Tag Archives: V

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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HH – Ha-Ha

When you learn a new language, you also have to learn new names for the letters of the alphabet (and in some cases a new alphabet or even a whole new writing system/systems). It is particularly important to learn the letters that spell out your name in order to be sure that it is spelled correctly (it can be very hard to change an official document once a particular spelling has been recorded!). For me, there is the additional issue that while my last name is German (see What’s in a Name), the spelling was changed during WWII to appear less German, making it Hirsh, ohne C – where C pronounced tseh as which sounds something like “hay” but with a slightly shorter vowel [tsé]. To spell it out in full, I must say in German ha, eeh (similar but a bit shorter vowel than “ee” in English), err, ess, ha (and last night I learned that there is a somewhat well-known joke that one doesn’t say Hirsh heiße ich quickly or it could be heard as Hier scheiße ich).

For those of who know me from my work with personality type, you will not be surprised to learn that I am often tripped up when I fail to remember that “I” is roughly “ee” and that “E” is roughly “ay” (and “A” is roughly “ah”!); remembering that “J” is “yot” is not nearly as difficult. I can well imagine that there are some challenges in the reverse direction when German type practitioners need to refer to Extraversion (“ee” – E) and Introversion ( as in “high” or “eye” or “I” the pronoun – I).

Remembering that my first name begins with kah (K) rather than “kay” as in “hay” hasn’t given me any trouble, so far. Nor has Q being called kuh rather than “kyew” as in “cue” been very challenging.

The mnemonic I use to remember two other letters whose names are different in German is the short form for Volkswagen – VW – which is fau weh or roughly “fow as in cow and vay (vé) as in hay.” In addition, I regularly have to say the name of the website for transit info here in Hamburg, HVV, therefore I get a lot of practice with both ha and fau. I still need to find an Eselsbrücke for Z – tsett, ß – ess-tsett or scharfes S – and Y – üppsilon, suggestions gratefully received.

For the first time today, I was thinking about the letter names when I read out a Hamburg license/number plate and I realized that it began ha-ha, or HH, and had a little chuckle (pun fully intended).

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