Do you dread your German translation exam? Many Art History students (and other graduate students who have to pass a language exam) do. And with good reason. They generally approach it with little prior knowledge of German, and to say that they’re going to face a challenge is putting it politely. Read on for some tips that may help you tame that German exam, or at least get you started in that direction.
German has a reputation for being difficult. And it seems to live up to it in a lot of ways. For speakers of English, translating from German is indeed more challenging than for example translating from Spanish or even French. Why is that?
Well, there’s the intimidation factor, for starters. German has all those articles and endings, and they make a huge difference in meaning. Moreover, because of those endings, German speakers have tools available for how to arrange their sentences that speakers of English do not. And in that way, French and Spanish are more like English.
Then, some of the words are so loooong and look really intimidating. Well, that’s mostly bluff. Once you’ve learned how to decode those words properly, you’ll find that they are simple compounds and you can usually figure out their meanings by figuring out their parts.
And speaking of long… Sentences are long too, and not just long, but seriously complex. Germans like to call them Schachtelsaetze, which essentially means box sentences. They’re like nested boxes, one nestled inside each other, a bit like those Russian nested dolls. It takes strategy to unravel them, but once you have mastered it, there’s little that can faze you.
And yes, there are a few more tricky areas, but you know what, it’s not rocket science. What you need to do is learn to understand how German works. You could take a course in linguistics. Or get a good book and a good tutor. You could even get together with friends and practice together, and maybe hire a tutor to work with you as a group.