Bad German or First Sign of Madness?

Who or what do you practice your languages on? I now share a flat with a cat (belonging to flat mate) who doesn’t care what you say to him, even if it’s crappy Spanish.

I had a moment of self-examination this evening when I came home, and the cat was right there (I will protect his privacy by withholding his name), and I said to him “warten Sie mal!” – ie formal, respectful address.

On the one hand, the German I use for my job is mostly formal, so it makes sense that it would come to my mind first.

On the other hand, I’m talking to the cat like he’s a client or colleague.

Perhaps he is just deserving of our respect.

Word of the Week | güey

I’m a couple of episodes into the new Netflix society show Made in Mexico, and have learned güey, which means “dude” – but only if you’re in Mexico.

3 European Shows to Binge

Deutschland 83
A lively and tense drama set during the height of the Cold War, it follows a young East German boarder guard who is forced into serving his country as a spy in the West German capital. Against a soundtrack of early 80s music (including ’99 Luftballons’, what else?) and the threat of nuclear annihilation, Moritz fumbles his way through espionage and starts to question his loyalties. Nail-biting scenes and plenty of dark humour. The next season, Deutschland 86, premieres this autumn.

The Killing (Forbrydelsen)
Season one of this Danish crime procedural follows Sarah Lund, an iconic detective clad in enviable knitwear, as she investigates the disappearance of a teenage girl. Decked out in her cosy threads against a drizzly Copenhagen, she finds a dark story where a family tragedy becomes gradually entwined with a local political scandal. The plot arc covers the entire season, which at 22 episodes is long for a European drama, and it is essential to watch from start to finish. You would be hard pressed to find a better scripted, or better plotted crime series from the last ten years (but try out the Danish-Swedish show The Bridge when you’re done). For a detective show with less of a time commitment, Sweden’s Wallander has stand-alone episodes.

Thicker Than Water (Tjockare än vatten)
This is an excellent family drama and quite different from most of the super bleak Scandinavian shows which get exported (see directly above). The Waldemar family owns a rustic hotel on a sunny Swedish island, and with the father long gone, matriarch Anna-Lisa runs the show with her loyal son Oskar. Season one starts with her summoning her two other adult children (a struggling actress and a failed restaurateur) back to the homestead with a peculiar proposition. The three siblings have no idea what the summer has in store for them, but scores will be settled and secrets will be uncovered. The characters are so well drawn and the realism underscores what is an engrossing and tense drama.

6 Podcasts for Language Nerds


  1. Coffee Break Languages
    A well-established series covering major European languages as well as Chinese. The format puts a learner alongside the teacher and concentrates on useful phrases as well as speaking confidence and key grammar points. Great stuff.
  2. The Fluent Show
    The German presenter Kerstin, based in Britain, has interesting guests from the world of languages to get the perspectives of both teachers and students. Chill chat for anyone interested in languages.
  3. Duolingo Spanish Podcast
    If you’re a beginner to intermediate Spanish learner, this is a brilliant tool for practising your listening skills. You can revise the different past tenses and hear interesting real-life stories from Central and South America.
  4. Rough Translation
    This is a fantastic NPR podcast which showcases projects from international correspondents, delivering interesting stories from around the world. The first one I heard was about a surprising change which took place on an Argentinian talk-show.
  5. The Europeans
    The show is presented by two Brits – a reporter working in Paris and opera singer living in Amsterdam – who tackle European news and culture with humour and heart. One of their interviews was with the poor people who work as Trump’s interpreters for German television, and the struggle to translate his unexpected language.
  6. The Allusionist
    Have I snuck an etymology podcast into this list? Yes. Yes I have. There’s a fabulous episode on the Rosetta Stone, another on the Welsh-speaking part of Argentina, and another on a made up language (Toki Pona).

A Word from German History (No.1)

Die Wende

A “Wende” (f.) means a decisive change, development, or turning point, and for Germans it really means the dramatic period following the fall of the Berlin Wall (die Mauer). Die Wende encapsulates the social and political earthquake not just of 1989 but the years afterwards, as the East German government collapsed and the current reunified republic came into being.

When Germans refer to “the change”, they are talking about something so integral to modern Germany, so self-evident, that all you need to say is die Wende.

See also Eva Ladipo’s recent novel Wende, which carries the political double meaning of both German reunification and of the turn away from nuclear power.

Try these Language Challenges

Ideas to up your Beginner-Intermediate language talents

  • Write a mini diary on your phone, a couple of sentences about your day – maybe during your commute. Writing is the hardest skill for most people and doing it in small doses really helps (particularly when practicing useful verbs in the past tense).
  • Read a kids book in translation (Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen, anyone?). I mostly read on Kindle but found it super beneficial to get a hard copy so I could underline vocab.
  • Watch a foreign series with subtitles only in the target language – I’ll be honest, it works best with corny/cliche shows because it’s easier to fill in the gaps. Don’t try it with a complex drama (will leave you a bit baffled).
  • Chat with any friends or colleagues you can find who speak your target language. Yes, even if you feel a bit silly.