Wednesday, January 18, 2006

 The Germans are coming! 

Over the holidays Cindy and I sent out newsletters to friends and family, a growing trend it seems among those who send Christmas cards and the like. (In lieu of regular year-round contact, I guess it's easier to save all the family and household news for one annual digest.)

Anyway, I saw that Cindy wanted to send copies to her relatives in Germany and Switzerland. Recalling that there were some free online translation tools available, I thought, why not send them a translated copy of our newsletter, auf Deutsch? So I ran my highly idiomatic text through Alta Vista's Babelfish tool, and pieced together this bizarro-universe version of the newsletter for them. However, based on previous experience with these translation tools, I suspected that some of the translations were probably confusing and silly to native speakers, so as a check I asked a neighbor who's originally from Germany to proof it, and perhaps correct it too (he's a high-school teacher in literature, and thoroughly fluent).

Well, he thought it was terrible, and offered to do the translation himself. I was surprised, but very grateful that he'd want to take on this project. So we sat down a couple days later and over several hours we pounded through the newsletter and offered a much more reasonable German equivalent. We laughed as we corrected some of the more outrageous automated language abuses offered by Babelfish, like their overly literal translation of tenure-track (calling it something to the effect of a rail-position) and using my reference to our heat pump operating "full blast" as meaning it was literally exploding.

So, with a fully corrected version ready to submit for actual German readers, we sent it off, having included 1) a brief statement that we were planning a trip to Germany this coming summer, and 2) pleading with people to come visit anytime they wanted, for we were always happy to host visitors here. And so, a couple weeks later, Cindy got an email from cousin Gerald in Wolfsburg that he had already booked a grand trip to the US in August, including a week stay here in Fort Collins! Wow, that was fast. But we're very excited, and since we know for sure they're coming, Cindy and I have launched our crash course in learning German, or at least some German. Our way of self-learning is through language recordings by Pimsleur, online resources like those at Deutsch Welle, and hopefully chatting with our aforementioned neighbor and his 2-year old son, who already knows way more German than we may ever know.

There is a joke (more like a truism) that if a German says he speaks a little English, that really means he's fluent. And that if a German tells you he's fluent in English, that really means he speaks better than you. In any case, we look forward to having visitors and doing our part to spread some international goodwill. I figure that since the boneheads running our government aren't up to the task, someone's gotta do it.

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You're absolutely correct Eric, every German, Dutch and Danish visitor I've met speaks English better than I do. And of course, I ONLY speak English.
Funny you should mention Danish - I knew a guy in college from Denmark, who was fluent in both German and English. His English was astounding. In fact, his English was so perfect and colloquial I didn't even know he was from Denmark until a several weeks after I'd met him, when I heard him talking loudly on the phone to relatives or something in Danish.
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