Can it true be?

Our drinking song rollicked along after I slid the CD into my “Fow Vay” and rollicked home along damp streets.

Du kannst nicht treu sein
Nein, nein, das kannst Du nicht
Wenn auch Dein Mund mir
Wahre Liebe verspricht
In Deinem Herzen
Hast du für viele Platz
Darum bist Du auch nicht
Für mich der richt’ger Schatz

Just looking at the lyrics cold, I was able to pull out a word here and there, and make a few educated guesses as to others. But in this wondrous modern age, I have a few tricks up my sleeve. I pulled out my iPhone and opened the iTranslate app. This has some neat features, one of which is the ability to translate on the fly using the phone’s camera. Just point it at a slab of text, or a sign, or a menu, and bingo! each word is translated directly into its English equivalent:

Put it this way, it’s not much of a song, not much use to sing along with, and rather puzzling as a text. But it’s a start, and if (say) I was trying to decide which toilet to use and they hadn’t included any symbols, this would be a handy app. As I discovered one morning in a small Iranian town, anxiously shifting my weight from one foot to the other.

Take a snapshot in the image, and it will read the text as a whole, rather than word by word, and this comes out better. (Or translate the page in the Chrome browser.)

This cleared up a few questions for me. The logic of the chorus seemed a little vague, but if this is what the canny Edith is saying to the feckless Oscar, well okay.

But, but, but, but I’m not here to wave a gadget over Germany and see only English. The aim is to have the German words come in the eyes and ears and tug on the correct neurons. I don’t necessarily want to translate to English in my head; I want to get the correct meaning in the same way that a native speaker would.

At this point in my studies, translating to English is a useful step. So bear with me as I make my own attempt. Here I’m making use of the above translations, my memory of the tutor’s translation, and a handy-dandy free app called, which replaces all those language dictionaries in the bookshop.

Du kannst nicht treu sein
treu is true, and sein is be, but doesn’t do just words but phrases as well, and if I enter treu, a few lines down I see treu sein, which comes out as “to be faithful to”.
You cannot be faithful

Nein, nein, das kannst Du nicht
No, no, (that) you can not

Wenn auch Dein Mund mir
wenn auch is “if even” or albeit or although.
Although your mouth to me

Wahre Liebe verspricht
True love promises

In Deinem Herzen
Not sure about this. Herzen is the plural of Herz, which is heart. Does Oscar have multiple hearts? Is Edith talking of men in general? Have we just been handed an extra syllable to make the line fit the melody? (Incidentally, Hertz in both languages means beats as in “cycles per second”, and I am always charmed by the conjunction of Hertz and Herz.)
In your heart(s)

Hast du für viele Platz
Hast du is simply “hast thou”, meaning “you have”. Viele Platz is literally “many place(s)”, but could also be “much room” or “ample space” or any combination. Für is for, but including it here doesn’t seem to add to the sense, unless it is to give the notion that a heart can have many places for love. Incidentally, the logic becomes even more shakey if we consider that plural hearts naturally have a plurality of places.
You have many places

Darum bist Du auch nicht
These last two lines cleverly have three interior rhymes, albeit at the expense of eliding a vowel from richtiger to make the words fit the tune.
Therefore you are not even

Für mich der richt’ger Schatz
richtige or richtiger has the sense of more than right, the only right, the perfect one.
For me the perfect sweetheart.

der Mund = mouth
die Liebe = love
das Herz = heart
der Platz = place, room, space
der Schatz = treasure, precious, sweetheart

No, I’m not going to try to write new English lyrics for the melody. Someone did that already, and I don’t like it. Frank Sinatra sang a version more true to the original, which isn’t too bad.

And no, I’m not going to apologise for making a meal of this drinking song chorus. This is my language log, and if I get stuck in and get my hands dirty, it’s so I can get a grip on the language, not to entertain my sparse readership.


Die Sprachschule

My introductory German class is at Hughes, fifteen minutes drive away. Twenty students with various degrees of senior citizenhood assembled in a small classroom under the direction of our tutor, who proved himself to be a stickler for punctuality and order, a trait shared by the German folk in general, who might be on an empty street at two in the morning, but will still wait for the green man.

Also a beautifully dry sense of humour and a taste for grammar, both aspects which will, I trust, make this a particularly enjoyable class for me.

We covered the alphabet, pronunciation, a little grammar – mostly the various ways German has of dealing with the definite article – and a song or two.

A drinking song, believe it or not, and though we had nothing stronger than coffee and cake, it was hard not to get swept up in the rhythm and enthusiasm. This, I suspect, is the sort of song that makes drunken German people stand up with a stein of beer when the band plays the first bar or two. So to speak.

An afternoon storm made its presence known. “Donner,” I murmured to myself, and made a mental note to investigate the gender of the noun so as to associate it with its correct article. Der Donner, according to my iPhone German dictionary app.

Der Blitz = the lightning
Die Wolke = the cloud
Das Wetter = the weather

Nouns are capitalised – often a word is both a noun and a verb, and this helps distinguish the two – and take one of three articles according to gender. Every noun has a gender: feminine, masculine, or neuter. Not sure why, but there it is.

But a plural noun takes the feminine form of the article. Der Blitz, but Die Blitzen. Not sure if this makes life easier or more difficult, but again, there it is.

Still drizzling when we broke up, and I was cheered to discover a Little Free Library outside. As a BookCrosser, these things are a magnet. Next week I must bring along a book or two to help keep the turnover up.


Hah für Hugo

In the nick of time my German text has arrived. This is the text for my University of the Third Age course, beginning tomorrow.

The tutor had warned us – after I had sent off my order – not to buy the expensive edition with the three included CDs because he had made a CD comprising all the conversations we would study plus some additional material.

Guess which edition I had ordered? I’d taken the position that getting the conversation right is half the battle, and I didn’t see any mention of a download site for the spoken texts. Sure, I could puzzle out the pronunciation and try to remember the voice of the tutor, but there’s really no substitute for hearing native speakers say the words.

And I could listen again and again, speak along with the CD, really drill the words and the word order and the pronunciations into my thick head.

Not to worry. Only a few dollars more. All up, the whole thing would cost me not much more than a hundred dollars for a year of instruction. That’s the beauty of U3A. It’s all pretty much free. We students pay a dollar an hour for the room rent, a few dollars for incidentals such as photocopying and refreshments, and that’s it. The tutor provides their services for nothing more than the pleasure of passing along their lifetime skills.

I had a quick shufti through the book. Standard stuff, beginning with the alphabet, some basic grammar, and getting into conversation as soon as possible. I didn’t bother to get stuck into serious study; the tutor would tell us how to approach the text.



Banksy wall art showing workman chipping a star off the EU logo.

I am blessed with several Facebook friends in Germany and Austria, as well as some of German extraction. Often their Facebook status updates are in German, and I can try to puzzle out their meanings.

Facebook helpfully provides a “see translation” button, and I can switch back and forth until I have a reasonable stab at how the words are put together.

If I have any problems, why, but I can always ask my friend, who will be only to happy to advance my studies.

And sometimes I can make a smartarse comment in German.

I have a friend, currently visiting London. “Chaos in England wegen Schnee,” she reports. The FB translation is not required. I know that Schnee is snow, and in the context, wegen must mean something like “because”.

“Nein!” I shot back. “Chaos in England wegen May!” and earnt a laughing face icon in response.


(photo credit: Duncan Hull)

Talk like a man

Benny Lewis is my new hero. His attitude to learning a new language is fresh and exciting.

He doesn’t insist on perfection, and he’s got a point there. None of us are 100% perfect at anything when we start out. Do we ride the Tour de France – and win – the first time we jump on a bike? No, we wobble and fall off, and push the thing up modest inclines. In a month maybe we’re one of those fools who whiz past in a pack at dawn, but we sure don’t set off that good.

“Talk like Tarzan”, he says. “Me Tarzan, you Jane.” It’s not pretty, but it works, we’re speaking in foreign, we’re using the few words we know from the first page of the book, and maybe we get the girl.

So that’s my approach. Talk every day, gain confidence in the words I know, learn from my mistakes, and if I fall off, get back on the learning bike.


(Photo credit: Giorgio Muratore)

Hack Tongue

Putting down some serious money on this German deal. Forty-five bucks at Paperchain. Then again, it’s hard to get out of this wonderful independent bookshop for much less.

Benny Lewis promises a new philosophy for learning languages, and I’m keen to embrace something that’s more fun and less work.

I’ve got my official textbook coming soon, the course begins next Friday, and I’m planning on making a solid start.

I’ll feel a bit of a fraud, I guess, if we are going to be spending the first few weeks learning the alphabet and how to say Guten Tag, and I’m already up to asking for your best stein of beer, bartender, not your wurst.


What’s the word?

The SBS – Special Broadcasting Service – television channel is Australia’s multicultural broadcaster, presenting programs from around the world in the languages of our most recent arrivals.

They do various news bulletins, and one of them is a daily half hour from Deutsch Welle. Bingo! One of my objectives, to watch a German-language news bulletin and get the gist of it.

Rather than get a solid slab of German, a news show has various visual cues to help with gaining context, and as I’m a news junkie anyway, there’s a good chance I’ll know what a story is about anyway, and I can listen with a little more ease.

I found the show today. It comes on at 1030 daily, but is also available on the AppleTV On Demand app so I can watch it whenever I like, and even rewind for a tricky bit.

I was able to pick out a word here and there on first listening, and one puzzled me. Maybe it’s a phrase. It sounded like “acht-tag”. Eight day? A kind of German week. From the Beatles, maybe?

It’s a puzzle, but if anyone but me is reading this and knows the answer, feel free to jump in!