Learning German

This essay: The Awful German Language by Mark Twain throws some light-hearted light upon the difficulties in the language. German language, along with Latin and Russian, is said to be one of the difficult language to master. Since I have already paid my money at the Goethe Center, I guess I will have to live with that and hope that this amusing essay doesn’t becomes too amusing for comfort.
Well, here’s something from the essay:

Now observe the Adjective. Here was a case where simplicity would have been an advantage; therefore, for no other reason, the inventor of this language complicated it all he could. When we wish to speak of our “good friend or friends,” in our enlightened tongue, we stick to the one form and have no trouble or hard feeling about it; but with the German tongue it is different. When a German gets his hands on an adjective, he declines it, and keeps on declining it until the common sense is all declined out of it. It is as bad as Latin. He says, for instance:

    • Nominative — Mein guter Freund, my good friend.
    • Genitive — Meines guten Freundes, of my good friend.
    • Dative — Meinem guten Freund, to my good friend.
    • Accusative — Meinen guten Freund, my good friend.
    • N. — Meine guten Freunde, my good friends.
    • G. — Meiner guten Freunde, of my good friends.
    • D. — Meinen guten Freunden, to my good friends.
    • A. — Meine guten Freunde, my good friends.

Now let the candidate for the asylum try to memorize those variations, and see how soon he will be elected. One might better go without friends in Germany than take all this trouble about them. I have shown what a bother it is to decline a good (male) friend; well this is only a third of the work, for there is a variety of new distortions of the adjective to be learned when the object is feminine, and still another when the object is neuter. Now there are more adjectives in this language than there are black cats in Switzerland, and they must all be as elaborately declined as the examples above suggested. Difficult? — troublesome? — these words cannot describe it. I heard a Californian student in Heidelberg say, in one of his calmest moods, that he would rather decline two drinks than one German adjective.



  1. I am sorry to say Mark Twain is right. I’ve been learning German for nearly a year and yes it is really, really difficult. It’s very frustrating and Twain conveys this beautifully.

    However, on the other hand I have had so much fun with it and met some great people through my learning.

    It’s important to be clear why you are learning the language. In truth there is no need to learn it, as it seems nearly everybody in Germany speaks at least passable English. My two reasons are fun and as a mental challenge. I put up with as much mental challenge as I can stand and then I concentrate on the fun. For me, if it’s not fun, I stop what I am doing (eg studying grammar points over and over) and do something fun (eg talk to my German friends).

    My suggestion to you is to not take it too seriously. If a grammar point seems just “too hard”, and most of them will, laugh it off and worry about it another day. I’ve documented some of my experiences here http://madam.wordpress.com/

  2. Thanks Madam for your comment.
    My reason as to learn German was to keep myself bit busy during my vacations and also to be able to read some of the German literature in German, which otherwise I read as translated in English.
    Went through your blog and yeah it was good reading abt your experiences and also the learning resources seem good. thanks.

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