German Grammar in the Everyday Every Day

Fashioning a German Lesson Plan from Anything at Hand

Class topic of the day (des Tages): how picking up a plastic bag off the street and reading the language printed on that bag may help you learn language. The one I have here is your classic bad-news-for-the-environment plastic bag. I retrieved one for each of you, so it’s a handout. Later in the day you can three-hole punch this handout and put it in your binder under today’s date.

Your handout for this class: Let’s say I had snagged this bag from under a parked car in the Kröger lot, before the plastic could pose a wildlife hazard. Now it’s in the lesson plan as an instructional resource. Note: 3 holes have not yet been punched. Please include margin notes using your felt-tip pen. Thank You. THANK YOU.

Today’s exercise allows you to use innate perceptual senses to discern meaning from everyday texts, and to discover potential contexts for your favorite words. Remember that new knowledge is fragile knowledge, so be gentle with yourself and feel free to make mistakes. In this class the student who makes the most mistakes gets the highest mark since she learns from her own mistakes. Also, if the present-moment reader finds an error in this post I get a point.

Use this bag later in your life for sandwiches, knickknacks, sturdy water bottles and items with words written upon them.

Anyway, pick up your red Sharpie and write ‘rot‘ on the handout. Think about how similar ‘t’ and ‘d’ sound: “Ta Da!” and recall the apocryphal tale of Saxons (Sachsen) moving to England to start a new language. On that hypothetical boat Saxons decided to change their ‘t’ to a ‘d’ and say ‘good‘ rather than ‘gut‘ and day instead of ‘Tag‘. And then call it English.

migration routes around 800 C.E.
migration routes around 800 C.E.

Draw a rainbow with your Sharpies and label each color separately in your language of choice or else in German. Gather the things you want to put in your handout. Label that bag with its contents, z.B.:

  • Apfel (grüner)
  • Brot (rotes)
  • Papier (weißes)
  • Banane (gelbe oder grüne oder schwarze oder schwarzgelbe oder oder oder)
  • Apfelsaft (süßer)

Now place each object (each noun) into the bag (in die Tüte) and take a walk (einen Spaziergang machen). Connect the Umlaut dots atop the ‘u’ to form an ‘o’, thus reminding you just how crafty those dang Saxons were (Tüte becomes tote). Those tapfere Sachsen even simplified the ‘chs’ in their former German language to an ‘x’ in the new language (nächste becomes next).  While on this relaxing stroll let your friends (strangers optional) know about the contents of your bag:

Hallo. Hier in meiner Tüte habe ich einen grünen Apfel. Gebrauchtes Papier ist immer das Beste. Glaubst du das.

Let’s say you forget to bring your own shopping bag to Kröger. At least save those plastic hazards in your vehicle or Rücksack and drop them into the fiber recycling drum in their foyer (the place where you grab a shopping cart).

German Grammar: Strong and Weak

Why is German easier to read than English? And why am I writing this post in English? Those are the questions for today’s class. First, let’s take a break and read about the Mann family residences during the Exile Period. This time in Manhattan: 1938. Read the text and then watch the video at the end of the web page.




Thomas Manns zweites Zuhause im Exil

You can mark, highlight, underline and pronounce strong and weak endings as you encounter them.

Again, you might want to grab some discarded envelopes from the waste basket and jot down the strong and weak endings you hear. If there is room on the back of the envelope you could note the occurence of weak endings as follows, since they can only be ‘e’ or ‘en’


e – IIII

en – III

Of course, an adverb is distinguished from an adjective by its lack of an ending, an adjective is distinguished from an adverb by the presence of an ending.

Now back to our first question: Why is German easier to read than English?

Since case is a signal for function the first or second word in a German sentence often signals that function. Try doing that with ‘the’. So, Let us say that a sentence begins with ‘dem’. It has to be dative and it could be either masculine or neuter. We also know that it signals an indirect object or a prepositional object that takes dative only or a preposition that indicates all action occuring within a bounded area for those prepositions of relative position. All that by reading only one or two words.

Now, on to the second question: And why am I writing this post in English? By seeing ‘dem’ we immediately know all those things discussed in the previous paragraph. I first really learned German in 1971. Reading ‘the’ in English conveys nothing of that panoply of information conveyed by ‘dem’. Unless you are a young person learning German from a parent or a playmate you are unlikely to determine the meaning of ‘dem’ on your first encounter with the language.

The bell is about to ring, ending this class. Let me end with a metaphor. A German noun looks to its left for a strong ending that signals a function. By seeing that strong ending it knows its function or at least it narrows the number of functions. The adjective to the right of the strong ending sees that strength and relaxes, knowing that it can now become weak (e or en). If that same adjective does not see strength it cannot relax: it has to take on the strength itself. No chance for weakness. If that noun sees an ein word to the left without an ending (ein, mein, dein, sein, unser, euer, etc.) it says to itself “An ein is certainly not an einem or an eines or an einen, so it looks like I am on my own, so the adjective to the right of ‘ein’ will just have to take on the strong ending.

For homework grab any German text and think about nervous nouns looking to the left for support.