April 15, 2012 | Review Period

Grammar Travels Under and Above Ground

Zipping back and forth from one language's grammar to the next is insanely great fun.

In the book Complete German Grammar by Ed Swick, I read, “Sometimes the gender used in Germany is different from the gender used in Austria or Switzerland.” That I did not know, or at least I didn’t remember it. German already has three genders, which is two too many in my opinion, so that kind of sucks.

Wherever I go, I have been taking my Pimsleur lessons with me. I decided to redo levels III in German and French. I’m not doing Spanish Pimsleur at present. That’s the language I’m most comfortable in, and where my accent is best (I think) and least susceptible to encroachment from accents in other languages, so I’m not sure Pimsleur is so worthwhile for it. I ultimately decided to go all the way back to the second level of Pimsleur for Italian, because there is much basic stuff I have forgotten.

I Saw This Spectacular Outfit on the L Train on the Way to Brandt's Show

I Saw This Spectacular Outfit on the L Train on the Way to Brandt’s Show

Refreshing my memory so thoroughly and multilingually feels unbelievably great. It’s funny the things I forget, though. Simple things like how to pronounce s’s in German. Does the s in Bluse (blouse) sound like a z or is it an s sound? I’ve known that for years, never had trouble remembering it, and now I simply can’t keep it straight.

Or also how to pronounce the vowel i in ihm (to him). That kind of stuff I knew, but studying too many languages makes some of the basics levitate right out of my head.

I am not loving all of these “Complete Grammar” books from McGraw-Hill. I have been drifting away from a couple of them…the French is okay, but the German does not have enough translation exercises for my taste.

In multiple languages I am being reminded of how much I hate the imperative. It is so easy in English.






In other languages you have to do more complicated things, like think about whom you’re addressing, then pick the right verb form to match, then figure out where the objects get placed, or whether you need to mention the subject, and so on. I don’t like it.

For some reason, though, I have always been partial to present, past, and future perfect. I like those. Ho mangiato gli spaghetti. Avevo mangiato gli spaghetti. Avrò mangiato gli spaghetti. (I have eaten, had eaten, and will have eaten the spaghetti.)

That’s good stuff.

A lot of my reviewing lately has taken place on the way back and forth to my husband’s play Just Sex, which reopened at Theater for the New City last month (it also played there last August) and ran through last night. The trip from the Upper West Side to the East Village, where the theater is, has been a route of much language learning.

One night a couple of weeks ago, I was heartened to realize I still remembered something of the Hebrew alphabet when, post-show, I was able to read the Hebrew letters in a tattoo on a friend’s back. 

Tattoo reading was not an application I considered back in the summer of 2009 when I started all of this, but many tattoos seem to have foreign languages in them. So maybe I will be better prepared for such situations now.

Studying German makes me have powerful impulses to (1) eliminate noun gender, (2) eliminate most grammatical cases, and (3) end the capitalization of nouns. That would expedite things significantly.

Comments (2)

mimi • Posted on Mon, May 21, 2012 - 11:50 pm EST

I hate imperative too. except for negative imperative NON ASPETTARE!  Non andare!
Non starnutire!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Tue, May 22, 2012 - 12:28 am EST

It is nice to have company in my imperative-induced dismay.

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