Sounding like a native speaker in a newly acquired language can be tricky. There are all of those grammar rules and new vocabulary words and social conventions to be considered. One way you can make yourself sound more like a German speaker is by learning some of the common “filler” words people use in conversation. The word “well” is such a word in English. Let's learn some equivalent words a German speaker might use.
Here are two variations on ja (yes) which are used in this way:
Tja, was hat das mit Hollywood zu tun?
Well, what does this have to do with Hollywood?
Caption 6, Fastnacht - Karneval - Quartier LatinPlay Caption
Na ja, das is' halt mein Titel, ja.
Well, that is just my title, yes.Play Caption
Deciding whether to use tja or na ja is a bit of an art, but you can think of it this way: tja might also be translated as "hmm" or "let me think"; na ja might be translated as "you know."
Also, which is commonly used to mean “therefore” or “so,” often finds its way into conversations like this one:
Also, wir waren schon damals eigentlich...
Well, we were already back then actually...Play Caption
When used as a filler, also is generally applied for one of two reasons. In the example above, it is used because the speaker is thinking back or reminiscing. It can also serve to add emphasis or impact to a declarative statement, like this one about a subject of controversy:
Also, da scheiden sich die Geister.
Well, here the spirits divide [opinions differ].
Caption 13, Fastnacht - Karneval - Quartier LatinPlay Caption
Well, that's it for now!
Trying to learn how to pronounce German? Go through a video that is short and sweet at least two or three times. Then practice saying the things that are said by the participants of the video. Take turns speaking each individual participant, so that you start to get the hang of some of the nuance of tone and pronunciation.
English speakers learning the word wenn for the first time often find the parallels to “when” helpful at first. But wenn can also mean "if." For example, a German child pleading for something and promising to be good in return can expect to hear:
Wenn das Wörtchen wenn nicht wär, wär mein Vater Millionär.
If the word "if" did not exist, my father would be a millionaire.
This is comparable to the English expression "If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride" and can be translated more idiomatically as "When pigs fly."
While the uses of wenn in German are varied, it is most commonly used in such simple cases as:
Ich habe kein Geld, wenn ich Dinge einkaufe.
I have no money if I buy things.
Caption 40, Deutschkurs in Tübingen - Die Konjunktion "wenn"Play Caption
The German use of wenn... dann is also parallel to the English “if... then.” We see this in the following example.
Aber auch wenn die Zeit noch 'n bisschen schwierig ist,
dann nimmt man sich gern zu Hause 'n bisschen Ablenkung davon...
But even if time[s] are still a little bit difficult,
then one gladly takes a little bit of distraction from it at home...
Captions 7-8, Auftrumpfen - Mit Kitsch und ProtzPlay Caption
Sometimes wenn really does mean "when":
Und der, wenn er wild wird, uns Sand in die Augen weht.
And the one that, when he becomes wild, blows sand into our eyes.
Caption 17, Piggeldy und Frederick - Der WindPlay Caption
So now you see that that Wenn das Wörtchen wenn nicht wäre, there would be quite a few things you'd have trouble expressing!
When going through your videos, pay particular attention to a specific aspect of the language, such as a tense, a part of speech (such as the wenn above) or a tricky bit of vocabulary. And then reward yourself by watching one of the fun episodes to allow your mind to process.
It's important to know how to address people. In the following example, an interviewer asks the host of the fashion show, Floria, Princess of Hesse, how she is to be properly addressed:
...also das ganz Korrekte ist „Königliche Hoheit".
...that is, the really correct [way] is "Royal Highness".Play Caption
Germans have a reputation for formal address. Traditionally, even co-workers of many years always addressed each other in the formal second person (Sie) and used both formal titles (Herr Doktor) and the person's last name. Anyone who has watched "The Sound of Music" knows that young ladies are to be addressed as Fräulein.
All of these things have changed a great deal in the past twenty years, and it is now much more common to address even a band you've never met before, as in the following example, in the informal second person (du or ihr, not Sie), or at least only use their first and last name without a formal title.
Und, äh, ihr habt ja auch was mitgebracht...
And, uh, you have also brought something along...
Caption 8, Undertube - Jeans TeamPlay Caption
The way of distinguishing between married and unmarried young women has all but disappeared, so if you meet a woman for the first time it is always appropriate to address her with Frau and her last name. Even Princess Floria concludes her thoughts on the topic, which began this lesson, by saying that the formal mode of address would be inappropriate in this context.
...aber das ist, glaub' ich, etwas fehl am Platz.
...but that is, I believe, somewhat out of place.Play Caption
It is still most polite to wait to be offered the informal (du) if the person you are meeting is your senior or in a position of authority.
Remember that while Sie sounds like the third person feminine or third person plural (sie), it is distinguished from them by always being capitalized. Also, it is conjugated like the third person plural (Sie/sie haben), not the second or third person singular (du hast or sie hat).
When learning a new vocabulary noun, memorize the definite article (der, die, das) along with the vocabulary word itself. That way you won't have to figure out what the grammatical gender is when it comes time to use it.
Inseparable Verbs: verbs with an unstressed prefix that are not separated when used in a sentence, e.g. beschreiben, erfinden, entspannen.
As Piggeldy and Frederick stroll down country roads in Das Fernweh (the yen for faraway places) Piggeldy gushes at the way his brother Frederick has aptly described this unknown concept.
So schön kann nur mein lieber Bruder Frederick 'Fernweh' beschreiben.
Only my dear brother Frederick could describe 'fernweh' so beautifully.
Caption 36, Piggeldy und Frederick - Das FernwehPlay Caption
Beschreiben (to describe) is the inseparable verb in our example and if we subtract the prefix be- it becomes schreiben (to write).
Different prefixes alter or change the meaning of their respective unadorned infinitives or root words, which may even be other parts of speech. See this list:
Be-: often makes a transitive verb from an intransitive verb, e.g. siegen (to win) vs. besiegen (to defeat)
Er-: tends to relate to creative processes, e.g. erfinden (to invent), erörtern (to discuss)
Ent-: usually describes processes of removing, e.g. entfernen (to remove), entführen (to kidnap)
Zer-: is used for destructive actions, e.g. zerstören (to destroy), zerdrücken (to crush, to mash)
To put this rough rubric into practice, let's look at another inseparable verb in one of our clips. Reporter Raudy, from the trendy magazine RheinMain Szene, tells recording artist "Der Graf" (the Count) to relax, when the Count admits that at times he still experiences stage fright.
Echt? Entspann dich doch! Ich bitte dich!
Really? Hey, relax! I'm asking you!
Caption 7, rheinmain Szene - Unheilig - „Der Graf“Play Caption
As we can see from the list above, the inseparable prefix ent- reverses a process in place. In this last example, it "loosens the strings" of the Count’s tightly strung psyche, hence entspannen means “to relax.
Review the lesson Separable or not separable... that is the question!, and then test yourself with this exercise on separable and inseparable verbs.
Pick out a troublesome German phoneme, like the pesky R-sound. Create a word set by selecting only words that have this phoneme, whether in the initial or intermediate position. Then go back to the newly created word set and practice those words. Don’t be discouraged if you find progress slow in coming. It takes time, effort, continuous monitoring, and even trial and error, before you get it all right. When you meet a German who can no longer immediately peg your land of origin you’ll be glad you made the effort!
Separable Verbs: verbs with a stressed prefix, that are separated when used in a sentence
i.e. mitkommen, mitfeiern, einladen
In each and every episode, we've all come to almost know by heart Frederick's blustery invitation to his younger brother, spoken as our beloved porcine brothers embark upon another stroll in the country. Let's all chime in with Frederick…
"Come with me."
Caption 5, Piggeldy und Frederick - LangeweilePlay Caption
Mitkommen means "to come" or "to come along." The prefix mit- is stressed which indicates that it is a separable prefix verb. Notice in this present tense construction: the verb is in the second position and the separable prefix is at the end. Here the German appears benignly analogous to our English. However, Vorsicht! Don't be lulled to sleep.
In this next clip that reports the celebration of World Pi Day, notice what happens when additional information is included in the predicate.
Da feierst du jetz' auch nich' mit beim Welt-Pi-Tag, oder?
Now you also don't celebrate along on World Pi Day or [do you]?
Caption 67, Welt-Pi-Tag - Unser Leben mit der KreiszahlPlay Caption
Where does the additional information, (namely... jetzt, auch, nicht) appear? Richtig! It is sandwiched between the conjugated verb and the prefix.
This is also the case for einladen (to invite):
Heute lade ich alle meine Freunde zu mir nach Hause ein.
Today I will invite all of my friends to my home.
The prefixes of separable verbs are, by and large, prepositions or adverbs, but sometimes even verbs or nouns, all meaning that they are independent words. And, since no one is born a master, you can learn more about separable verbs here and here.
To practise recognizing separable verbs, select 3 clips. Watch each with both captions on. Pause and analyze the sentences which you think might contain a separable verb. Pay close attention to the correct pronunciation of the verb. Use the loop function of the Yabla Player to listen to it repeatedly and say the infinitive out loud, stressing the prefix, until you get it right. Do this exercise for all 3 clips (add more if necessary)! This will help you differentiate between stressed and unstressed prefixes and any remaining "separation anxiety" will end in smoke.
Modal or "flavoring" particles: words used in colloquial speech indicating a certain attitude of the speaker
schon, ja, halt
Although Germans have a fondness for foreign cuisine, they will always stay faithful to their Currywurst (curried sausage). There are an estimated 2,000 sausage stands in Berlin and even a museum solely dedicated to this popular German snack. Berliner Frank Spieß, owner of the unique sausage stand "Curry and Chili," offers 12! levels of spiciness, emphatically ensuring that some, indeed, like it hot!
Also, die Leute haben schon, äh, Spaß daran.
So, the people indeed have, uh, fun with it.
Caption 48, Currywurst - Berlins schärfstes StückPlay Caption
As a modal particle the word schon (in bold) means "indeed" as opposed to the literal meaning "already" when used as an adverb.
Ich bin schon ein Fußballfan, aber kein eingefleischter.
I am indeed a soccer fan but not a die-hard one.
By adding a ja to her sentence, Eva, who takes us on a tour through Berlin's Viktoriapark, implies that it's well-known that the Kreuzberg ("cross hill") isn't really that high with its modest 66 meters.
Das ist ja nicht besonders groß.
That isn't particularly tall.
Caption 14, Berlin - Eva im ViktoriaparkPlay Caption
Halt is another very commonly used modal particle which can be translated as "just", "simply" or "as a matter of fact." Drummer Thomas Holtgreve of German band Frida Gold uses it to add accent, attitude and emphasis.
Ein bisschen auf die Spitze getrieben halt, so.
Just pushed it a little bit to the extreme, so.
Caption 18, Frida Gold - Making of „Zeig mir, wie du tanzt“Play Caption
In conclusion, modal particles are uninflected parts of speech used to convey impatience, surprise, disbelief, or urgency along with the statement. Try them out and give your next conversation "auf Deutsch" an authentic, casual feel.
If you want to fine tune your understanding of modal particles go to the Videos tab on german.yabla.com and enter the modal particle you want to practice into the search box. All videos containing said particle will appear. Focus only on watching those clips and your understanding of informal German along with the selected modal particles is sure to improve.
True friends: word pairs in two languages that look or sound similar, AND share a common meaning
The lesson Beware of False Friends! showed that German words that have similar sounding and written English counterparts aren't what one might take them for, at first glance.
The good news is that there are hundreds of these jewels, the so-called "true friends," lying about in plain sight. Yours for the taking! After studying articles and tenses for countless hours, what a welcome change! They are, indeed, "true friends" to the savvy German learner who is bound and determined to keep his eyes peeled for them, ready to pocket them and place them in the strongbox of his Wortschatz (vocabulary, literally "treasury of words"). In the text below are some dead reliable "true friends."
German children lernen (learn) from early on, that at bedtime der Sandmann (the Sandman) comes around with his bag of sand to tell a story and then sprinkle Sand (sand) in their eyes, which is said to make them sleepy. The stories of pig brothers Piggeldy and Frederick form a part of this collection. In every episode Piggeldy asks his older brother a question which they then try to explore together. The questions revolve around the simplest of matters, around almost philosophische Konzepte (philosophical concepts) like rain, the sky, tidying up...
In the following example you can see that "true friends" do, in fact, contribute to sentence comprehension.
Sie liefen eine Weile durchs Moor.
They walked a while through the moor.
Caption 7, Piggeldy und Frederick - RegenPlay Caption
For more examples of true friends, please go here.
Have you noticed that every clip features the speech rate under the Videos tab of our German Yabla site? If not, go to the Vocab tab (which you will find on the Videos page below each clip). In addition to a vocabulary list for the clips, you will also find the speech rate at the top.
As a rule, pick videos with a speech rate that is right for your level and stick with it until you feel comfortable increasing it. If you feel up to the challenge, try a couple of clips out of your comfort zone with higher speech rates and see how much content you can glean intuitively. You may be pleasantly surprised.
False Friends: word pairs in two languages that look or sound similar, but differ in meaning.
Have a look at the text below about the video Balztanz: für Fortgeschrittene, which includes a few false friends in German (in bold italics) and see if you can determine their true meaning in English!
A recent study investigating male dance moves that catch a woman's eye has shown that certain dance moves executed by men are more likely to grab women's attention than others. Neither robot impersonation and windmill-like flailing of the arms nor dezente dance moves (...noch dezente Tanzbewegungen...) set female hearts racing! Men might sich auch blamieren if they dance in circles (Männer könnten sich auch blamieren, wenn sie im Kreis tanzen.)
If they, however, emphasized upper body movement, paid attention to the right action in the left shoulder, the neck and the right knee and incorporated variety into their dance patterns they might bekommen what they are after ( ...könnten sie bekommen, was sie suchen). This just leaves one question open: Which traits lie hidden behind those moves?
Consider an example from one of our videos.
Bitte, seien Sie jetzt ganz still.
Please, be completely silent now.
Caption 60, Magie - Die ZaubershowPlay Caption
Pick two to three clips from one category, e.g. food, which discuss the same or a similar subject. Watch them in ascending order according to their level of difficulty. While watching you will notice that some of the vocabulary is the same. This exercise will enhance your contextual understanding, as well as, reinforce familiar words, consolidate your grasp of newer words and improve your listening skills.
At Easter time in (in) Germany, außer (aside from) the popular Easter egg hunt, there are also old Easter customs. My grandmother always used to tell me that young women would go to a brook am (on the) Eve of Easter Sunday and trickle water über (over) themselves. Durch (By) this practice they hoped to attain and preserve beauty. The catch was that they were not allowed to utter a single word auf (on) their journey. Whether or not it is true remains a mystery. I hope you all had a Happy Easter!
Now for something completely different. What comes to mind when you hear words like construction waste, scrap iron, sheet metal, etc.? ...Scrapyard!
Swiss musicians Bubble Beatz recycle and collect such items and incorporate them in (into) their so called "Trash Machine." Going unter (by) the name of "most attractive scrap heap von der (of) Switzerland", Bubble Beatz jump herum (around) and deliver a wild, sweat-inducing performance mit (with) elements of house, industrial and drum 'n bass auf (on) said Machine.
So prepositions are on the menu today! Those essential little words that usually introduce prepositional phrases to indicate the relation between things in a sentence.
Take a look at a few examples:
Im Augenblick mit ihrer "Trash Machine" auf Deutschland-Tour.
At the moment with their "Trash Machine" on Germany tour.
Caption 4, Bubble Beatz - Supertalente vom SchrottplatzPlay Caption
Some prepositions are identical in German and in English. But others just make us want to tear our hair out.
Ich hab' gesucht und gesucht
I've searched and searched
In den hintersten Ecken
In the furthest back corners
Nach Augen, die mich interessieren
For eyes that interest me
Captions 28-30, Frida Gold - Wovon sollen wir träumenPlay Caption
Das Tier um die Beine geschlungen und dann Kopf an Kopf posieren.
The animal looped around the legs and then posing head to head.Play Caption
Choose a clip according to your level of proficiency. While watching it, click on the words whose meaning you’re unsure of. After watching the clip, access your flashcards by clicking the Flashcard tab. All the words that you clicked have been compiled into sets. Review your flashcard set. Now watch the clip again. Has your listening comprehension improved? Finally, speaking aloud in German, recount what you saw and heard in the clip. Summarize the gist. Try using words you’ve just learned. At first, this will seem difficult. But over time you’ll be amazed at your increased fluency!
I invite you to take a journey with me back to the Middle Ages. At the Medieval Christmas Market, soul-snatcher Markus lures us to abandon ourselves to the vice of gambling. Of course, there is a reward involved!
Für jeden Mitspieler gibt es einen Edelstein des immerwährenden Glückes.
For every player there is a precious stone of everlasting happiness.
Caption 9, Mittelalterlicher Markt - MäuseroulettePlay Caption
What makes this precious stone so enticing? The aspect that it's immerwährend, right? Immerwährendes Glück is something everyone dreams of. When you use compound adjectives you can include additional information in a sentence and still keep it compact. They prevent you from having to write lengthy versions like ...einen Edelstein des Glückes, das immer währt. This clause is grammatically correct and has the same meaning. (There is another compound adjective hidden in the above clip. See if you can find it!)
Compare the sentence lengths of the German and English clauses below.
Diesmal mit systemkonformen Kunstwerken.
This time with artworks in conformity with the system.Play Caption
The words in bold emphasize clearly that compound adjectives can shorten a German sentence without having to omit any wanted information.
Have you seen and spoken this tongue-twister before? Kohlpechrabenschwarz (coal-pitch raven-black). If you haven't, try saying it just for fun! This compound adjective emphasizes the absolute blackness of something. So compound adjectives are also used to intensify and creatively underscore a noun's attributes in ways that one of the off-the-shelf variety cannot achieve.
Note: If you're searching for the definition of an adjective and aren't getting results, it may be a compound. In this case, break it into its component parts and search their meanings individually.
Set small, achievable short-term goals. While watching the videos:
Finally, if progress is slow, keep at it. Take the long view. Recall where you started and how far you've come. Always bear in mind that learning a second language is a life-long endeavor that will enrich your life for years to come!
anglicism: an English word or phrase that is used in another language
Germans can't do without them. There are some though, who don't feel the need to add a couple of English words to their mother tongue for good measure. Three students sharing an apartment in Berlin, for example, went as far as translating anglicisms back into German and introduced fines for every slip-up in Germish.
March is Carnival season or "The Fifth Season" in Germany. People dress up and masquerade to chase and scare away winter. In this month's featured video three veterans explain the old Carnival tradition, dating back to the Middle Ages. Note the following anglicism:
Und am Sonntag is' Pause, "beauty sleep", oder...
And on Sunday a break, beauty sleep, or...
Caption 65, Fastnacht - Karneval - KarnevalistenPlay Caption
Anglicisms are very common in German.
In our video about the famous Austrian tattoo artist Mario Barth, in which he expresses his support for the animal rights organization PETA, you'll find a number of them.
...und hat das "Statement" gesetzt "Ink, not Mink" [Tinte nicht Nerz].
...and has made the statement "Ink, not Mink".Play Caption
Finally: Longing for your summer vacation or just a brief holiday get-a-way to a warmer clime? Then take a look at Christiane: fährt in den Urlaub. Test your understanding of spoken German in this practical scenario and search for das Handy* in the clip. Regarding this anglicism, German has taken an English adjective and morphed it into a noun. Can you guess what it is? She says before leaving on her trip: Ah, was ich immer vergesse, das Aufladegerät fürs Handy.
* Tipp auf Deutsch für Fortgeschrittene: Das Handy ist eine Erfindung der modernen Kommunikationstechnologie, ohne die viele von uns nicht mehr aus dem Haus gehen.
If you want to reinforce the use of words in your favorite vocabulary list, go to the Video tab on Yabla German and type the word into the search box on the upper right side of the page. A list of every video containing this word will be generated. The captions from each clip in which the word occurs will appear. Try this and easily discover the word's correct use in different contexts.
Although languages are always changing due to influences of society, forms of government, and historical events, some elements of language, such as idiomatic phrases, have been preserved in languages for centuries. They come in handy in every context, for example, in the lyrics of Berlin hip hop/reggae band Culcha Candela.
Alles im Eimer...
Everything's down the drain [in the bucket]...
Caption 2, Culcha Candela - Schöne neue WeltPlay Caption
Let's look at something else that can be im Eimer (ruined; done for; broken).
Nachdem er das Auto gegen die Wand gefahren hatte, war es im Eimer.
After he had driven the car against the wall, it was broken.
You are probably familiar with the sensation of having a dry mouth. Well, Thomas Raudnitzky was experiencing just that while being awarded the Metropolitan Prize for hosting the trendy magazine RheinMain Szene.
... mir blieb auch irgendwie die Spucke weg.
... somehow the spit stayed away from me [idiom: at a loss for words].
Caption 4, Preisverleihung - Bestes MagazinPlay Caption
Now take a look at Lucas' "dry mouth" experience while test-riding a crazy new roller coaster in our video about Lucas' not so run-of-the-mill hobbies.
Da bleibt einem wirklich kurz die Spucke im Hals stecken.
For a moment, the spit really gets stuck in your throat [it's astonishing].
Caption 24, Lucas' Hobbys - Achterbahn und BungeePlay Caption
Figuratively, this expression means to be utterly surprised, stunned or at a loss for words. In biblical times already, it was observed that someone salivates less when afraid. This was interpreted as a sign of God that the accused was guilty, who, out of fear, was unable to say anything that could have saved him.
A great way to improve your listening skills is watching the clips first once without captions. This will help you to focus more on the audio. Then watch them again, this time with captions. Repeat these two steps a couple of times. Do you notice an improvement? Keep practicing!
aufheben: to suspend; to pick up
Have you ever longed to put the pedal to the metal? Car enthusiasts throughout the world dream of hitting the Autobahn in their favorite gas guzzler. In a recent move that has environmentalists upset and speed demons ecstatic, Germany has removed more barriers to high-velocity travel:
Das Verkehrsministerium hat einige Tempolimits aufgehoben.
The Ministry of Transport has lifted some of the speed limits.Play Caption
The infinitive of the verb in boldface is aufheben. As with many other German verbs, it has numerous meanings in different contexts. In this case it means to "suspend something", to "declare something as invalid."
Die Geldstrafe wurde aufgehoben.
The fine was cancelled.
Mit dem Ende der Apartheid wurde das Handelsembargo gegen Südafrika aufgehoben.
With the end of apartheid, the trade embargo against South Africa was lifted.
In our video about Karlsruhe's phenomenal ultimate frisbee team, we encounter another meaning of aufheben, "to pick up":
... und du würdest ihn einfach aufheben.
... and you'd simply pick it up.
Caption 19, Ultimate Frisbee - Oli erklärt das SpielPlay Caption
Have you heard the expression Viel Aufhebens um etwas machen? In the figurative sense, the expression means to "make a fuss about something." It originated from the language of fencers, who, prior to fighting, picked up their swords from the ground, accompanied by elaborate ceremonies and boastful words.
Keep an eye out for these and other uses of aufheben, an extremely versatile German verb!