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Wordplay: The art of learning a language

June 10, 2013

By Molly Fried, Greenheart Travel Outreach Coordinator

This Berlin bar’s name is a play on words. Nachbar means neighbor in German.

This Berlin bar’s name is a play on words. Nachbar means neighbor in German.

A couple weeks ago, Malgorzata posted a great blog on CCI Greenheart’s site about the value of language immersion. I was reminded of my experience living abroad in Germany, where I discovered an active, living dictionary of exciting, colloquial phrases, slang and gestures that I never learned sitting in German class. Exercising these unique and modern language cues was an awesome experience and added pops of color to even my most mundane conversations. For instance, it’s the difference between swapping out, “I would like some coffee” for “I’m dyyying for a cup o’ Joe.”

At the time, I was working in the capital city Berlin, which has its own dialect, Berlinerisch. Immersed in this region, I adapted to the sounds, rhythm, and social etiquette of Berliners. However, I discovered that when I met Germans from outside Berlin, I still had issues comprehending. They were technically speaking the same language that I claimed to know fluently, but it could be so difficult to understand the not-so-subtle differences in the way they spoke.

22maps

This phenomenon is, of course, not only German, but occurs all over the world. For example, Americans are proud to display their noticeable regional dialects. Just last week, Business Insider featured a language study in an article titled “22 Maps That Show How Americans Speak English Totally Differently From Each Other.” Ever hear Americans fight over whether carbonated drinks are called soda or pop? Have you heard American southerners swap out you for y’all when talking to a group? These examples are nuances native speakers can take for granted and that often go unnoticed, but may completely confuse a non-native speaker.

This movie poster is another play on words. Ick is the Berlin dialect of the German word ich which means I. Instead of Berliner, it uses the vowels for the word bär which means bear.

Ick is the Berlin dialect of the German word ich which means I. Instead of Berliner, it uses the vowels for the word bär which means bear.

Today, be conscious of how you use verbal and nonverbal language native to your region or specific to your generation. You may surprise yourself by your own vibrant personal thesaurus. A famous German director once said, “to begin is easy, but to persist is art!” This applies to learning new languages, as well. I picked up many inventive German phrases and expressions in Berlin, which really impacted the way I communicated. I discovered that learning a language is not just a science, but can really be a wonderfully creative craft, too.

What’s your favorite? Share in the comments your favorite phrases or words from your region/country OR a phrase you discovered in a foreign language that you wish you could borrow.

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