German is an amazing language to learn, and each person has their own reasons for studying it. Though it shares many ties to English, and as a language can be considered very mathematical and logical in its structure, it can still be incredibly difficult! We’ve compiled a list of common pitfalls in studying German, so you know you’re not alone!
So incredibly unlike English, every noun has a gender. In German there are three genders; feminine (like die Freiheit), masculine (like der Arzt), and neutral (like das Material). All nouns fall into one of these genders, and though there is a loose set of rules (more on that later), there are plenty of exceptions and often it involves memorization to really get it right.
This one isn’t as tricky to learn and stick to, but in the early stages of learning German it may throw you off. All nouns are capitalized in German, and you may find the longer you study the language the more that starts to creep into your English writing as well! It might help to pretend everything is a proper noun, though really it’s more confusing when you’re reading at the beginning, and you find yourself thinking, “Is that a person’s name? Is it a place? Oh, it just means doctor?”
In German, word order is important, but it’s not quite as important as in English. Depending on the purpose of your noun, you will change the pronoun to signify it’s purpose in the sentence. It’s a bit tricky to explain, so let me give you an example. Der Hund beißt den Mann means, The dog bites the man. At the same time, Den Mann beißt der Hund means the same thing. In German there are 4 cases; nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive all of which have their own pronoun endings. Keeping them straight can sometimes make your head spin, but with practice it is doable!
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German words are great in that they’re very practical, so if you come across a new compound word, you can usually figure out what it means by breaking it down. The hard part? With words like Rhababerbarbarabarbarbarenbartbarbierbierbarbärbel it’s easy to see why German relies heavily on acronyms and short forms. Make sure you stay on top of those too as a language learner!
Cognates are German words that sound the same as English words but mean something entirely different. They trick you, because you hear them and you think you know exactly what they mean. Think again! For example der Chef mean boss and not chef, and der Brand is a fire, not a clothing label.
You may think you know what a verb means, and when you read it in a sentence you may feel confident until you reach the end. This is where German throws you a whammy! Separable prefix verbs change the meaning of the root verb, and because their prefix is detached and sent to the end of the sentence, you won’t know until you’ve read the whole thing. A great example is kommen (to come), which can be turned into abkommen (to get away) or ankommen (to arrive).
We’ve already covered the three genders in German, but did you know that one word can have multiple genders and resultingly different meanings? Take Band as an example. Die Band means a rock band, Der Band means a volume of a book, and Das Band means ribbon, tape or a wavelength. Tricky, huh?
With all of these pitfalls, it’s easy to get discouraged when you’re learning the language. Just remember that practice makes perfect, and no one is perfect at something the first time they try it. A positive attitude and a good teacher will keep you on the right track and help you attain the level and fluency you want. Keep it up! Viel Glück!