Navigating Grammar in Foreign Languages

After living in Germany for over two years, I have come a long way in terms of communicating in German.  In that time, I have learned to not only speak in High German (more or less) but I can understand it really well as well as the Hohenlohe dialect (from T’s home town), Swabian (from where I work) as well as the Zurich dialect of Swiss German (because I have recently made quite a few Swiss friends).

I recently unlocked a language level achievement back in July when I went to Switzerland for a birthday party.  The birthday couple (the gentleman is a co-worker of T’s while his girlfriend has become a good friend of mine…..and she’s also half-Peruvian!!!) hosted a tropical themed birthday in the town of Winterthur, which lies just outside of Zurich.  T was on a business trip to Manchester so I opted to go alone.


I didn’t know anyone besides the couple when I arrived but everyone was so friendly that when I left – I had made several new friends.  Throughout the evening I spoke German, English, Spanish (since my friend’s Peruvian mother was also in attendance), and all the while I had to understand Swiss German (which is quite similar to German but enough of a difference to require concentration).

I will say that I was pooped by the end of the day.  It wasn’t until I left that my brain literally shut down and it took everything to drive back to Germany.  Totally worth it!

But that’s not really the point of the post.

My weakest link, at the moment, is writing.  And why not? I utilize it the least.  At work, I fill out mostly forms and whatever comments I need to write are ones we have already come up with before (I have a folder filled with word documents with comments for almost every possible scenario).  The only time I really need to write is for the occasional Investigation – in two years, I have written 3.  Almost once a year is not enough to better my writing.  But my boss and I have been finding exercises for me to better it and I am still taking German courses so I am improving even if it’s not at the speed as speaking or listening.

But I did want to touch one of the things I have learned – only because I have found it to be quite amusing.  You see, German grammar is hard enough, but I also have a hard time with punctuation! Whenever I write an email – overall, my sentence structure is not bad (where the verb lies in the sentence is one of the biggest grammar points to keep an eye on), I don’t always know what to do with commas (Germans use A LOT of them).  Usually when I don’t know, I just use English punctuation and hope for the best.  For the most part, I haven’t had many complaints.


For those of you in the English know-how – we had the Oxford Comma drilled into our heads.  We learned about those other schools of thought, but the Oxford Comma is the correct way!

Germans don’t use the Oxford Comma.

So you can probably imagine the frustration of my boss who kept reminding me not to put “that extra comma;” the “and” (or “und”) was enough.  Of course I explained to her about the Oxford Comma using the diagram above.  We both had a great laugh over it.  I remember not to use it now when I write in German (no matter how much it annoys me to look at it).

I still have a ways to go, but I am learning.  I could literally on and delve into German email etiquette (in which the punctuation is literally the opposite of what you’re supposed to do in English!) but I suppose that will be another nerdy post for a different date.

What about the rest of you learning another language? How are your writing/reading/speaking studies going?


Bis nächste Woche!

4 thoughts on “Navigating Grammar in Foreign Languages

  1. I won’t give up the Oxford comma either, and I didn’t know that Germans don’t use it! I love the graphic! By now my punctuation on my blog is a sad and unprofessional conglomerate of English rules (some of which I still have to look up) and German rules (most of which I never learned). In English periods and commas generally go inside quotation marks, and in German the comma goes outside.

    Kudos to you on your progress with German!

    1. Some of my more grammar aware friends have also commented on my English writing has started to waver a bit, but honestly, that’s why I keep writing my blog posts (as well as my novel). It’s true when they say to use it or lose it and while my Spanish has taken a hit, I don’t want to worsen my English!

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