It was a beautiful weekend here in Central Massachusetts, sunny, warm, light breeze, no humidity. Walking the neighborhood was a real pleasure. Despite the lovely weather, however, I spent quite a few hours pouring over my German textbooks and dictionaries. We have a unit test in class Tuesday night, and even though it’s meant to check our own understanding and has nothing to do with grades (there are none), I don’t want to totally embarrass myself by leaving half the questions blank.
I am one of the oldest, if not the oldest member of our class. There is one other woman in her sixties (I think), a few fifty-somethings, a lot of twenty- and thirty-somethings, and one recent high school graduate. It is quite clear to me that a younger brain is more adept at learning a new language. I understand more than I can say, but when our teacher asks a question, my gray matter freezes up. Honestly, there are times, even with my strength in English, that the curtain drops in my brain when someone asks me a question these days, and I can’t find the word. All the more so in German.
However, I have noticed that some words come more readily than others. For instance, I have an easier time remembering German words for clothing (die Kleidung) than for housework (die Hausarbeit). Clearly, personal interests play a role here. On the other hand, gendered nouns are a real challenge. Why, for example, is a skirt masculine in German (der Rock), a dress neutral (das Kleid) and pants feminine (die Hose)? There are some clues in the spellings, but still. No way out but memorization. Which is a struggle.
Our test includes units on clothing, weather and festivals, as well as grammar for comparisons, favorites, explanations, and what you might wish for. Of all these topics, I particularly enjoyed learning weather vocabulary (being a weather nerd). It helps that many of the words are similar to English. Wind is, well, der Wind (although the ‘w’ has a ‘v’ sound). The sun is die Sonne. Rain is der Regen.
My favorite discovery in this particular chapter, however, was the phrase es donnert und blitzt. Which means (no elegant translation) that it’s thundering and lightening is flashing. This answers a conundrum from my childhood, in hearing The Night Before Christmas, why old St. Nicholas named two of his reindeer Donner and Blitzen. Who knew?
Overnight it may well donnert und blitz, as I write Monday evening. At least, that’s what the weather report says. But I’m glad to have enjoyed viel Sonnenschein this weekend. Now, if I could only clear der Nebel (the fog) that hinders my vocabulary recall, I’ll be all set.
Image: Stefan Widua