As an appendix of his book “A Tramp Abroad” (1880) – in which he related his travels through Europe in the late 19th Century – Mark Twain wrote “The Awful German Language”, an amusing short essay written after his two and a half month stay in Heidelberg, Germany, during the springtime of 1878.
In that paper the American writer puts a special effort into telling his experience in achieving his “art” of speaking German. He describes a hard, difficult and annoyed language, sharpening reading’s curiosity by saying that “a person who has not studied German can form no idea of what a perplexing language it is.”
I first came into contact with that text when I was in the beginning of my German course. Aware, by such a man of letters, of the difficulties I would have to face, I almost gave up studying Goethe’s language.
Nevertheless, the essay is full of humorous and funny passages inviting you to go on reading just to have the chance to enjoy the clever comparisons he makes between the easy English and the “so slipshod and systemless, and so slippery and elusive to the grasp language” German is.
Not only vices of this language were shown. Twain pointed out its virtues, as well, and because of it and of the fact I am a stubborn person, I succeeded in keeping my intention intact and put my mind to it.
Mark Twain finished his writing saying that “a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years.”
Well… I suppose a person has to be really talented to learn English in thirty hours and French in thirty days, but I agree that German is a highly demanding language.
Never mind! I think I can take the risk of learning the third one, although it could take up all my life. After all, I enjoy learning and since languages are a window to another world that allows travelling through books and movies, I think I’m going to have a really good time. Just as happened to Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn’s father, who, being a great adventurer, surely enjoyed very much this exciting journey on German learning.
The whole writing – in English, of course! –, can easily be found in:
Viel Glück!

By Helga Maria Saboia Bezerra


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