In countries, such as Poland and the Netherlands, learning German is on the rise. Yet, in the U.S., it’s been declining for the past hundred years. Numbers of students learning German have decreased from roughly two million in 1910 to a little over one million today. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that German programs have been closing all over the U.S. The very liberal arts college I attended as a bachelor student in Indianola, Iowa – Simpson College – eliminated its German program a few years ago. So in preparation for this German American Day (Oct. 6), I decided to attempt to do some PR for German.
Recently, while I was surfing the web, I came across something that almost knocked me for a loop. It’s nothing bad, just a 58-letter word. So let’s hear that drum roll….
That word is: Kurzfristen-energie-versorgungs-sicherungs-maßnahmen-verordnung.
Believe it or not, it’s really a word. But what does it have to do with German American Day, you ask? Everything. German is such a wonderful language; it’s hard for me to believe that not everyone wants to learn it. After all, there are a lot of cognates like T‑shirt, hotel, or computer, to name but a few. But more importantly, you can just make new compound words by putting two or more words together. As many of you might know, Mark Twain wrote about this feature in the 19th century. When I first started learning German in high school, building and deciphering German compound nouns was highly entertaining. Some of my first encounters were:
- Handschuh – literally translated into English as “shoe for the hand,” and if you think about it for a while, you’ll eventually figure out that the word means “mitten”
- Fingerhut – literally translated as “a hat for a finger” or thimble
- Kühlschrank – “the cool cupboard” or refrigerator
A little imagination goes a long way in German, and when your German’s good enough to decipher a word like Kurzfristenenergieversorgungssicherungsmaßnahmenverordnung, then you know you’ve made it to the big leagues.
Anyway, here’s a little experiment you could do with beginning German language students or those who know no German at all. Get the German club or an upper-level class to do this exercise on German American Day, and don’t forget to hand out gummy bears to anyone who participates. Make cards with about 20 pictures on them and place the words in German and English below. Make sure they can build at least 10 words in German. Other words than the ones mentioned above might include: Fußball, Krankenwagen, Orangensaft, Käsekuchen, Haustier, Tomatensalat, Sandburg, Taschenlampe, or Apfelbaum. Include a couple of harder ones to up the ante, words like Armbanduhr or Meerschweinchen. The word Käsefuß should certainly be worth a few laughs.
As a warm-up exercise for an intermediate class, put the students in groups and see how many German words they can detect in Kurzfristenenergieversorgungssicherungsmaßnahmenverordnung. You might want to set a timer and make a race out of it.
For a more advanced group, have the students do an internet search and try to find out what that 58-letter word means, discuss an excerpt of Mark Twain’s “The Awful German Language,” and then write a short reaction paper.
Enjoy the day, everyone.
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