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Title: German For Dummies
Authors: Paulina Christensen and Anne Fox
Publisher: Hungry Minds, Inc., an imprint of John WIley & Sons Inc.
Copyright: © 2000
Relevance: For reporters and correspondents facing the daunting task of learning German prior to (or during) a posting to Germany, Austria or Switzerland, German For Dummies is a solid book/audio CD combination. The package contains the usual beginning phrases and pronunciation guides. German For Dummies, however, does add a variety of language and cultural details not usually found in an inexpensive introductory book.
Review: German For Dummies is a basic, yet thorough, text aimed at complete beginners to the German language. Each chapter introduces sufficient information to illustrate key points that must be acquired to speak this complex language. Throughout the book the tone is friendly and the authors aim to make readers more confident in their abilities.
Chapter 1 is a great example of this style. Titled, "You Already Know a Little German", the chapter takes readers through dozens of German words with which all English speakers are familiar. Word and phrases such as "die Olive", "der Name" and "parallel" are obviously identical (except, of course, for the gender-sensitive definite article). Words such as "der Kitsch" are less obviously English, but show how many familiar words are borrowed from German and have made it into Western/English culture.
Readers are also introduced to German words that sound very similar to their English counterparts yet are spelled slightly differently. In a section titled, "False friends", the book shows how some German words sound like certain English words, yet have completely different meanings. This section will likely save many a German-neophyte from an embarrassing gaffe. For example, the German word "Chef" is not the guy (or gal) who prepares one's food; rather, it is your boss or, if you're still in school, your principal. A more embarrassing gaffe might be using the German word "After" thinking it mimics its English counterpart. In fact, "After" in German means "anus". Clearly, a difference worth noting!
Chapter 2 takes listeners through the pronunciation of all the letters (with and without those diabolical diacritical marks used in the German language). German grammar, the bane of all German, Swiss and Austrian school kids, is also tackled in this chapter. Simple sentence construction in German is also discussed, including arranging all those agonizingly long words in the proper order, putting the verb in its proper place, and how to form simple questions. The authors also take time at this point to discuss the past, present and future verb tenses as well as some spoken numbers. Although helpful, this chapter is necessarily complex. Consequently, new German speakers will have to study this chapter more than once to fully gain advantage of the information presented here.
Unlike phrase books and other beginning German texts, the book concentrates on the fundamentals of the language before delving into the practicalities of making yourself understood. Although this is probably the way to understand this complex language better (and retain more), it may frustrate readers who just want to know enough to get by. It is, for example, only until Chapter 3 that readers are introduced to greeting basics such as formal and informal salutations.
Helpfully, the book also provides a number of sidebars that describe important points to remember such as when to use the formal, informal and even when not to use certain greetings such as the "Fräulein" to address a young woman (unless, perhaps, she is under 10 years old). Also included in this chapter are visual clues that readers can hear the dialogue outlined in the accompanying audio CD.
And speaking of the audio CD, we were lukewarm about the quality and tone of the accompanying CD. Although helpful -- especially for German neophytes -- much of the book's printed words are not reproduced on the audio disc. Further, each lesson is separated by a truly cheesy bit of German polka music designed (we guessed) to add a bit of local color. That said, the low price of the book and the helpful way it's designed, more than compensate for any shortcomings of the audio CD.
Other useful sections deal with making small talk; dining out and going to the supermarket to buy your own food (two very useful things for any hungry reporter on the road); and even shopping. Although the book is quite well tuned for the needs of the average traveler, it does not have many specialized words for our trade in its dictionary. Fortunately, words such as "camera", "video" and "batteries" translate directly into German so reporters shouldn't be that concerned that German For Dummies doesn't explicitly address situations in which these terms are necessary.
The subject of talking on the phone -- an obvious component of any reporter or writer setting up an appointment or interview -- nicely gets an entire chapter devoted to it. This topic is often neglected or glossed over in other beginning German books and the fact that German For Dummies includes this subject matter is quite useful for us.
Also useful for reporters (as well as other travelers) are the topics of where (and how) to get money, and asking for specific directions using the German "in", "nach" and "zu". Also covered are the various prepositions that German speakers use to express specific locations such as "auf" (on), "bei" (near or next to), "hinter" (behind), "vor" (in front of), "neben" (adjacent to); "zwischen" (between); "gegenuber" (opposite); and finally "an" (at). All of these are very important to investigative reporters following up on story leads.
Getting around in different modes of transportation such as planes, trains, taxis, and buses as well as the intricacies of planning a trip and handling emergencies are presented well. All three of these chapters are essential for getting around safely and would be helpful for any reporter or correspondent stationed in a German-speaking country.
One of the book's more interesting chapters presents a list of what not to say in certain situations. For example, readers learn how to address wait staff and service people in stores in a friendly, respectful way, rather than the way they might otherwise think learning German from old movies. Another example: knowing how to address the police respectively will also help reporters deal with covering stressful situations such as traffic accidents, street demos, or serious crimes.
Ten ways to pick up the German language quickly, and ten favorite German expressions help readers figure out how to make sense of street German (i.e., the language as it's spoken by real people -- not just in German textbooks). The chapter outlining ten phrases that "make you sound German" is another useful experience for anyone trying to blend in as much as possible in a German speaking environment -- again, perfect for the writer, reporter, ENG or correspondent.
Throughout the book, there are lots of useful sidebars about the German language and culture. For example, whereas in New York it's common to hail a taxi in the street, in German cities it is far more common to have to make your way to a taxi stand or call for one using a mobile phone. Just this one sidebar can save many frustrating minutes trying to hail a cab and having them race by.
German For Dummies is highly recommended, especially for first time German learners, and those who want to know a smattering of the language without going overboard. Although the book is relatively short for a language text (at just over 350 pages), it is packed with plenty of easy-to-understand material about speaking German, presented in the familiar (and friendly) For Dummies manner.
End of Review
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