Learning German through Google Translate?

I was unable to take German courses before I moved to Germany, and I knew to expect consequences.

Most people in the U.S. would say, “Oh, you’ll be fine. They all speak English over there.” As a tourist, yes, most people you interact with will speak English: hotel clerks, waitstaff, tour guides- they are hired to do so. Even non-native English speakers from non-German-speaking countries will default to English to communicate. All travelers just can’t know every language; otherwise, they wouldn’t go anywhere.

So, when you’re alone, stopped at the grocery check-out counter, hearing a slew of German coming at you because of something you did or did not do, you stand with a blank look on your face wondering what you did wrong, and you really can confirm that not everyone knows English.

I go to the bakery below my apartment about every 2 days for bread (or for a  pretzel emergency). Every time, I go to the counter ready to show off my (extremely limited and embarrassing) German skills, and every time, I’m shot down by the follow-up questions.

Day 1

  • Me: Eine Brezel, bitte. (One pretzel, please.)
  • Baker: aiwejofaief;oa;efoiajeofi aojo aijefo aijfeo?
  • Me: Uhhh, I’m sorry. (Look on my face: I have no idea what is happening here.)
  • Baker: Just one?
  • Me: Oh, yes, just one.

Once at home, I go to Google Translate to teach me how to communicate:

Then, I put my confidence back on and go out to do better the next day.

Day 2

  • Me: Eine baguette, bitte. (A baguette, please.)
  • Baker: zofiaoeia;eif;aijef efjoafei;aiefj?
  • Me (confidently): Nur ein. (Only one.)
  • Baker: zofiaoeia;eif;aijef efjoafei;aiefj?
  • Me: Ummm, I’m sorry???
  • Baker: I was asking is that all?
  • Me: Oh, yes, that is all.

Back at home, I go to Google Translate again. And, after this time, I know I am ready and will not need to depend on the baker’s English skills. This is a good thing, because today, the baker that assists me does not speak English.

Day 3: 

  • Me: Eine Brezel, bitte. (Side note: Yeah, maybe I have a pretzel problem.)
  • Baker: aiofeiaj ojao iefjaoeijfaoiej?
  • Me: Das ist alles. 🙂 🙂 🙂 (That is all.)
  • Baker: aoidfjao;iefja;oiejf;a ijfoaijef;oiajoefija;ofiejo ;aijf oaijfo;ai jofija;oeifja????
  • Me: Ummmmm, I’m sorry?
  • Baker: (Look of exasperation and a sound of something in German like “Never mind.” Instead of trying to tell me, she just bags up my pretzel.)
  • Me: Uh, Dankeschön!!! (Uh, thank you!)

Walking out of the store, I feel defeated, and I’m hoping I didn’t just miss out on some kind of pretzel happy hour…

I was mostly hoping that I would learn quite a bit of German through a combination of osmosis and Google Translate, and while it seems like the easiest plan, it’s actually pretty difficult. Even though I do encounter a lot of English speakers, I would like to feel more independent and respectful by interacting in German. I’m currently researching some courses to take in January when we return after the holidays, but in the meantime, I will rely on my looks of confusion and trusty internet companion. In fact, right now, I’m going to look up how to say “I don’t understand” so I’ll be ready to go to the bakery tomorrow.

Actually, I’m going to also translate “Pretzel happy hour” just to be safe.

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6 responses to “Learning German through Google Translate?

  1. “Ich spreche kein Duetsch.” – I don’t speak German
    or
    “Ich verstehe nicht” – I don’t understand.

    Miranda taught me those two when I would visit her in Germany. Glad to see you guys are having fun. See you in a few days!

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  5. Hilarious and so true! In Geneva and Barcelona I’ve had these unfortunate encounters. Why is it always when buying food??? And it is always the food you want the most like the just baked chocolate filled croissant pastries at the corner bakery or the sweet little hole in the wall fondue place. Grr… I try to impress with a sweet phrase of gratitute only to realize I am ten million phrases short of not looking like a doofus.

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