Samstag, 1. September 2012

Why do I have to mispronounce my name to make myself understood?

Sinking? Thinking? With Germans you can never be too sure......

There are so many things I love about living in Bavaria: 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 Germany’s 1250 breweries are here in Bavaria 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.

Moving to Germany 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 understood.
 
Just look how German is flooded with English words in advertising: “Get the London Look!” (Rimmel), “Drive alive!” (Mitsubishi) or Douglas’ confusing invitation “Come in and find out!” Smooth, smart slogans - and all totally meaningless.
 
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.
 

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