Learning German: Mnemonics (Lesson 1?)

My best friend and apparent life partner Cody wants to move to Germany with me and all our 974 cats at the end of next year and, while I'm not sure that's actually feasible so soon, I like the idea. Just in case my writing becomes so famous that I retire from my day job and can write full time in Munich, I've been using apps on my phone and some print-out practice sheets off the internet to teach myself German.

Many of the words are exactly what they appear to be and I don't need any sort of help in remembering what they are (der Snack is exactly what it sounds like, for instance) but some things, especially now that I'm getting out of the simple, "how are you?" lessons, are tougher to remember. So, I've come up with some mnemonics to recall what's what and I figured I'd impart some of those to you in case you too are trying to learn German.

I used a few different apps, which has been nice because they each help me learn in different ways and once I do a lesson in one, there's no reason not to get onto at least one of the others to practice. Memrise works more with how my brain works and I feel like I pick things up there more easily than with Duolingo, but Duolingo feels like playing a game, so that works for my brain in its own way. I like Tiny Cards (by the same company as Duolingo) because the flash card aspect is helpful in just straight memorization and as a quick reminder of what it is I've forgotten.

The first things I had to memorize were the conjugated forms to "to be" (sein).

"I am" translates to "Ich Bin" and I just remembered that "ich" starts with "I" which is how I refer to myself. If you're feeling hard on yourself for not being able to remember, just remember that "bin" is also where garbage goes and goddamn you are a garbage human being for not remembering that "bin" gets paired with "ich." Also, that "ich" sounds almost like "ick" which is what people think when they see you, you trash monster who doesn't instantly know an entire other language. So, "Ich bin" is how you'd start to tell other people you are a piece of garbage who belongs in the trash. Easy, right?

If you're referring to someone else you know well and talking directly to them, you would say, "du" which rhymes with "you" which is how you accusatorially address a friend who's stolen your favorite sweater: "YOU!" So, you can remember that DU is how you would casually start describing someone in front of you, assuming you know them well. Several languages like to differentiate between speaking to someone you know well and someone you need to speak to "formally," so you wouldn't say this to a new boss, only to that jackass pal who pilfered your cardigan.

So, you've started talking directly to someone you know, remembering that YOU rhymes with DU, and because you're remembering this as being aggressive, ("YOU!") you can think about being pissed, which sounds sort of like BIST, which is how you conjugate "sein" for someone you know. So, just remember that you're very angry at all your friends so you'll address them as Du bist, which rhymes with YOU! which comes out when you're pissed. Got it?

From there, I moved on to "we" which translates to "wir" and you can easily remember that wir is the "we" translation because they both start with W. When announcing "we are" you say, "Wir sind" which sounds sorta like "veer zinned" and sind is sort of like "sinned." I just remember that groups of people generally turn into assholes and get that crappy mob mentality and then they SIN everywhere, you know by looting or beating up some poor brown guy or something. So just remember, "we sinned!" when trying to recall how to say, "Wir sind/we are."

Some of these got a little political, okay?

Next we move on to that plural version of addressing people when you're in front of them: Ihr. This sounds sort of like, "ear" (though, like Arnold Schwarzenegger is saying it, so without the defined R sound: ee-ah") so I think of that guy in the Caesar play standing in front of a group of people asking, "Lend me your EARs!" (many of these are very stupid; feel free to judge me). The "to be" form for Ihr is, "seid" which is said with a Z sound as so many Ss in German seem to be (remember, I'm only like 6% into the training), but otherwise is like SIDE. So, IHR SEID is "you (guys) are" in German.

But now you're standing in front of a group of people asking them to lend you their EARs and, as we've established, groups of people are typically terrible. So, there's a change you could get a shitload of tomatoes (die Tomaten, just in case you're curious what that is in German) hurled at your head when you start talking. If that happens, you may want to duck to the SIDE. So, IHR SEID.

Got these tucked into the folds of your brain yet?

I don't have mnemonics for all of these, since some of them just stuck and made sense to me from the start, but in case you're wondering what the rest of the TO BE forms are, they're as follows:

Es/sie/er ist (it/she/he is); sie sind (they are); Sie sind (you [formal], are).

German seems to be less complicated than English in that you can mean different things by saying the same thing, and then you extrapolate from context. So, "Ich esse Gemüse" can be both "I am eating vegetables" and "I eat vegetables." If someone says that to you and they aren't eating, obviously you figure they mean they eat them in general and not that they're currently stuffing their face with eggplants. Therefore, even though "Sie sind" and "sie sind" are basically the same on their own, you can figure out from the context whether they're speaking to you formally or about a group of people off in the distance. Sie sind Männer (they are men) vs Sie sind ein Mann (you (sir) are a man).

Since you've got SIND memorized as belonging to a plural amount of people (since you would only say "wir sind" about you and at least one other person, not about JUST you) then you can remember that sind is plural, so when it's attached to "sie" it must mean multiple people ARE, not one person IS.

IST wasn't hard for me to remember as being "is" since it's only one letter off. Therefore, it was easy for me to remember that when talking about a single person or thing ("she/it/he") it would be like in English and you would say "_____ is(t)." Es being "it" and Er being "He" are two things that just made sense to my brain without any memorization needed, so I didn't have a trick for that. "Sie" looks similar to "She" so when I would see it paired with "ist" I would just know it's singular: SIE IST=SHE IS.

I have more mnemonics, so if this has been funny/helpful to people, I can definitely write more of them up, but if not, hopefully this has been enjoyable to read. Also, if my memory is garbage (because Ich bin Müll) and some of these examples are wrong, feel free to let me know! Just don't be a jackass about it.


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