Thursday, September 22, 2016

A beautifully embarrassing mistake

Learning a language and navigating its nuances is a long journey. Along the way, one is almost certain to make some embarrassing mistakes.

I'm no stranger to making mistakes as I'm learning German; I'll share one that had me turn red. It started when my American teacher told us that if you say someone is nett (nice), it's a bit of a "meh" compliment. [I guess I have to translate that from English...hmm, "meh" means non-committal or unenthusiastic.]

I knew that schön usually means beautiful or pretty, but it can also mean nice. For some reason, I got it into my head that calling someone a nette Person was a "meh" compliment and schön fit better and would mean "nice" in this case. I thought we had learned this in class.

So, imagine how strange it sounded when I told my German friend about a woman I met with whom I planned to work on a community event, and I said she is a schöne Frau. That earned some raised eyebrows from my friend and I was confused; after all, the lady is really nice. Oops. I guess one normally wouldn't say that about a volunteering partner!

I didn't make that mistake again, but I was very confused about the rule because I swore that our teacher told us this. Then again, maybe I transcribed my notes incorrectly, but I was confused why I had heard that things could be schön, even when they were something that didn't seem to be beautiful. I gave up on knowing what the difference was because it was more important to stop making the mistake than to know exactly why, especially since I have 1,001 questions about German that feel more pressing.

Thanks to recently listening to an audiobook for learning German, I learned that nice people are nett and nice things can be
schön. That makes so much more sense.

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