Is German really so hard? And English so easy?

Aquatar   Thu Apr 20, 2006 12:01 am GMT
Hi, I am a native English speaker, who has studied German. I always hear that German is very hard, while English is easy. In fact this seems to be the general opinion on the web. However I am never entirely convinced of this.

Sure basic German sentence structure in general is more complex. You have to think about gender, plurals, cases, endings etc. All a bit of a headache. When I first encountered this, I thought it was pretty horrendous. BUT once I had come to understand it, it wasn't a major problem. I'm not saying I would never get it wrong, especially in speech when you have to think quickly, but it's not hard to understand.

To me, once you get over this hurdle in German, it's not some horrendously difficult language, as some claim. It actually seems reasonably straightforward and systematic. And actually much more ordered and rigid than English.

I can definitely see the appeal of English to people who are learning it. It contains almost none of the basic grammatical complexities that a lot of other languages seem to. But that doesn't mean it can't catch you out, that there aren't loads of sentences that will simply sound wrong to a native speaker, although they might well be grammatically correct. My impression is the difference between the right and wrong way to say something in English is very subtle. That's not to say it isn't so in other languages.

But when I speak German to Germans they tell me that I only make the odd mistake, even though I expect to make many (maybe they're lying but anyway...). But I've encountered a lot of learners of English, who claim it is such a simple language, yet it is perfectly apparent, even from the few sentences that they write, that English is not their native language. Even within a few sentences a few things in their construction will give them away, even if it's not an obvious grammatical mistake.

I'm not trying to say my German is great or anything, I know I make mistakes, but I wonder if learners of most languages EXPECT to make mistakes, while learners of English think once they've learnt the basic grammar, that they speak almost perfect English. Whereas the truth is, while their English might be very good, they still say many things, that sound wrong to the native English speaker.

I'm just interested in this, so let me know your thoughts.
Guest   Thu Apr 20, 2006 12:04 am GMT
English is not so easy if you are not used to its logic and grammar as us latin people are not.
I don't know german, but it seem more difficult again due to complexity of grammer and less latin-derived words.
Aquatar   Thu Apr 20, 2006 12:13 am GMT
And yes, to be honest, this is aimed at some of the learners of English, who claim it's an 'easy peasy' langauge or whatever, but even while they are saying that, give themselves away as non-native speakers of English by what they have written. While it is to be commended that you have learnt English to such a high level, in my opinion you should only claim that English is so easy, when your English is indistinguishable from that of a native speaker. While I claim that German is not THAT hard, I would never say it is a piece of cake or anything like that. Just my two cents worth though.
greg   Thu Apr 20, 2006 12:14 am GMT
Ton témoignage est très intéressant Aquatar. La plupart de ceux qui trouvent l'anglais facile sont en effet frappés par la pauvreté morphologique de cette langue. Mais celle-ci peut se transformer en piège car la rareté des formes disponibles enferme les néophytes dans un doux confort qui les conduit souvent au contresens.

Toutefois, beaucoup de ceux qui apprennent l'anglais l'utilisent — s'ils l'utilisent jamais — peu fréquemment ou dans un cadre restreint. La recherche constante de l'idiomatisme parfait est parfois la dernière préoccupation de certains apprenants. Ils visent simplement à se faire comprendre, même imparfaitement.
Aquatar   Thu Apr 20, 2006 12:20 am GMT

Are you a native English speaker? I'd appreciate answers in English or German. While I can decipher some French, I certainly can't understand what you said. I've learnt a bit of French, but all very basic I'm afraid. Sorry! I would love to learn French though. I think I was put off by the fact that at our school half the year learnt German and half French to begin with. In the third year, if you were good enough, you could start learning the other language. BUT you had to go to lessons in the lunch hour, there was no choice. Who would be keen then? lol
Guest   Thu Apr 20, 2006 12:36 am GMT
One thing I dislike about some languages I have learnt (Basic German and Basic French) was the Gender based jabbers. Pretty hard at first but once you got the hang it was ok.
Aquatar   Thu Apr 20, 2006 12:43 am GMT
Of course I agree gender complicates things, especially as I can't see how it improves the expressivity of any language. But at the end of the day, they are ABSOLUTE, if you have the patience, you can learn them. It's only a matter of memory at the end of the day. Were you to sit down and learn all of them for any given language, you would not make any mistakes with regard to gender. There's no subtety involved.
Aquatar   Thu Apr 20, 2006 12:46 am GMT
Sorry, I meant subtlety lol
Aquatar   Thu Apr 20, 2006 12:52 am GMT
Or if you did make a mistake with regard to gender, you would know it was wrong, once you thought about it. It's black and white.
Sigma   Thu Apr 20, 2006 12:58 am GMT
Hay un dicho en Español que es "El León no es como lo pintan" y esto es perfectamente aplicable al Alemán y al Inglés. En mi opinión aún cuando Alemán es mas complejo, pienso que es un idioma muy lógico, misma lógica de la cual es Inglés carece. Por otra parte a pesar de que Inglés es mas sencillo gramáticamente, en mi particular opinión es más facil para mi el pronunciar ciertas palabras y/o frase en Alemán que en Inglés; ya que en Alemán todo las palabras se pronuncian tal cual como en Español, y en Inglés no es así, por lo cual a mi aviso es mas fácil la pronunciación del Alemán para un Hispanofono que la del Inglés; no así su gramática, pero una vez familiarizado con la misma no hay mayor problema.
Aquatar   Thu Apr 20, 2006 1:04 am GMT
Oh, why are people replying in languages I don't understand? I thought the language of this forum was English. I only speak English and German, I'd like to see replies to my question in either English (preferably) or German, so that I might understand what people have to say about it.
Aquatar   Thu Apr 20, 2006 1:44 am GMT
Although, I did learn a bit of Spanish at uni. It seemed reasonably easy at the basic level, but that's not a measure of how hard it is to learn the language properly. I understand the verbs have a multitude of forms. I think languages whose verbs have many forms might still put me off. In German verb forms are not really a huge problem. They change obviously, and there's the subjunctive/indirect speech headache, but they're not a complete nightmare. The main problem with German is supposed to be the genders, plurals,cases and endings. OK, the genders and plurals, you just have to learn off by heart, there's no way around it. But the case system can be learnt reasonably easily, once you understand the concept, it's not hard. The endings then follow on from that. My teacher told me a really easy way to remember them. Of course when I saw the three tables of different endings, I thought what a nightmare. But you don't need to memorise these tables really. All I remembered when I was learning it was:

If there's a unchanged definite article involved, the adjective ending will be 'e'. Once it has changed it will be 'en' i.e. das schoene Maedchen/die schoene Frau/der schoene Mann but 'mit dem schoenen Maedchen/dem schoenen Mann/der schoenen Frau'. ( I believe 'beautiful man' would be acceptable in German as it is in English, although unusual, if I'm wrong sorry)

If it's an unchanged indefinite article, the same, the ending will be 'e', unless it is the nomitive masculine or neuter, in which case the adjective ending will have to show the gender as the definite article doesn't show this i.e. ein schoenes Maedchen, ein grosser Mann, because the article doesn't show it.

You only really have to think about it when there's no definite/indefinite article, which is much more rare, so hard to think of an example, I dunno, actually I can't right now, but if there was no definite/indefinite article involved, the adjective would have more work to do i.e. showing the gender. So actually schoener Mann if there was no other indication.

Sorry, I'm tired, will think about this lol.

I think there are a couple of exceptions with the genetive, but they don't really affect general speech.
Aquatar   Thu Apr 20, 2006 2:45 am GMT
Sorry, that example about the endings where the indefinite article is concerned wasn't entirely correct, it doesn't only concern the nominitive case. It can affect the accusative case too, where the article doesn't change, the ending will still have to show the gender i.e. ich sehe ein schoenes Maedchen. Of course 'ich sehe einen schoenen Mann' shows the complications. But not really, the indefinite article has changed to einen, which is masculine, because it's accusative, and therefore the adjective ending has also changed to 'en', because the indefinite article is in the changed form. Blah, it's hard to explain exactly, but I do think this way of learning the German endings is very helpful.
CHINESE   Thu Apr 20, 2006 6:07 am GMT
Besides the complexities of syntax and genders, another reason of why German is considered very difficult, is due mainly to the large numbers of vocabularies are not derived from Latin, and they are very much different from English, French and Italian. So German vocabularies seems very long and complex.
CHINESE   Thu Apr 20, 2006 6:16 am GMT

to the large numbers of vocabularies "THAT" are not derived from Latin,