Oberlin Blogs

The Study Abroad Series: Speaking Denglisch and Studying German

November 9, 2013

Emily Wilkerson ’15

I recently got a postcard from Ida in which she asked whether or not I think in German yet. My answer was that I think and speak auf Denglisch. That is to say I pepper my German with Anglicisms (intentional and unintentional) in addition to outright errors that immediately identify me as an English speaker. My accent has improved in the past month, but I still slip into English pronunciations at random times (even in the middle of class presentations...) and I insert English words when I don't know the German equivalent or want to get a thought out quickly. When I talk to the Germans on my floor, we usually start out speaking German, but no matter what, we end up throwing some English into the mix, whether it's because I can't figure out how to formulate a particular thought and don't want to bring the conversation to a grinding halt or because one of them has a joke that only makes sense in English.

A German a cappella group singing a song called "Denglisch"

This goes both ways. When I'm with the other Americans on my program, we switch between languages constantly and often use German words in conversations that are mostly in English.

I'm a fan of Denglisch, it certainly keeps things interesting, but I'm here to learn German. That's where my classes, all of which are auf Deutsch, come in. At the beginning of the semester, I took a test that identified me as a B1 German speaker and placed me in the middle German grammar course, exactly where I expected to be. Based on that placement, I decided to take only one course at LMU this semester and take the rest of my courses at JYM. The benefit of doing that is that to an LMU professor, I'm a student, but to a JYM professor, I'm an English-speaking student learning German in addition to learning the course material. This isn't to say that the JYM professors have lower expectations for us, but they have a better idea of the kind of work we'll be able to do. Next semester I plan to take more classes at LMU, but the current arrangement of mostly JYM classes suits me at the moment.

My favorite class is Germany Today: Politics, News and Culture. As you can probably tell from the title, the course is about contemporary German culture within the context of post-war politics. We start every class by discussing1 the week's news and taking an in-depth look at a particular news publication. We're also required to go to cultural events for the course; so far we've been to a movie (much of which was in Bayrisch), a concert at the Music Hochschule, and the Jewish Museum of Munich. It's funny, I think of this class as something that I couldn't get at Oberlin, but the class is very Oberlinian in spirit; interdisciplinary, rich in culture, and taught by an excellent professor.

Speaking of classes I couldn't take in Oberlin, my next class is Munich and Nationalsocialism, which looks at German history during the 30s and 40s through the lens of the city of Munich. I wasn't originally sold on taking this class, an entire class on Nazis seemed a bit too intense, but my after one of the professors at JYM off-handedly said that you could really only take a class like this here in Munich, I decided to go for it. I wasn't wrong about the subject matter being tough, it certainly is. Reading about the Beer Hall Putsch and knowing what comes after makes my stomach churn, but it's interesting and important stuff and it's certainly making me see Munich in a more complex way.

My last JYM class is Intro to the Study of German Literature. At this point, this is the third "intro to the study of ___ literature" class I've taken and there is a fair amount of overlap here. Obviously the works are different, but we're talking about genre, literary forms, literary analysis, and the like in pretty much the same way that we did in my American literature classes. It's lucky that I like that sort of thing, otherwise I imagine I'd be a bit bored.

Finally, the class I'm taking at LMU is Literary Translation: Aspects of Theory and Practice. The translation class I took last semester was one of my favorite classes ever, so when I heard about this class, I knew I had to sign up. The twist is that unlike my translation class at Oberlin, where we all translated into English, we're translating into German. Translating into a second language is much more difficult than translating from a second language and so far, I am pretty terrible at it. As I said above, my German is peppered with errors and Anglicisms, so it's tough for me to communicate subtle nuances and to write with any sort of style. Luckily, the professor seems to understand that and has been pretty helpful thus far, but even so, I can sense that this course might be a difficult one for me since I don't like to be bad at things.

I've gotta say, when I look at my schedule, I feel like a pretty lucky girl. In fact, I'm feeling pretty lucky in general. I live in an amazing city where I can have a little adventure every day, I'm studying what I love, and I'm learning a new language. It's a good life.

And now for the shameless plug portion of the post: I'm writing a blog about my study abroad experience in general and experimenting with video blogging, which I plan to start doing for Oberlin as well. The blog is here, but be forewarned: Ma'ayan said that based on my blog, it seems like I'm "just traipsing around Germany speaking German and eating apples and visiting museums." A fair criticism (and one that will make much more sense if you watch the video below), so I'll probably start posting more about classes soon. Don't worry, though; as long as I'll be here I'll be visiting museums and writing about it.


1 Discussing is a nice way of saying that our professor basically picks a person, gives them an oral quiz about the major news stories, and if they need help the rest of us will come to their rescue.

Responses to this Entry

How about in a month or so try "Meine Deutschlehrerin" by Wise Guys. This is the 'spot the mistakes' kind of exercise and not all that easy!

Posted by: Muriel on November 10, 2013 9:31 AM

Of course my mom commented on this, haha! We used to listen to Wise Guys in the car a lot. I'm really glad this post just reminded me that they exist. Anyway, YAY A BLOG POST! Wish we could be Denglish buddies when you got back. I know I am sometimes guilty of it. Also, I remember you writing about the translation workshop you took here last year and I may or may not be putting together my application for it today...

Posted by: Ida on November 11, 2013 2:30 PM

The rare double Hoequist comment! I love it!

YAY. I hope the translation class works out! I just checked and the professor isn't the same as the (amazing) one I had last year, but I'm sure that the course will still be great.

Posted by: Emily on November 16, 2013 7:44 AM

Soooooo a story from Ma'ayanland: I've lived a lot of my life with two languages flying about when I'm around my family, and I find it fascinating which words/phrases/jokes come out with which language. Humor in particular is probably the most interesting of them all, because things like wordplay or cultural references don't really translate. So we mash it up and speak all the languages.

I'm really curious how this works with language-based study abroad programs, because language the bulk of your learning experience. Is the expectation that your balance of Denglish flips after being there and working on it longer, or is Denglish pretty much the deal all over when you're interacting with speakers of both languages?

Posted by: Ma'ayan on November 21, 2013 11:12 AM

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