|Sinking? Thinking? With Germans you can never be too sure......|
There are so many things I love about living in
: The extremes in climate (ice-cold
winters, sizzling-hot summers), lovely clean public swimming pools everywhere,
and some of the best bread in the world. Not forgetting of course the local
brew. Considering about half of Bavaria Germany’s
1250 breweries are here in
it’s not surprising that most of the local festivities are beer driven. Last
year I finally went “native”, dressing up in Lederhosen and dancing on beer
tables with the Bürgermeister. It
felt great. I even began liking niederbayrisch,
even though I find this local dialect mostly incomprehensible. Bavaria
over 13 years ago I was scared stiff of those big black Audis which creep up on
you on the Autobahn, headlights flashing furiously, forcing you to pull over
into the slow lane. Worse still when I accidentally threw an old hairdryer into
normal rubbish, a neighbour saw this and reported me to the police. I’ve since
learnt to live with impatient motorists and intruding neighbours. But one thing
I will NEVER get used to is how Germans misuse and mispronounce English words
in their own language. And how I have to mispronounce them too in order to be
Just look how German is flooded with English words in advertising: “Get the London Look!” (Rimmel), “Drive alive!” (Mitsubishi) or
confusing invitation “Come in and find out!” Smooth, smart slogans - and all
Advertisers please note there is a London Eye but no London Look, that being alive is an absolute minimum requirement for driving a car, and “come in and find out” sounds more like a challenge to find the shop exit.
Teachers are forever reminding pupils that “Handy” (mispronounced “hendy”!) is a mobile phone in British English. Maybe we should also explain that this word is used by native speakers only as an adjective, to mean "helpful" or "useful".
Mispronunciation, if you're not careful, can be a matter of life and death, as highlighted by language trainers Berlitz in a popular advert. “We’re sinking!” - a ship’s Mayday call to German coastguards - is tragically misunderstood as the officer enquires “Oh ja, and vot are you sinking about?”
Hearing so much English mispronounced is slowly “germanising” my own English too. I recently phoned the cinema to ask for times of Woody Allen’s “From Rome with Love” (pronounced by young Germans as “luff”, and the older generation as “low-ver”) Asking about this “Vooty Ellen luff-feelm” made me feel foolish but at least we understood each other.
But nothing makes me feel sillier than having to mispronounce my OWN surname, Howe, as “How-ver”.
This helps prevent people spelling it “Hau”, “Hovi” or “Howi”.
To be on the safe side I would spell it out too. All four letters: “Ha-O-Vee-Ay”. Until I found it simpler just to pronounce it correctly, referring to another oft-used English word in German – “Know-how”.
When it came to setting up my own language service I didn’t need to think too long about what to call it: Know Howe for English.