Tag Archives: frei

Free reading

On my run tonight (dusk is coming much earlier now, sigh), I started to wonder about the many uses for the word frei because of seeing the Stadtpark Frelichtbühne – “open air stage/theatre(er)”  or literally “free light stage.” Dict.cc gives a large number of meanings for frei, including: “unengaged,” “at liberty,” “liberal” as in “not strict,” “clear,” “nonattached,” “blank,” “frank,” “allowed,” “idle” and “uncommitted.”
The “open air” family has several other members:
• das Freilichtkino – “open air cinema”
• das Freibad – “open air/outdoor swimming pool”
• die Freifläche – “open space” or “undeveloped land”
das Freilichtkonzert – “open air concert”

Frei is also a cognate of the English word “free.” Something that is frei is available at no cost (one can be more more specific and say that something is kostenfrei). In a related semantic field, there is the meaning of frei that corresponds to unabhängig –“independent” – which is a favorite word of mine as the Unabhängigkeitserklärung – The Declaration of Independence – was signed in my home town, Philadelphia.

Finally, one of the phrases I learned on my first trip to Germany in 1984 also uses freiIst dieser Platz frei? which means “Is this seat taken?” In this context frei means “unoccupied” or “not in use” or perhaps even “spare” if you intend to pick up the seat in question and take it to another location. I was delighted DWDS included this example sentence for the “available” or “spare” meaning of frei – Sie liest in jeder freien Minute, “She reads in every spare moment” – because it is so apt as far as I am concerned!


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Sometimes less is more

Last week I had an interesting experience to do with pronunciation (die Aussprache) in a Dialog in Deutsch group with two Spanish speakers. One of these women was trying to explain that she was working as a volunteer – eine Freiwillige – but it came out sounding like •Freibillige because the relationship between the /v/ and the /b/ sound in Spanish. Both frei and billige are words in German and they appear together online in the context Versandkosten frei billige <etwas> – “free shipping [on] cheap <somethings>” so I am guessing that this added to the comprehension issue for the native speakers present. For me, with only a bit of German to interfere, and some knowledge of Spanish, it was clear what she was trying to say. Indeed, I am not even sure that I would have noticed the error but for the blank faces and the fact that they instantly cleared up when I said Freiwillige with a strong emphasis on the pronunciation of the /v/ sound.

I’m sure it isn’t unusual for one non-native speaker to be able to understand another non-native speaker better than a native speaker who is part of the same conversation because both non-native speakers are struggling. In addition, there is a sense of community among non-native speakers that centers around the desire to communicate and the frequent sense that the right word is just out of reach. If you can search your own word bank and pull out something that might help the other person express him or herself, you get a nice jolt of satisfaction from being helpful. And as many models of learning stress, helping someone else is a great well to build your own skills. I don’t think I’ll be forgetting the meaning or the pronunciation of Freiwilligefrei or billige any time soon, at least not voluntarily.

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