“Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiß nichts von seiner eigenen.”
          ("He who does not know foreign languages knows nothing of his own.")
                  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


This is an index to the sections on this page. Most of the sections are links to that subject matter while the contents of a couple are complete within themselves.

Introduction and My History
An introduction to this page plus a short history of my own language experience.

Typing in a Foreign Language
This section was the original reason for creating this page. When I started back in Spanish class in 1999, many of the students asked in class how to do the accented and special characters on their computers. I quickly researched and wrote instruction for them based mainly on Windows and Microsoft Word. That quick write-up did a quick write-up for them formed the basis for this set of web pages.

In that section, I also share some insight about touch-typing that I had gained when I typed my first paper in German. Basically, learning to touch-type consists mainly of drills to create the muscle memory in your fingers not only for the individual letters, but also for the most common words and letter groupings in the language. And, of course, each language has its own set of most common words and letter groupings, not to mention different keyboard layouts.

Spanish Verb Conjugation Practice Software
This section shares a public-domain program for practicing Spanish verb conjugations, Timm Ericksonn's "SPANVERB.EXE".


CAVEAT: This is a 16-bit MS-DOS program. It will run on 32-bit Windows systems, but not on 64-bit Windows systems.

German Grammatical Terms in German
This is the transcription of a handout of German grammatical terms that we used in junior college German class. While even German textbooks and reference materials from Germany and for Germans themselves use Latin terminology, these terms were in German, not Latin.

Mark Twain's "The Awful German Language"
This essay by Mark Twain is a perennial favorite of students of German, voicing their own complaints about the characteristics of that language that seem so peculiar to English speakers (even though many of them, like grammatical gender, are also found in other languages).

Introduction and My History

After a failed experience with conversational Spanish in 7th grade, I took German in my last two years of high school. Our teacher, Frau Richardson (aus Nürnberg), never used the ALM German books, but rather still used the old traditional textbooks which taught the grammar and which still printed the German text in Fraktur (one day, she even taught us the Fraktur handwriting, AKA Sütterlinschrift, AKA Kurrentschrift).

Actually, it was that grammatical approach which saved my language learning because it appealed to my analytical mind, which always wants to figure out how things work. That is why the conversational approach of memorizing words and sentences with virtually no explanation failed me in conversational Spanish -- a decade later, a linguistics major in my Russian class described that as "the Berlitz Method", memorizing a thousand and one sentences hoping that one of them might some day come up in a conversation. As a result of learning German the old-school way, I learned vastly more English grammar in those two years of high school German than I ever did in all twelve years of English class. Goethe was right!

I started college in 1969 as a foreign language major, earning an AA Liberal Arts -- Foreign Languages in 1976 and a BA German in 1975, during which time I had studied 13 human languages to one extent or another (another three human languages since then and one non-human) -- I am functional in only four foreign languages (ie, excluding English, my native language). My foreign language "career" effectively ended in 1976, when I turned to studying computer science, which mainly involved learning and using other languages, albeit non-human ones.

I found my foreign language skills to be very useful in learning programming languages, especially in the beginning. Unlike my fellow students, I viewed those languages as a form of communication through which I was telling the computer what to do. Therefore, I would read source code for meaning and thus I would approach debugging by reading the code to determine what I was saying to the computer to cause it to not do what I wanted while my fellow students were reduced to making random changes hoping that would fix their problems -- "Computers never do what you want them to do, only what you tell them to do." Of course, I had the added advantage of viewing algebra as a language as well, thanks to having watched Leonard Bernstein's treatment of "musical linguistics" in his lectures, The Unanswered Question, which helped me to arrive at a very effective approach to word problems that I had always had trouble with before ("Simply translate the English statements into algebra, ... ").

I have not been able to do much with my human languages from then until I started crawling the Web and reading non-English-language pages. Even though you can view most Wikipedia pages in other languages, they are not identical in content; in many instances I have found much more information and the information I was seeking on the non-English page (especially if the subject pertained to the culture or history of that language's country/culture). I regret that the foreign language opportunities on the Internet had not been available when I was a student. And the foreign-language fare on Netflix.


Typing in a Foreign Language

When I started back in Spanish class in 1999, one night many of the students asked the instructor how to do the accented and special characters on their computers and he didn't have an answer for them. We used to use typewriters where you can add accent marks by backspacing and typing over the vowel, but that doesn't work on a computer where if you backspace and type a second character then that replaces the first character. However, I had already worked on that problem so I did a quick write-up for them and handed it out at the next class. Then I immediately started developing that write-up into this set of web pages: "Foreign and Special Characters in Word Processing". I hope you find it useful.


Having learned to touch-type in junior high school, I discovered another aspect of typing in a foreign language that surprised me at the time. In 1971 (a decade before the IBM PC) I sat down at a typewriter to type a paper for German class for the first time. I quickly discovered to my dismay that I had to think of each and every key to press, even for the simplest words (eg, der, die, das, ein, und). But then by the time I finished the paper I found that the most common words were coming a lot easier and more automatically.

That was when I finally realized, six years after typing class, what that class had been about. First you learn the home keys and then do endless drills, practicing until you didn't have to think about which one to press. Then you learned the keys associated with each home key, again practicing through endless drills until you didn't have to think about which one to press -- just think of which key you wanted and your finger automatically went to it. Then you did endless drills of typing two-letter words, then three-letter words, then four-letter words, etc. And finally you graduated up to typing letters and papers and the like, in which you learned formatting techniques (eg, to center text, position the carriage to the center of the paper, then backspace once for every two letters).

So the objective is to get all of that into your muscle memory so that you don't have to think about most of the words that you type. The common words that you drilled on come automatically and then the less common words you have to spell out letter by letter. It works quite well, but only for the language that you trained in. If you then want to type in German or in Spanish, you have to put in the time practicing typing in that language in order to begin to type with as much ease. And if you want to type in French using the French keyboard (which is very different from the US English keyboard), then you'd have to learn different home keys as well since that keyboard places the letters quite differently. However, there are ways to type the special characters you want -- my personal choice is the US-International keyboard layout which Windows has supported since Windows 95.



You can also install and use foreign keyboards on your smart phone (Android and Windows, possibly also iPhones), which I describe here.


Spanish Verb Conjugation Practice Software

Years ago, I had obtained some public-domain programs for studying Spanish vocabulary and verb conjugations, which I have used off-and-on over the years. When I started concentrating again on Spanish in 1998, I found Timm Ericksonn's "SPANVERB.EXE" to be especially helpful in learning and practicing the conjugations of regular and irregular verbs. However, I found a few errors in it, so I contacted Timm Ericksonn (that is a tale in itself, made possible only by the Internet) and he made the corrections and sent me the latest, corrected version which I offer here.

Timm Ericksonn gave me permission to distribute SPANVERB, so I'm offering it for you here. It is free for your use and learning.


CAVEAT: This is a 16-bit MS-DOS program. It will run on 32-bit Windows systems, but not on 64-bit Windows systems.

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German Grammatical Terms in German

My German teacher at Santa Ana College, Herr Schulz, was old-school and would drill us in the grammar. Part of that was naming the grammatical forms in German. After four semesters, those terms had become second-nature. When I moved up to university, I found that in all the classes and in all the textbooks, even in the German textbooks published in Germany for Germans, all the grammatical terms were derived from Latin. I never could quite get used to that and even now, nearly half a century later, I still revert to the German terminology -- it's just more natural.

I recently found Herr Schulz' handout in which he listed the German grammatical terms and I used it as the basis of a new page, German Grammar Terms. I reorganized that handout into tables that list the English terms, the German terms, and the "Latein-deutsch" version, plus examples where appropriate.

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Mark Twain's "The Awful German Language

One of my German textbooks (circa 1973) contained an essay by Mark Twain, The Awful German Language, in which he complains of the difficulties in learning that language. A student of German can appreciate a lot of the inside jokes in that piece.

About five years ago I found and downloaded a PDF file of a brochure produced by the US Consulate in Berlin containing that essay and more, including Die Schrecken Der Deutschen Sprache and a letter that Twain wrote "in German", though with a lot of English mixed in (eg, "Ich habe gecalled").

The table of contents reads:


7 Grußwort von US-Botschafter Philip D. Murphy

9 Mark Twain: The Awful German Language

35 Mark Twain: Die Schrecken der Deutschen Sprache. Rede im Concordia Club in Wien

42 Brief von Mark Twain an Bayard Taylor

45 Prof. Holger Kersten: Mark Twain, „der treueste Freund der deutschen Sprache“

60 Kurze Biographie von Mark Twain

62 Das Mark Twain Project der University of California, Berkley

64 Impressum

Unfortunately, when I did a web search for it at home I got a redirect page that then sent me to a Google log-in screen. However, at work (during lunch time) when I followed the link in the Wikipedia page that I linked you to above, it sent me to the same redirect page only this time it allowed me to go to the document. So then I've decided to give you the drive.google.com link to the document and, if that doesn't work, to also place the document up on my own site and link you to that.

  • The document on drive.google.com

  • The PDF on my site
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    First uploaded on 1998 May 10.
    Last updated on 2020 Oct 05.