Thursday, September 29, 2011

Beautiful German Words

Many languages have concepts that either don't exist in other languages, or are exclusive to that particular language. In Arabic for example, the word for translation, ترجمة also means interpretation. After all, that is all a translation is. Some readers may be familiar with the term schadenfreude, a German word that has entered the English nomenclature; meaning to take pleasure in the suffering of others. Here are some other neat German words:

Verlieben - to fall in love. It is such a nice thing to see that a language has a single word for this concept.

Zuklappen - to clap something shut, like a book.

Augenblick - a moment or instant. Literally "eye glimpse".

Treppenwitz - a comeback reply that comes to you after the fact.

Wuseln - to scurry about and mix. Think of a bunch of mice running around inside a box.

Blau - literally means blue, however it can also mean to be sloshed / hammered / plastered. 

Kippen - Literally, to tilt. Can also be used as a verb meaning "to kick back a few". It can also mean to vote down a bill, or overturn a ruling.

Gemütlichkeit - an abstract term that can mean coziness. According to Wikipedia: "Its closest equivalent is the word "coziness"; however, rather than merely describing a place that is compact, well-heated and nicely furnished (a cozy room, a cozy flat), Gemütlichkeit connotes the notion of belonging, social acceptance, cheerfulness, the absence of anything hectic and the opportunity to spend quality time."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

German Cases Short and Sweet

I am constantly frustrated with how many grammar websites out there there make German cases more complex than they need to be. Well actually... they are complex, but you still need launching pad in which to learn the complex stuff. A few months ago, when I was frustrated with wrapping my head the cases, I made a post about them. To reiterate myself; one of the hardest parts of the German language for English speakers to grasp is the cases, simply because they don't exist in English. Yes, the word whom is an example of case in English, but the last person to have ever used the word whom was thrown off of a gorge for being a douchebag by people who thought they liked him.

Unfortunately you still have to memorize this chart:
Chart originally from .

Here are the German cases short and sweet, I promise not to use any words more technical than verb, or noun. If you're as dumb as me, you should be ok. PLEASE NOTE: I am only covering the basic concepts of cases. If you have no idea whats going on in you German class, this will help, but not teach you everything you need to know. (For example, a genitive case for German pronouns exists, and is not covered here).

Nominative: Used for basic sentences.
I like cats.
Ich mag Katzen.

The noun that is doing something is in the nominative case. I like cats, I is nominative.

Accusative: Used when you have two nouns and one is acting upon the other.

Bill loves the King
Bill Liebt den König. 

The noun that is on the receiving end of the verb is in the accusative case. The king is on the receiving end of Bill's love, so it is accusative. That means in German, the word transforms from Der König (masculine) to Den König. If you still have not figured this out, I suggest scrolling back up to the top, and staring at the chart.

Dative: In terms of this post, the best way to describe this case is that you have a giver (nominative), a receiver (dative), and something that is being given (accusative). For example:

Bill gave the king a gift.
Bill gab dem König ein Geschenk.

This time "the king" is in the dative case, and "the gift" is in accusative. If we look at the chart above we see that the indefinite article (a or an) for a word that is neuter and accusative, is ein.

Genitive: Denotes possession. Here is an example from the Wikipedia page on genitive case:
The book of the schoolgirl.
Das Heft der Schülerin.

You can also use -s to denote possession (without the apostrophe). Pretty simple compared to the other cases, huh?
Hopefully if you have been having trouble with learning the cases in German, this will help. Leave me a comment, and let me know if this was helpful.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A (Simple) Digital Neural Network

My friend Reed at UMASS is an ex-computer-science-turned-neuroscience-major. In his free time he writes programs, and quotes Sam Harris. The first program he ever showed me was a simple neural network which simulates how action potentials work. A little simple at the moment, but still impressive! I am sure various uses could be found for virtual networks like this on larger, and more complex scales.

Also worth mentioning are the small programs he writes that auto generate absurd visual eye candy.  Note: if you have elipsy, some of these programs might give you a seizure.


His Tumblr has more similar applications. If being sucked through a computer and dying from lack of oxygen while being hurled through the Internet was an actual way to die, I am sure it would look like these programs.

The book is Head First Java, published by O'Reily.
These seemingly simple programs go to show how valuable the skill of computer programming is in the field of neuroscience. Why would any research lab in the country not want someone who knows their way around computer code? When I asked Reed how he learned how to program, he took out a Java book as thick as the phone book and said he read it cover to cover.

In fact Reed, if you never graduate I am sure that you can make a profitable business teaching other people to program. Look, I have already got a potential advertising campaign set up:

Just as Reed Silverstein has conquered the vicious Lizard King,
you too can learn how to conquer computer programming through him.

Naturally I expect a fifty percent cut of all profits.

Monday, September 19, 2011

German Genders

edit - 9/20/2011 added some more.

When I first started studying German I was told that there was no way to inherently know the gender of German nouns. You just have to learn the with the word. A year and a half later I was told that some words have certain genders if they end a certain way. What the fuck? Anyways I compiled a list of words which are easy to remember the gender for, or to know just by looking at the word.

If you're a beginner, all you need to know is that there are three genders (not counting plural, which is den). Masculine (der), feminine (die), and neuter (das). Although for the most part, you will have to memorize the genders for most words. Good luck! Don't worry, with time it comes naturally!

  • Words ending with an e are usually feminine, think die. An exception to this is the word Der Käse (The Cheese).
  • Words ending with a r are usually masculine, think der.
  • As long as they are used as nouns, numbers are always feminine.
  • The same is true for letters, although they are neuter.
  • Any nouns with these suffixes are feminine: -ei, -ie, -heit, -keit, -schaft, -ung, -et, -ion, -ik.
  • Days, months, and the seasons are always masculine.
  • Compass directions are always masculine.
  • Many towns, and countries are neuter.
  • Any nouns with these suffixes are masculine: -ier, -ismus, -ist.
  • Nouns that end in -chen are always neuter. This is why the word das Mädchen (the girl) is neuter.
  • The words fork (die Gabel) , knife (das Messer) , and spoon (der Löffel) are all different genders.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Studienforum Berlin

Two years ago I went to Germany for the first time through a program called Studienforum Berlin. At the time I was attending Nazareth College of Rochester, and I was disenchanted with the school. With about half of the students commuting, and being located in a wealthy suburb outside of Rochester New York; my weekends were usually filled with video games, talking to dining hall staff, roaming the empty campus out of boredom, and snow. I applied to transfer to the The University of Massachusetts the next academic year and I received deferred enrollment, which meant I would have to spend another semester at Nazareth.

A friend of mine, a German Literature major, suggested that if I was bored at the school I should consider going abroad. He said that the school's German program was really good, and the classes would count for my general education requirements. He set up the appointment for me to meet with the German Professor at Nazareth, and I signed my name on the dotted line the day we met to speak about the program. What I was getting - for the same price of tuition that Nazareth charged (sans Nazareth's room and board, i.e. a lot of money) , was four classes, an internship, and a stay with a host family in Berlin. I was also given a form to fill out as to preferences as to what I was looking for in terms of living. There was also a handwritten essay I needed to turn in along with some other additional paperwork.

I selected to take German history, German literature and an European business course, on top of a German language course which ran for the first month. These classes are taught in English (outside of the language course, of course). After that the three courses would start, and then for the final month we would be attending our internships. The professors for the classes were fantastic. The language courses were taught by the teachers hired by the language school. However, the professors for the other classes were supplied by Studienforum. I would go as far to say that the professors were overqualified. One of my favorite classes I ever took was 20th Century German Theater, Literature and Caberet. The professor had taught at Smith College, Wellesley, and had edited an academic journal on East German culture and society for a number of years.

During the program our group traveled to Erfurt, Weimar (also Buchenwald), Dresden, Prauge, and Fankfurt Oder (to walk into Poland). All of the travel coasts were covered by the price of the program. Over time I did feel like the traveling was a little much, and that I did not have as much free time in Berlin as I wanted. Although I did get out - see: yesterday's post. Sometimes I was so exhausted that I just needed a free day to rest. However looking back I am thankful that I got to see so much of Germany while I was there. Compared to the program that I am currently in, there are no excursions built into the program. Last week for example I paid extra money to go to the Black Forest. The excursion was actually the group of students being chartered around to different tourist destinations on a bus. You should have seen how upset I was when they woke me up to see the world's largest cuckoo clock.

For my internship I was placed in an English speaking school, with the tech guy. Originally I was supposed to work in a production room, but the they said said that my language skill at the time was not competent enough. When I transferred to UMASS, I was informed that they have a policy of not counting transfer credits from internships. Oh well, neither of these things are the program's fault. Other places students were placed elsewhere based on their majors or interests; and included a museum, the Bundestag, and classrooms.

When we did have free time there was naturally a lot to do just because we were in Berlin. I got to see a ton of shows, films, plays, museums, and performances. Also many of these things were at a discount price because I was a student. Often times we went to performances and museums for the history and literature classes. I am sure the same was true for the music course. The program also had a German person who was a little older than us come along with us on excursions, and would go out with us. Had she not been around, I am certain one of us would have died.

My only complaint about the program would be the lack of language immersion. Yes, you are with a host family, but in all your classes you are with the other Americans in your group. This is also true for the excursions, which take up a considerate amount of time. As a result you probably are not speaking a lot of German. On the other hand, this is something I like about the program I am in now, I am essentially on my own. It's scary, but scary fun; you know the kind of scary fun where if you don't have enough money in your German bank account by a certain time you could lose your housing! Actually something similar to that almost happened to me the last time too...

I am aware of students from other schools other than Nazareth going to Germany through Studienforum Berlin. I also know they offer programs at other times of the year, although I know nothing more than what is listed on their website. If you are interested in either program, you can e-mail them through the site, although the program I was in was during the fall semester, so you may have to wait a year. I would highly suggest the program, for all the reasons mentioned above. Although immersion was sort-of a problem you can always just distance yourself from "the group"; and unlike me, if you've taken German language courses before you go, you probably wont get placed into a school (unless you want to be).

I don't want to review the program I currently with now because I have only been here for two to three weeks, and well... I am currently with them, so right now I can't make a judgement call on it. Maybe in another two years.

Once again, here's the link -

Thursday, September 15, 2011


It has been a busy week for me, I have been trying to get an Internet connection in my room so that I can work on the site on my time. Computer access here at the Freiburg University can be scarce and limited at times. Until then, enjoy these photos taken at Teufelsberg (Devil''s Mountain); an abandoned Cold War listening station built by the Americans on top of a artificial hill outside Berlin, which itself was on top of a Nazi military college. These pictures were taken in the fall of 2009.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

More Videogame Translations

I had posted about videogame translations before. While searching for German language versions of Super Nintendo games I rediscovered a website I used to frequent for English Translations of Japanese games, and emulators. The site is called Zophar‘s domain. They have over forty fan translations of SNES games that you can use to patch your ROMs with. As well as patches for almost any other language. I should note that these files are not the games themselves, but simply the files to change the language.

Official German translations of Games can be hard to find sometimes. PAL versions of SNES games are worth two to three times as much as their North American counterparts simply because of their limited distribution. RPG games, which depend on a storyline, and rich dialouge tend to also be valued by collectors. This means somebody has to have the money to purchase the more exspensive PAL (RPG) game, and the know-how to dump the memory of the game onto a computer, compile it as a ROM, and then distribute it. It does not help that this all exists in a legal gray area. One also takes the risk of depreciating the value of the game cartridge now that it will be avaiable for free download.

Still, the online game translation community is a stomping ground for budding computer-savy translators to build their translation portfolio (same link as above). Sometimes there are parts of the games that can be glitchy, or untranslated, but if you’re trying to learn a new language or understand a game you want to play you really can't go wrong.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

More on The Eyes: Pupillometrics

I wrote an article on NLP and visual accessing cues that got a lot of positive feedback from readers. I thought I would write another quick article on the eyes. This is about a cool little thing you can try out with anyone.

Simply put; when we see things we like, our pupils dilate in order to take in more light, and so that we can also better see what we are looking at. When our pupils dilate, we are also looking at a person, picture, or object more closely; which causes the pupil-dilation (exactly like a camera lens). A book on dating or attraction my tell you that pupil dilation is a sign of attraction, and it is, but this is not always the case.

The study of pupil size is called pupillometrics. And there have been all sorts of studies done on the subject, you can probably try out a few with your friends! A hungry person's pupils will dilate when they are shown food. A woman's pupils will dilate when shown pictures of a child. A ornithologist's eyes will probably dilate if you show them a picture of a bird.

This is one of the reasons poker players wear sunglasses. See a hand you like, and your eyes are going to give you away without you even knowing what's happening. There are of course false tells. Many types of mushrooms will cause your pupils to dilate, and in the past people would eat certain strains to appear more attractive; as big pupils do not only mean attraction, but also may case somebody to reciprocally feel attracted to somebody whose looking at them with dialed eyes. Whoa, talk about behavior that is hardwired into our brains. Although I wouldn't say that this is an effective strategy for card playing...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Jesus' Body Language

I made it to Freiburg alive. On my first day downtown I saw these handles on the University's church:

This is really interesting because exposed hands are a body-language-sign of openness. Take any image of Jesus you have seen; where are his hands, and what are they doing (other than being nailed to a cross)?

This of course is not true for every picture of Jesus, but he is almost never portrayed as aggressive unless the artwork is depicting specific scenes of The Bible (i.e. the cleansing of the temple).

When you expose your palms, your body language is saying that you are being open, welcoming, honest, etcetera. Compared to other things you could be doing with your hands. For example, crossing your arms, or even displaying the back of your hands in certain ways can be perceived as defensive.

Body language isn't something we think about all the time, but it is an important factor in every social situation we are engaged in. The Freiburg University Church was built between 1683, and 1701. It is fascinating that this symbol of body language was incorporated into religious artwork even then!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Layover in Iceland

I had a seven hour layover in Iceland that lasted from midnight to seven A.M. I was essentially alone in the airport all night.

Traveling is a blast!

I finally got some time to write so I made a few posts which will be automatically posted. Check back tomorrow!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Germany Bound

Image from Wikimedia Commons .
By the time you read this, I will hopefully be on a plane to Reykjavik, then Frankfurt, and then finally a train to Freiburg im Breisgau. From here on out this site will be the best way to keep in touch with what I am doing while in Freiburg (especially if you came here through Facebook). As a result expect a lot of original pictures and content pertaining to German, Germany, and language learning. Posts will of course still be around central subjects / topics and will not be journal entries.

My program director said to plan on not having Internet for the first month after arrival. In order to plan ahead I had pre-written posts which will be automatically posted, just like this one! Unfortunately I do not save my drafts on Blogger and my computer crashed, and had to be formatted; so those posts are gone. I guess that's what I get for planning ahead. Nevertheless I will have plenty of time while sitting around in airports to type up the articles again. Just give it some time.