is) and defend it by saying that they want to get the best pictures or film while the bus is driving. They’ll eat breakfast early to be the first ones to enter the bus.
So, in that sense Germans are quite competitive, but with a good sense of humor it can be quite fun to watch this, actually.

Next week, we’re going back to the language itself and talk about Slang in German. So, stay tuned. Tschüss, bye bye!

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German Hacks

German Hacks Episode 3 – German Stereotypes

German Hacks

Hi, I’m Kirsten Winkler. Welcome to episode 3 of German Hacks.

As announced last week, today I’m going to talk about stereotypes. Now you might wonder what stereotypes have to do with hacking the German language. I think that language and culture are closely related, one depends on the other in many situations.

There are famous quotes from writers or politicians everyone uses in his native language and there are things you don’t mention or don’t feel comfortable talking about. All this defines how we use language on a daily basis so knowing some of the stereotypes, true or not, can help you to circumnavigate some unpleasant situations when visiting Germany.

Being a German citizen but living abroad, I’ve reflected a bit on that topic and whether there is something to that question: what is particularly German versus what others think it is.

The most common stereotypes I have encountered seem to be of anglo-saxon origin and these are actually less German but rather Bavarian or, if we define it a bit broader, southern German stereotypes. But Germany is far more than our, admittedly beautiful, South.

OK, let’s bring it on with stereotype number 1: Germany is a country of beer lovers.

Although true for most part of the male population, the consumption of beer is actually in decline for quite some time now. The younger audience seems to prefer fancier and often high proof beverages. In night clubs you won’t see many people ordering a beer but more Vodka Redbull or so called Alcopops. And besides Germany has some excellent wine regions, mostly for whites but also some good pinot noir varieties. So Germans don’t always drink beer, and I recommend to get familiar with the concept of highly popular Apfelschorle.

If Germans do drink beer, it’s far more versatile than the ridiculously big “Humpen” you see at the Oktoberfest in Munich. There is Pilsener, Schwarzbier, Altbier, Schankbier, Kölsch… you name it. Basically every region in Germany has its own special type of beer.

Speaking about the Oktoberfest. Yes, it’s well-known throughout the world but it’s only a few weeks in the year and only in Munich, though I have to admit that the concept is so popular that other regions in Germany also imported the Oktoberfest. Well done, Bavarians! But for all of them one thing is true: these days, Oktoberfest has mainly become an excellent opportunity to take tourists to the cleaner’s = jemanden wie eine Weihnachtsgans ausnehmen (in German).

Which brings us to the stereotype of Lederhosen and Dirndl.

I guess, that’s particularly based on tourists from around the world visiting Munich and Bavaria. Back home they apply this concept to the whole country but sorry, that cannot be upheld. Basically no one outside of Bavaria is wearing Lederhosen and Dirndl. If at all, traditional dresses are seen at local holidays or in very touristy areas like the Schwarzwald / the Black Forest region.

Last but not least, if you really want to embarrass your German friends or host, bring up the good old Nazi conversation.

In about 75% of my talks with people from outside of Germany, I can count down to the moment when Hitler, the Second World War and everything related is brought up. There seems to be a more relaxed attitude with the topic in other countries, but for us Germans it is still a very difficult part of our history. Of course, we will talk about it when asked yet don’t expect Germans to feel comfortable about it.

The thing is, we are not in denial about it. I think Germans are probably the only nation that has faced such a deep self reflection of their own dark pages in history. A huge chunk of our curricula in school are dedicated towards the reworking of the Third Reich, what led to it and there is still a feeling of guilt deeply entrenched in our common awareness.

Hence, if you are really curious about this part of German history do yourself and your German friends a favor and visit one of the many exhibitions on the topic in Germany or watch one of the infamous documentaries of Professor Guido Knopp.

In next week’s episode I’m going to speak about some stereotypes that are actually true, unfortunately. So, stay tuned. Tschüss, bye bye!

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German Hacks

German Hacks Episode 2 – German Perfect Tense with sein or haben?

German HacksHi, I am Kirsten Winkler and this is German Hacks.

Last week on German Hacks we talked about past tense and that in spoken German we can forget about two of the three past tenses, Präteritum and Plusquamperfekt, and instead concentrate our efforts on learning how to use the Perfekt well.

Perfekt, once again, is a compound tense which means you need an auxiliary, namely ‘sein or ‘haben’ which we have to conjugate in the Präsens (present tense) depending on our personal pronouns and then combine it with the Partizip Perfekt (past participle or third form) of our main verb.

But how do we actually decide which of the two auxiliaries we have to use when?

Well, of course you could simply google it or look it up in a dictionary as in good dictionaries it’s usually indicated how the different verbs from their Perfekt. That’s not what I call hacking German though, it’s laziness and not very smart.

Let’s explore some other possibilities!

In general, the majority of verbs require that you use ‘haben’ when you want to use them in the Perfekt tense. This is quite handy, I reckon, as we can now concentrate on the exception to this general rule, thus the verbs that need ‘sein’ in the Perfekt.

There are basically two easy rules to follow.

Just one sentence for all you grammar geeks! Intransitive verbs or verbs used in an intransitive way require the auxiliary ‘sein’. OK and now for the rest of us, once again in simple language:
First rule of thumb is that all so called verbs of movement use ‘sein’ for their Perfekt forms. When you want to form a Perfekt, simply try to visualize if your verb expresses some kind of movement. Classic example are ‘gehen’(to go), ‘rennen’ (to run) or ‘fahren’ (to drive).

The second rule is that you also need to use ‘sein’ with verbs that express a change in state or condition. Think of verbs like ‘einschlafen’ (to fall asleep) or ‘schmelzen’ (to melt). Perhaps ironically the verb that expresses ‘to stay’, in German that’s ‘bleiben’ also forms its Perfekt with ‘sein’! But generally spoken, this rule like no.1 is also pretty accurate.

The auxiliaries however are special cases, so I’m simply going to tell you how these form their Perfekt forms: ‘sein’ forms with sein, for instance “Sie ist in München gewesen”/ she was in Munich; ‘haben’ forms its Perfekt with haben, like in “Wir haben immer viel Spass mit Bettina und Markus gehabt” / We’ve always had so much fun with Bettina and Markus; ‘werden’ forms its Perfekt with sein: Die Zwillinge sind drei Jahre alt geworden / The twins turned three.

As German Hacks is designed to be hands-on, now, it’s practise time! Try it out with the following verbs: verschwinden (to vanish, disappear), sterben (to die), kochen (to cook), suchen (to search, look for), and ask yourself whether they express a movement or a change of state or mind and post your answers and the conjugated forms in the comment section!

In the next episode we will leave German grammar a bit behind and hack German stereotypes instead. We’ll go beyond Bier, Bavaria and Lederhosen. Until then Tschüss, bye bye!

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German Hacks

German Hacks Episode 1 – Hacking the Past Tense in German

German HacksHi, I am Kirsten Winkler and this is German Hacks.

As promised in last week’s episode, today we are going to hack the past tense in German. Like all future episodes of German Hacks, this should be seen as a quick hack and not an extensive linguistic analysis.

Let’s start with a quick recap: The German language has three past tenses: Präteritum, Perfekt and Plusquamperfekt which equal Simple Past and the two compound past tenses, the Present Perfect and the Past Perfect.

Plusquamperfekt is rarely used in German so: let’s forget about it. This leaves us with two past tenses and learners seem to struggle more with the difference between Präteritum (sprach, ging etc.) and Perfekt (habe gesprochen, bin gegangen etc.), anyway.

As you all have different mother tongues I’m going to try and not compare the use too much with Simple Past and Present Perfect in English, but rather try to explain the German mindset.
This leads us to our second hack of the day: forget about the Präteritum when you speak German and just concentrate on the Perfekt tense!

Exceptions to this rule of thumb are the three auxiliaries sein, haben and werden and their respective past tenses ich war, ich hatte and ich wurde. You absolutely need to know their Präteritum for two reasons (a) to form the Perfekt and b) we frequently use them in conversations.

Although we have rules when to use Präteritum and when Perfekt, when Germans speak they seem to “forget” or shut I say “ignore” these rules in favor of the Perfekt, so why not you as well? You will perfectly blend in as the correct use might even be received as awkward.

The Präteritum is reserved for newspaper articles, books, formal emails and these kind of situations as it is perceived as being very formal.

Perfekt being a compound tense which means it consists of a conjugated form of an auxiliary and the past participle of the main verb, might be a little trickier to master at the beginning but is in everyday use and therefore absolutely worth spending some time on mastering it. So learn your a) PPP, the past participles of the verbs or 3rd form and usually the third column in the verb tables you have to learn such as gearbeitet, gemacht, getrunken etc and b) the exceptions when to use sein and not haben as your auxiliary which will be the hack you are going to learn in next week’s episode.

Again, this hack is not meant to replace “proper” German learning and if you really want to develop a deeper understanding of German, it is very interesting to learn about the nuances and little difference between Präteritum and Perfekt. But to get started or even when living in Germany, for your everyday conversations you’re absolutely fine when you master Perfekt.

Here are two extra recommendations:

English native speakers must liberate themselves from thinking in the same mindset “here I use simple past / here present perfect, therefore in German I have to use Präteritum in this sentence and Perfekt in that one”. This does not work, it only gets you frustrated.

If you speak French as native language, it’s a bit easier as the German use of Perfekt relates to how the French use their Passé Composé in spoken French.

To sum this up: a) forget about the Plusquamperfekt b) forget about the Präteritum in spoken German with the exceptions earlier mentioned.

And that is how you hack the past tense in German. Next week, we’ll speak about the Perfekt tense more in detail, and hack whether to use of sein or haben with a main verb.

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German Hacks

German Hacks Episode 0 – Introduction

German HacksHi, my name is Kirsten Winkler and this is German Hacks.

Some of you might know me from my other German project Deutsch Happen which is a YouTube video series I started more than four years ago.

Before I explain what German Hacks is all about, let’s talk about the process of learning a new language. It is an exciting journey and there are lots of benefits to it. The obvious one is being able to communicate with people of a different mother tongue, but also a new cultural understanding and it also has positive effects on your brain which stays fits when being trained.

That said, I’m also sure that almost every one of you has experienced moments of frustration when language learning become a tedious process, especially when learning grammar.

And German is no different in that aspect! Being a rather structured language, you can spend hours learning about tiny little differences and nuances. Even the basic grammar rules often get students to the point where they’d rather poke their eyes with a pointy stick. And let’s face it, most German teachers insist on learning all the basics before they lead you to your actual goal: speaking German.

German Hacks is not at all about this type of learning! It follows the minimum effort maximum effect approach. Don’t get me wrong: as a German native speaker and language coach I truly appreciate any learner’s efforts to speak and write proper German. But sometimes (most of the time?) it is simply not necessary to get into the tiniest details in order to achieve a good level of fluency in German.

With the German Hacks minimal effort maximum effect approach you’ll be able to concentrate on the important points of effectively speaking German. We hack the language, take out the parts that you won’t need most of the time or that are simply not efficient. Instead we will learn simple concepts and rules of thumb that will get you through everyday conversations easily.

German Hacks is for the 80% of learners who simply want to communicate in German and don’t have the objective to become a specialist in German studies not to say the next Goethe or Schiller. And if you think about it, this is also true for most Germans.

In the German Hacks series I share some practical advice with you on how to make the process of learning German as a foreign language more efficient and more fun, hence to show you the areas it’s really worth putting your effort in and get measurable results.

As I said, this is to break down some of the anxiety and frustration that might occur at some points in the learning process, and using German Hacks you’ll be fine in 80% of all everyday-life situations. Of course, if you then really feel you want to go for the last 20% I encourage you to definitely do so!

I hope, I got you a bit excited about this new project. I surely am! Next week we are going to talk about hacking the past tense in German.

Take care everyone, tschüss, bye bye!

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Title Music by: Dan-O at DanoSongs.com | Undiscovered Oceans