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  • Writer's pictureAlexis Rodda

Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof

It seems like I’ve been studying German for centuries, yet still can’t write or speak in any kind of meaningful way. My vocabulary is limited, my grammar questionable, and my confidence… well, my confidence is just about nonexistent.

I’m actually only a couple of generations removed from speaking German fluently. My great-grandmother was from Austria (or, Austria-Hungary, really), and my grandmother, according to my uncle, understood fluent German but chose to speak in English. While we value multilingual abilities now, it would have been difficult a century ago to imagine a society as global as ours. Therefore, assimilation was the desired goal.

My great-grandmother, Rose Bach Schlosser.

Of course, now I am back in Austria, trying to undertake a language that was a Muttersprache for my ancestors!

I’ve been working hard to brush up my patchwork German abilities. Here are some resources I’ve found works so far:

1.) Deutsche Welle ( has an incredible library of resources for German-learners. I’ve been watching this ridiculous telenovela in simple German called “Jojo sucht das Glück” that DW created, and while it’s very silly, I find myself eager to keep watching. I also have listened to their podcast and read their news page.

2.) Buzzfeed Germany ( is a great way for me to waste time while also learning something. Stupid internet content lures me from my work all the time, and Buzzfeed has the siren song that leads to my downfall much of the time. I’ve started allowing myself to read Buzzfeed as much as I want… as long as it’s in German.

And maybe my favourite so far:

3.) My Tandem Sprachpartner, Steffi! I found Steffi online through a Facebook page of those looking for Tandem Language Partners: basically you agree to help them with one language, and they help you with the language you’re trying to learn.

Steffi told me she needed help with English. Now, I knew how this would go, and I warned her: what you perceive as “bad” English is basically the level I dream to reach in my German someday. I wasn’t incorrect. I found her accent truly excellent, and to me, she seemed to speak fairly fluently.

However, Steffi is trying to improve her ability to speak about complex issues such as environmental sustainability and economics. Let’s just say, our conversation ended up being deeper than just “Where are you from?” and other surface questions!

We met at Cafe Vollpension, a place that employs real Grandmas to cook! Steffi explained (in German) that it gives older folks a place to work and a community with which to connect, especially during a time of life that might be more isolated. I loved the cafe. The atmosphere and food were great.

Cafe Vollpension in Vienna

I asked Steffi some silly questions: for example, can I say “Ich bin flexibel” when trying to say, “I’m flexible on time” or does it just sound like I’m crowing about my yoga skills? She said she didn’t say that phrase often, but yes, it would have the right meaning.

Then, I discovered that the way I had been ordering food was actually not what she perceived as “the most polite” even though I thought I was being very formal! In school I had always been taught to say, “Ich möchte eine Kaffee, bitte” but she suggested I switch to “Ich hätte gerne einen Kaffee.”

We also discussed grammar and word endings, which I need a lot of work on, and then I asked her to teach me some words relating to my dogs. I go to the dog park pretty much every day, and it’s a great place to strike up a simple conversation. However, I’m missing some dog words (such as bark, growl, neuter, spay, “do they have the same mother,” etc.), and she was able to help me use some words in a sentence!

I felt somewhat useful to her because I was able to use some of my English diction training to help her forming sounds she had trouble with, such as “TH” and “R.”

Overall, it was a great experience: Steffi is a really cool person, so it fills some of my social quota, plus I feel like we could potentially have a lot to learn from each other.

In addition, I am keeping a list of words I come across that I do not know. I’ll try to study these words to completion every week, with maybe three word lists a week. I’m trying not to overload my brain too much, because I know it comes with time!

Today’s Words, Tuesday, September 24th

Vorteile - reasons

Leugnen - deny

Verantwortlich - responsible

Wahnsinnig - insane

Unbehaglich - uncomfortable

Hintergangen - deceived

Abstimmen - coordinate

Unangenehme - Unpleasant

Beziehungen - Relationships

Essbares - edible

Komisches - comical

Verkriechen - hide

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