German is easy! Kind of


As a keen language learner I love reading blogs about learning languages, even if I’m not studying the language in question. I have taken German classes in Washington and have worked with many German people over the years, but my German is still fairly terrible out of lack of practice.

However, one thing I will say about German is that I always found it fairly simple to learn once you understood the rules. Compared with English’s hundreds of grammatical and syntactical rules (and then its penchant for breaking them at the drop of a hat), the German language works in a fairly logical way.

So I am always pretty delighted to read the long and informative posts on one of my favourite blogs, Your Daily German. The best thing about this blog is the author’s great sense of humor and the tendency to learn actual day-to-day German – the kind of German that German people actually speak – rather than simply learning as you would from a text book at school.

The most recent entry discusses another reason why German is easy in many ways: prefixes. Whereas in many languages there are certainly plenty of verbs that are related, the tendency for agglutination (that is, adding prefixes and suffixes to existing words to alter their meanings) in German means that once you learn the base word, it’s very easy to learn what all the agglutinated forms will mean.

The example they use is the verb haben, which means “to have”. It’s a simple, fairly regular verb in German, and is pretty much always used to denote possession (unlike in English when it can also denote consumption, e.g. “I had a burger for lunch”).

By knowing that haben means “have”, you can then use your knowledge of common prefixes to recognize other forms of the verb: for example, mithaben (mit (“with) + haben (“to have”)) means “to have with”, as in to have something with you or on you. Sometimes the prefix has a more idiomatic meaning, like vorhaben (vor (“in front of”) + haben (“to have”)) means “to plan” or “to intend”.

The blog lists many other reasons why German can be easy to learn (though it often intentionally omits the reasons why it can be difficult!), so I definitely recommend checking it out if you’re learning German or, like me, are just interested in other languages!