Sunday, February 05, 2006

Ich bin Ausländer und spreche nicht gut deutsch

I'm going to break my own guidelines here and post some hilarious sentences from a first-year German exam I once supervised. I came across them again when sorting through old files on my computer today. Although I feel uncomfortable in general about posting verbatim from students' work, this exam was quite a while ago now, and I doubt if any of the students would recognise their work even if they stumbled across it somehow.

The sentences are from short essays the students had to write about a trip they had been on. English translations are included where translatable, but the originals are way funnier.

(1) Das Essen in Moskau war sehr schwierig aber lecker.
"The food in Moscow was very difficult but tasty". [schwierig = difficult; schwer = heavy].

(2) Es war so teuer dass meine Creditkarte hat kaputt gegangen.
"It was so expensive that my credit card broke".

(3) Der Kellnerin war faul und schlank.
"The waitress was lazy and slim".

(4) In an essay about a trip to Germany: Es war grau und regeln.
"It was grey and rules".
(A freudian slip, perhaps?) [regnen = to rain; Regeln = rules]

(5) Sie ist die schmeckesten Essen in der Univers! Sehr lacher.

(6) One student, instead of Meeresfrüchte, kept writing Seeobst.

(7) Another must have mixed up scheiß ("shit") and Schweiz ("Swiss"), because he wrote after describing a really bad experience (that had nothing to do with Switzerland): Es war ganz schweiz ("It was really Swiss") and then about a slightly better evening: Das war nicht so
schweiz ("That was not so Swiss").

(8) And finally, I think it's relevant that this excerpt is from an essay by a Japanese student (about her trip to the beach): In das Meer war 3 oder 4 Blauwal. Ich liebe Meeresfrüchte, so diesem Blauwal war am schönsten.
"In the sea were three or four blue whales. I love seafood, so these blue whales were the best."

I think that (2) and (3) say something interesting about the way people handle limits imposed by lack of vocabulary when speaking a foreign language. Presumably the students knew that they were not quite expressing themselves the way they wanted to, but for (2) it was obviously important to get across the message that the cost of the meal was so high it caused him problems when paying, and there was only one type of problem he was able to express: something being broken. And for (3), I guess she was trying to describe the waitress and probably only knew maybe six or seven adjectives to choose from, so used all that applied.

Examples like these show how hard it is for someone to get their real personality across when speaking a language they aren't yet fluent in. Often it even results in the listener getting a false impression of the speaker as unintelligent, or even humourous, when this isn't intentional. (And from personal experience, I'd say that once you have been the "entertaining foreigner", the good sport who's always happy to laugh at yourself and joke about your accent, it's very difficult to move on from this persona once you do become proficient in the language.)

I sometimes wonder how many problems of racism would be solved just by making it compulsory for everyone to spend some time in a country where they can only barely speak the language so they can see the situation from the other side of the fence? I vaguely remember seeing a proposal a few years ago to send German youths convicted of Neo-Nazi hate crimes on an exchange programme to Turkey. I don't think it ever got underway, though. More's the pity.

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Andy said...

(It was shit) "Es war ganz schweiz"
This was the funniest translation I have heard.

Greetings from Switzerland

clueless said...


新怡 said...

Hello, this is Mavis from Singapore.

did you have MP3 for the song "Ich bin Ausländer und spreche nicht gut Deutsch "?

if yes, can send me via email