Wednesday, June 30, 2004


Terms are given in the order of the first entry. Memory clues are marked by an *.

German: Familie
Dutch: familie
Swedish: familj

man and woman
Mann und Frau / man en vrouw / man och kvinna
*kvinna is like queen

husband and wife
Mann und Frau / man en vrouw / man och fru

Eltern / ouders / föräldrar
*think elders

father and mother
Vater und Mutter / vader en moeder / far och mor
*far, mar lose middle "t" sound, just like Fr. père, mère

boy and girl
Knabe und Mädchen / jongen en meisje / pojke und flicka
*knave and maiden / young'n and missy / ?

son and daughter
Sohn und Tochter / zoon en dochter / son och dottor
*out loud, they all sort of work

Kinder / kinderen / barn
*kindergarten / the "born"

brother and sister
Bruder und Schwester / broer en zus / bror och syster
*broer and bror as Fr. frère, lost the middle "t" sound


Communication Problems in Germanic

These are some very important phrases for surviving if you haven't got far with these languages. I've broken them down into pieces so you can see how they go together and compare. At the end, you'll get things all put together.

ich - I
verstehe = understand
(stehe = stand)
ich verstehe = I understand
nicht = not
Ich verstehe nicht. = I don't understand

ik = I
begrijp = understand
(think "get a grip on")
ik begrijp = I understand
het = it
ik begrijp het = I understand it
niet = not
Ik begrijp het niet. = I don't understand.

jag = I
vörstår = understand
(står = stand)
jag vörstår = I understand
inte = not
(scramble Du. niet)
Jag vörstår inte. = I don't understand.

spreche = speak
ich spreche = I speak
kein = no
Deutsch = German
Ich spreche kein Deutsch. = I don't speak any German.

spreek = speak
ik spreek = I speak
geen = no
Nederlands = Dutch
Ik spreek geen Nederlands. - I don't speak any Dutch.

talar = speak
(think tale-telling)
jag talar = I speak
inte = no, not
svenska = Swedish
Jag talar inte svenska. = I don't speak any Swedish.

Sie = you
Sie sprechen = you speak
Sprechen Sie... = Do you speak...
Englisch = English
Sprechen Sie Englisch? = Do you speak English?

u = you
u spreekt = you speak
Spreekt u... = Do you speak...
Engels = English
Spreekt u Engels? = Do you speak English?

du = you
du talar = you speak
Talar du... = Do you speak...
engelska = English
Talar du engelska? = Do you speak English?

Now, here are your phrases, all put together. Practice them carefully, so you can say all three in rapid succession. The best part is that once you've managed this, it won't be completely true because you're using some pretty useful structures and vocabulary here. Here's the exercise:

You've made the mistake of saying Guten Tag, Tag or Godmiddag, and been answered with a torrent of something Germanic in character. What do you say?

German: Ich verstehe nicht! Ich spreche kein Deutsch! Sprechen Sie Englisch?
Dutch: Ik begrijp het niet! Ik spreek geen Nederlands! Spreekt u Engels?
Swedish: Jag vörstår inte! Jag talar inte svenska! Talar du engelska?

Building blocks: How are you? Good, thanks.

Wie (vee): how
geht (gate): goes (think "goeth")
es (ess): it
Ihnen (ee-nen): (to or for) you
Wie geht es Ihnen? : How are you?

Hoe (hoo): how
gaat (khaht): goes (think "goeth")
het (heht): it
met (meht): with (cf Old English "mid")
u (ew): you
Hoe gaat het met u? : How are you?

Hur (hewr): how
står (stor): stands
det (de): it
till (til): to
Hur står det till? : How are you?

How are you?
German: Wie geht es Ihnen? (How goes it for-you?)
Dutch: Hoe gaat het met u? (How goes it with you?)
Swedish: Hur står det till? (Howdo things stand?)

Fine, thanks
German: Danke, gut! (Thanks, good)
Dutch: Goed, dank u. (Good, thank you)
Swedish: Bra, tack. (Good, thanks)

Yes and No / Please and Thank you

Yes and No

Yes and No
German: Ja und Nein
Dutch: Ja en Nee
Swedish: Ja och Nej

Note the freebie: "and" is in italics. The words "yes" and "no" shouldn't be too hard.

Please and Thank you

German: Bitte. (I bid you)
Dutch: Alstublieft. (think "as you believe")
Swedish: Tack. (put it at the end of the request, thanks)

Thanks (a lot)
German: Danke (sehr) (Thanks - for sure)
Dutch: Dank u wel (Thank you well)
Swedish: Tack.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

What's tricky with the Germanic languages (eg German, Dutch and Swedish)

Every language family has its own peculiarities, as does every language. In attacking the Germanic languages, the number one troublespot is... German. This article will not untangle all the confusions. My more humble purpose is to mention a few big issues where I have some practical advice to offer. Here, then, are some things you should know about before you start with the Germanic languages.

1. What are strong and weak verbs?

Weak verbs are more or less regular. To use them you stick on the standard endings and away you go. A weak verb in English is "to learn." Its forms are easy: I learn, he learns, we learned, they have learned, etc. Strong verbs rely on something called umlaut, which is German for "muck up the vowels". A strong verb in English is "to do." Its forms are hard: I do, he does, we did, they have done, etc.

In studying the Germanic languages, you'll find that they all follow that charming English tendency to be regular except when they're irregular according to patterns that hold except when they don't. The good news is that they all tend to do this in similar ways, except where strong verbs have become weak, i.e. easy anyway.

2. What are noun declensions and cases?

In grammar, "case" means that you put endings on nouns and adjectives to indicate their role in relation to the other words in the sentence. In English, we only have one case: we add "'s" to make something possessive, as in "John's car". All other relationships are indicated by word order or position. For example, in the sentence "John's car is a blue Mustang," car, blue and Mustang all take their role based on where they are; only "John's" is explicitly marked for its function.

German has four cases, nominative - subject, accusative - direct object, dative - indirect object and genitive - possessive. For Dutch and Swedish, case won't be a problem, though gender still will.

3. What's this gender thing?

In language, gender is not an indication of sex, but of which case endings to use together. "Maiden" and "miss" are neuter - it - in the Germanic languages, because of the word endings, for example. Gender did at one time sort of correspond to sex where human beings were concerned, sort of, but in a system where blenders are masculine and food processors are feminine, one shouldn't try to read too much into things.

The big thing to know about gender is that, as I said, it indicates how to put case endings together. Specifically, when you use an adjective it has to be marked for the same number and gender as what it modifies. This means that even in Swedish and Dutch, where cases aren't such a problem, gender is an issue. If you're talking about a "little girl," "little" has to have the right ending to be paired with "girl."

4. What's the deal with Swedish articles?

Indefinite articles (a) come before the noun; definite articles (the) come after as suffixes. It's more complicated, perhaps, but that's enough to get you started.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Good night!

G. Gute Nacht (gootuh nah-cht)
D. Goedenacht (khoodö-nah-cht)
S. Godnatt (goo-not)

As you can see, "night" has an "ah" instead of an "i" sound in most of the Germanic languages. And now you see where that "gh" bit in the spelling came from; while the spelling changed, the sound disappeared altogether.

Good evening!

Think of "Good evening" or "Good quelling*"

G. Guten Abend (gooten ah-bent)
D. Goedenavond (khoodön-ah-vont)
S. Godkväll (goo-k-vell)

* Not really, but thinking of the stifling of the sun may help you remember.

Good afternoon!

You'll see that this one is like "good day" or "good midday".
Guten TagGoedemiddagGodmiddag
gooten tahkkhoodö-mid-dakhgoo mid-duh

Good morning!

Visitors to the "First 50 words in Spanish, French and Italian" will know it started with individual words and showed how to put them together. Because the Germanic languages are trickier - a lot more endings, among other things - I think it's better to learn whole phrases and gradually learn what's inside. For that reason, we're going to start with several greetings of the "Good morning" variety, then break out the pieces. For example, in this first item, you'll plainly see "good" and "morning," but we're not going to figure out anything in the middle yet.

Here's Good Morning:

Guten MorgenGoedemorgenGodmorgon
gooten mor-genkhoodö mor-khöngoo-mo-ron

kh as in loch; oo as in "book"; oo (no italics) as in "boo"; ö like German schön, French peu (use "er" if you can't get it)'s German/Dutch/Swedish weblog

Welcome to's Germanic languages blog for learning German, Dutch and Swedish. By following the posts (in chronological order) on this site, you can progressively learn how to speak all three of these languages at once.

A word about the structure of For convenience of content creation, few interfaces are surpassed in ease of use by the free service. This site uses to generate all short items. The items on this weblog are of two varieties: 1) selections unique to the weblog presented for general interest
2) short items associated with's more structured learning programs's Germanic languages program is still in a very early stage of development. Though not available as of this posting, a German/Dutch/Swedish page is coming that will offer a more structured approach to the individual items on this weblog. Stay tuned.

Save 10% on Rosetta Stone software.