The English Corner: Are You Sicher? Bist Du Sure?

Lockbreaker with the locks

How people are not sure how to use the English form of Sicher

To start off my first post in the series on German versus the English language, I would like to start off with a little word of advice with regards to German-English translations:

When looking up the English equivalent of a German word, never EVER use the first meaning in English without looking at the meaning and context first.

 

Many people translating documents from German into English have done this, and native speakers of English who are correcting the English documents have tried not to cry while laughing at the translations, especially the English equivalent of the German word used that absolutely did not fit the context. Of some of the blunders I’ve seen over the years, I can list the top five that comes to my mind:

1. Wassereinbruch-   The translated version was water burglary! 😀 Yet the actual meaning is water break-in or leak if referring to an underwater pipe or cable.

2. Landstation-  On the same document about underwater pipes, this person translated it as country station!!  😀  Now if you were a country music fan, you would know what a country radio station sounds like, right?  For a station on land, we keep the English translation as is, just separating the words into two.

3. Nicht auf dem letzten Drucker machen– The English equivalent performed as a pun by one of my students at the university was “Don’t do it to the last printer!”  However, we do have one word to shorten this phrase, which is “to procrastinate.”

4. Ich kann schreien-  In a presentation when asked to speak up, the presenter responded with “I could cry?” Response from a predominantly American audience: “Well, don’t do that.” I could just scream when I hear this. Oh, did I forget that scream was the right equivalent?

5. Sicherstellen- Many students have made this mistake, which is to be discussed here. They always say to make it secure. But are you sure it means to make something safe?

There are many word pairings where one German word has several different English meanings. For the fifth example, we will look at the word Sicher and the English equivalents that features three different words: sure, secure and safe. With these, we also have for each English equivalent, a different meaning.

 

Sure:

If we use this word, then it refers to the process of making sure that every promise, fact, statement and proof is doubt-free. In other words, you are asking someone whether he is telling the truth or not, thus bringing a famous German statement you will find in many supermarkets selling tobacco and public places that have age restrictions: “Sagen ist gut, Beweis ist besser-” saying something is good, proof and/or evidence is better.

Example sentence:

Judy: Are you sure you can make it to the airport on time?

Jules: Yes my dear, I’ll make it with no problem.

Here, Judy is not sure whether her husband Jules will catch his flight out of the airport because of possible problems with traffic and/or his car.

 

Secure:

If we use this word, it has two different meanings. The first one means the same as reserving or claiming something to be yours for a specific purpose.

Example sentence:

Brad secured three places for us for the concert in May.

Here one can replace secure with reserve as they both mean the same- booking a place for an event                                                                                                                                                                                 so that no one else can take it.

 

The second meaning of secure is the process of protecting tangible assets from potential theft or damages. Here you can use the noun form security or even the adjective form securely or secured.

Example sentences:

  1.  Please make sure the seatbelt is  securely fastened.    This means that the seatbelt in the car must be snug but tight enough to make sure the driver or passenger does not fly                                                                                                                                             out of the car in the event of an accident.

 

  1. This is a secure place. There are over 100 cops in this building. (This in reference to a police station).     This means that the police station has many police officers protecting                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       the building and its belongings (persons included) from any potential                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     harm, which unless the threat comes from a Terminator, almost never                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     happens.

 

Safe:

If we use this word, it means protecting the most important assets in our lives from harm- in particular people.

Example sentences:

(Scene from Dante’s Peak). Harry and Rachel kept the kids safe while exploring the hot springs.  This scene speaks for itsself.

Also to note, safe is used as another equivalent to the aforementioned German quote regarding proof as “Better Safe than Sorry,” meaning taking extra-precautionary measures avoid potential disasters. This was used later in the movie, when Rachel (the mayor) orders a preemptive evacuation of Dante’s Peak on the eve of a volcanic eruption, which Harry predicted would happen, despite opposition from city leaders, an investor and even his own people.

 

Tip:

Now for people who really have problems telling the difference, here’s a tip for you to try at home. When you want to use the English equivalent of sicher, write down the equivalents and make a mind map for each word, making a word association with each of the three. Then write a sentence in your native tongue, have a look at the mindmap associated with the three words and choose the word that best fits the sentence and context. Nine times out of ten you will find the right word using this mind map.

 

There are many cases where one word has many equivalents in another language, as we see here with Sicher versus Safe, Secure and Sure. However one needs to find the equivalent that best makes sense in terms of definition and context. Sometimes even the tiniest doubt in the usage of words can help avoid mistakes based on assumptions. So when coming across a translation of a word you are trying to use both written and orally, look at them carefully- even using the dictionary if necessary, and ask yourself when choosing the right word “Are you sicher, bist du sure?” This expression my wife uses often, and albeit it is funny at first, it has a deeper meaning inside. Better safe than sorry, eh? 🙂

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Author’s Note:

The answer key to the questions about Schleswig-Holstein as well as the questions about the next (city-) state of Hamburg are available on the Flensburg Files’ website. This is in connection with the series on Germany at 25. To access them, please click on the symbol below and compare the answers to what you have. You can also comment on them doubt them to the author if needed. The answers to the Hamburg questions will come on 3 April, Good Friday. Have fun and good luck! 🙂

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In School in Germany: Teaching Latin

There is a German saying that is stressed in the classroom at both the university as well as in school:

 

You don’t know about history unless you’ve mastered Latin.

 

Yet this argument can be encountered with that of Latin not being relevant to the curriculum:

 

Latin is dead, and so is Caesar!

 

In all the years I’ve been teaching English here in Germany, there is no subject that has been overly stressed as the language you have to master other than Latin.  What is understood by Latin is NOT in connection with Latin American dances! If you connect these two elements, then you best move down to Costa Rica or Ecuador where you can get your training in.

 

Latin is a combination of language and history into one. Language because almost every single language derives from Latin, including English and German, as well as the Romance languages, like French, Spanish and Italian. Even the alphabet was adopted from Latin. It is one of the most logical languages ever to be taught in the classroom, yet also the most difficult if you struggle with grammar.  History because Latin originated from the Roman Empire. At the peak of its powerful existence in 117 AD, all of Europe, northern Africa and western Asia were dominated by the Romans, and each culture occupied by the Empire adopted the vocabulary and the grammar rules pertaining to Latin. Even when the Empire ceased to exist in 476 AD (with the dissolving of the western  kingdom through Odoacer and the relocation of the eastern Roman capital to Constantinople in 395 AD) elements of Latin were soon integrated into the languages of the areas once conquered, without knowing the fact that the languages we speak are derived from Latin.

 

There are many reasons why Latin is important and why some schools that have not introduced it should, based on my observations during my practical training as a high school teacher in Germany. Here are some reasons:

 

1. Grammar:  The grammatical structure of each language originated from the Latin language, including some elements that exist in the English and German language.  This includes various verb forms and tenses, articles and even suffixes that even exist today, just to name a few.

 

 

 

2. Vocabulary:  No matter if it is from religion, history or even everyday use, it is certain that the majority of words we use have their origin in the Latin language. In fact, over half of our words in English come from Latin, 30 percent come from French thanks to the 1066 Norman Conquest of English, and the rest come from other languages, whose words we ended up adopting, including Spanish, German, Russian and even the Natives.

 

 

3. History:  As a general rule of thumb, all forms of history run through Rome. Latin allows a student to learn more about the history of civilization, how empires rise, fall and be conquered, how certain sports like wrestling and track had its origins in Rome, political systems that exist today were formed, how buildings and the infrastructure were formed, and how half of philosophy had its origin (the other half came from the Greek side before the Romans conquered the country).

 

 

 4. Foreign Languages:  Latin serves as a key bridge connecting foreign languages, like the Overseas Highway connecting the islands in the Florida Keys. People having the basis of Latin are more likely to pick up languages in the same family more quickly than those with no foundation. The reason is the common traits that the languages share, in particular, with vocabulary. Another reason why more Americans should pick up Spanish and Canadians should also learn French. It has nothing to do with the minorities living there or any immigrants moving to these parts.

 

 

5. Translation Skills: Latin provides students a chance to learn how to translate from one language to another, avoiding pitfalls in the process. This is important for Latin is a bridge between two languages and some words do have similarities thanks to this language.

 

 

6. Religion: While Martin Luther became the first person to translate the Bible into another language (German) in 1587, much of the text about the rise, fall and ascension of Christ are still found in Latin, and in either the Bible, forms of music, or both. Speaking from experience singing for choirs in high school and college, it is important to have a true meaning of the song when reading the lyrics in Latin. Try Kyrie, Mozart’s Requieum and Agnus Dei, and you will understand why. With Latin you can decipher the meanings as you perform this at a concert.

 

 

 

Keeping these facts in mind, the next question is when and how to learn Latin. The first answer I can give you right now: as early as possible. Schools in Germany start with Latin in the sixth grade, and students are expected to learn Latin until they graduate.  Yet given the course load students have to deal with and the degree of difficulty Latin has to offer, Latin should be given in medicinal sips until students have the basic foundation.  The best way to approach Latin is to have the class run parallel to the ancient history class at the beginning, whereby in Latin, history is provided as background information but vocabulary and grammar are in the foreground. This way students can have a grasp at the language before learning how to translate from Latin into English.

 

In Germany, as the language is more logical than English, it is especially important that students are able to translate from Latin into German without having to commit many grammar mistakes in the German language.  That is why one can expect a session to look like something I observed many times during my practical training as a teacher: Vocabulary review from last session,  History (background info) for session, dictation in Latin, new vocabulary, translation, homework- learning new vocabulary and translation.  In the end, tests that are more often than the tests in other classes. Materials in a form of book and supplemental materials are used very often, and frontal teaching (especially for vocabulary) is used almost exclusively.  Tough if you lose track or are frustrated with the language, but effective.

 

But this is one way of learning Latin, albeit it is easy to learn it that way. There are many ways Latin can be taught in the classroom. It is a question of when to start teaching it in schools that don’t have it yet.  But keep in mind: just because Latin is dead, it doesn’t mean it can exist in a different form, as seen under the various reasons why Latin should be introduced in the classroom. The danger of not introducing Latin in schools is as grave as life without bees. Without the bees, life cannot exist because they do a great deal for the food chain. Without Latin, we become too one-dimensional in our thinking.  We have seen this in the US with several schools not even having foreign languages in the classroom, which is fatal to the development of the country and its influence throughout the world.  But having such basics like Latin can open the doors to new dimensions and avert this ignorance.

 

To end this article, there is a nice German saying worth thinking about: Ich bin nicht am Ende mit meinem Latein, sondern am Anfang.  I’m not at my end with Latin but right at the beginning.  The most basics can make a big difference in the long term, especially as all roads go through Rome.