"Man kennt die eigene Sprache nicht, bis man eine fremde Sprache lernt."
(You do not know your own language until you have learned a foreign language.)

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).

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. Lessing 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 12 human languages to one extent or another. 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 in debugging I would 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. 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 ("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, many of the students wanted to know how to do the accented and special characters on their computers. I did a quick write-up for them, which I have since developed into this set of web pages: " Foreign and Special Characters in Word Processing". I hope you find it of use.

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. The first time I sat down at a typewriter (this was in 1971, when computers were mysterious behemoths locked away from our view) to type a paper for German class, I quickly discovered to my dismay that I had to think of each and every key to press, even the simplest words (eg, der, die, das, ein, und). But then by the time I finished it 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, 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 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 practiced by typing two-letter words, then three-letter words, then four-letter words, etc. And finally you graduated up to typing letters 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; for the less common words, that is when you have to spell it out and go 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, then you'd have to learn different home keys as well since that keyboard places the letters quite differently.


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, 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 use the German terminology.

I recently found Herr Schulz' handout in which he listed the German grammatical terms and 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 2018 August 24.