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Translating; Idiomatic expressions; Listening exercises

As I am speeding through and reviewing German, I occasionally come across a sentence I want to read more about so I will read the discussion about it. I sometimes sense frustration on the part of some new German learners about:

1) Why do you say something a certain way (in a German construct) and not this way (in an English construct). 2) Idiomatic expressions that are baldly introduced with no warning. 3) The listening exercises and how some words are a little muddled.

If I might be so bold as to give a perspective that may or may not be helpful to new learners. If it isn't helpful, feel free to entirely ignore this.

In reference to #1 ... the goal is to learn German, not translate literally from English (or any other language) into German. Don't be frustrated. Make a note of how a sentence is said, a lot of sentences will be said the same way. Grammatically analyze the sentence and, if you can, make a note of WHY a sentence is constructed the way it is.

English: How are you? German: Wie geht es Ihnen? Literally how does it go (with) you (formal), but it means "How are you?" That is just how they say it. Don't try to make it English. This was just a simple expression, but Germans say MANY things in a different way than English. You cannot and will not be fluent if you try to translate literally and sometimes may wind up saying something entirely different and/or offensive.

In reference to #2 and idiomatic expressions being thrown in baldly with no introduction ... If I understand correctly (and I might not) DuoLingo is a somewhat immersion program. If you were dropped in the middle of Germany with no language experience, the Germans are not going to quit using idiomatic expressions just because you arrived. Accept it. Don't try to force an answer that is literal. Accept that this is an idiomatic expression much like we (Americans and other countries) have. Want to say someone is tone deaf in English? "He has a tin ear." In Russian? "A bear stepped on his ear." (or so I heard that is the Russian idiomatic expression.)

Idiomatic expressions are one of the beautiful things that give a language flavor. Make it a goal to learn them. You will feel empowered, smart and sound like a native! Bonus!

In reference to #3 and not being able to clearly understand the audio ... It is simply a matter of training your native language ears ... whether it is English or Italian or Russian ... to hear the various different language (in this case German) sounds. Give yourself time. The more German you hear, the quicker you will be able to hear the words. "Even though it sounds like "blah blah", I know that is probably not the word and/or that doesn't make sense so they must be saying "yadda yadda". Give yourself time. Did I say that already? Let me say it again. Give yourself time. You may have gotten it wrong THIS time and maybe NEXT time, but maybe not on the THIRD time.

In general: Occasionally (but not always) at the bottom of the main lesson menus will be explanations. Sometimes there are some grammar lessons and charts. Be sure to read those. They can be valuable.

If there is a chart you can be sure that knowing, understanding and being able to apply the chart will be invaluable for future lessons. Those German learners ... whose native language uses cases ... will have a leg up (see? there's an English idiomatic expression!) on the English speakers learning German.

I wish all of the German learners well! Press on!


June 28, 2017



Excellent, I agree with your points.
This should be part of an introduction to any course.


Couldn't agree more! It appears from a lot of the comments that subconsciously many people think German is just English with different vocabulary because they saw a sentence like „Ich habe einen Ball.“ which you can translate literally, word-for-word.


Thank you for this info. Now that I'm learning German I find myself in this kind of situations quite often. I subconsciously try to translate the phrases to English or Spanish and it's frustrating 'cause I know it does not work that way.


Bravo! Nicely put.

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