I’m week 3 into German classes at the VHS and more than 20 lessons done on Pimsleur. German is beginning to sound more pleasing to the ears than before and I find myself actually liking it now. It no longer sounds like people are spitting or clearing their throats. Phew…
Many students bitch about German grammar. Compared to Chinese and Japanese, German grammar looks unnecessarily complicated. One of the first things that frustrates me is that all nouns have a gender. I have no intention to write an entry on the history of the German language. There isn’t really any logic to classify these nouns and students just have to learn them by heart.
In reality, does it really matter? I guess not. I could walk into a cafe and get all confused as to whether coffee is feminine, masculine or neutral and I’ll still get my order. However, I’m really surprised that many learners THINK that that’s acceptable. That it is 100% okay to get the gender of nouns all mixed up and not bother learning them.
I do not disagree that at the end of the day we learn a language to be able to communicate effectively with others. On the other hand, I can’t emphasise more on the importance to learn a language right. Whilst using an incorrect article (for the gender) have no consequences on your Starbucks coffee order, it is important to get the basics right. Unfortunately, knowing the genders of nouns is so important in German since it will affect the accusative, dative, genitive and nominative cases. Pronouns etc changes according to the gender of the nouns. It’s a pain in the arse but if you’re going to learn a language, at least try to learn it right. However, learners should not have the fear of using the wrong articles and thus prevent them from speaking. By all means, use an incorrect article. But if you’re unsure, check it up and make sure you avoid the same mistake in the future.
Usually, English speakers (like myself) are guilty of such a mindset because we don’t see a point or logic in having genders for nouns. But just because we haven’t got them in our language doesn’t mean we downplay the importance of it in German. To state an example, if a non-English speaker refuses to learn progressive tense and past tense in the English language and keep saying stuff like “I go to school yesterday”, “I am eat now”, “Here is a egg” etc…wouldn’t that sound strange to a native speaker’s ears? Would you say the person speaks good English? Sure, we all get the meaning of these sentences and bad grammar on most occasions do not act as a communication barrier. But if one has the ability to try to learn a language right, why wouldn’t you? Why take the lazy (and I wouldn’t even call it the EASY) way out?