Profile Piece: Monika Schulte

German Professor Monika Schulte did not have a great first experience with English. Raised in West Germany, a secondary language often taught in public education in West Germany was often English. And her English teacher was hindered by an inability on her part to speak German. 

A story from Schulte goes that one rainy morning, the English teacher meant to say “heute ist schwül,” translated as “today is muggy.” What she really said was “heute ist schwul.” That is translated as “today is gay.” 

“I think what makes it [German] hard is that because I’m a German native, my sentence construction in the English language is totally off and sometimes it is hard to understand the student’s perspective – where they are coming from, what their thinking is – and why they don’t get it correct.” says Schulte, who now teaches German and must speak English on the daily. There are parts of English she doesn’t get to this day. For example, she avoids using the word “do” because the German Equivalent, machen, isn’t used to the degree we native English speakers do. Even then, machen has a double meaning as “to make.” 

Here’s an example on how German sentence structures are different: “Ich heisse John Sassano.” Word-for-word, the translation is “I am called John Sassano.” When translators work grammatically, they would take this sentence and change it to “My name is John Sassano.” And yet, in German, the question for someone else’s name is, “Was ist dein namen?” Word-for-word, that is “What is your name?” 

Nathan Blackburn, a student in German 1102, states that to him the hardest part is “the annunciation and pronunciation and getting the proper sound of it. And a lot of the words aren’t pronounced the same way we would imagine it in English.” What he means is that there is no “sh” but there is “sch.” Whenever an umlaut is thrown into the mix, the whole pronunciation of the word is changed.  

Let’s use Austria’s german name, Österreich. To someone who doesn’t speak German, one would assume that it would be pronounced “os-terr-reich.” But to Germans, the correct pronunciation sounds more like “oos-tehr-reyeck.”  

And yet, English itself has German roots. English language was originally formed by a group of Germans who migrated to Britain calling themselves the “Anglo-Saxons.” It is from them that we get the name “England” for central Britain. This was named for the Anglos.  

The are two reasons why German and English have become so distinct from one another. 

The first can be attributed to linguistic isolation. England is a long way from Germany, so trade must have been limited by distance to only a few parts of Germany. The second is because of the invasions England sustained during its existence. First was the Viking Invasions of the late dark ages, partially injecting Norse into English. Second was the Norman Conquest of 1066. This had Romanized the English language by subjecting English 1to one of the main Latin-based languages – Old French. 

Professor Schulte would enjoy the prospect of making her own changes to English, particularly in specific words. “I would invent many more flavorful words, like ‘breakfeastin’ which is like ‘frühstücken’ which means to have breakfast.” 

What she means is that German has many words that have no real English equivalence, so they are translated as what it means. Schadenfreude is a common one, meaning laughing at another’s pain or misery. 

Another German 1102 student, Ben Thornburgh, said, “The hardest part [about German] for me is the fact that all the nouns are gendered.”  

The German language uses three genders for their nouns. Nouns are divided to one of three genders: der, die or das. Male, female or neutral. “A lot of them, you can figure out intuitively, but some are just hit or miss.” Not every noun grouped into an obvious category has the most obvious gender. Most alcohol has a masculine form, but beer itself is neutral.  

Even more confusing are clothes, most of which go into opposite. Take “der rock.” It’s masculine, but it translates out to “skirt.” Why? Nobody can seem to answer. 

Monika Schulte: Phone – 706-778-8500×1428. Email – mschulte@piedmont.edu. 

Nathan Blackburn: Email – nblackburn0508@lions.piedmont.edu. 

Ben Thornburgh: Email – bthornburgh0421@lions.piedmont.edu. 

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