Manfred von Richthofen

German must be a daunting language to learn. If I hadn’t been born a native German speaker (if you can call Austrians that, but that’s a topic for another time, haha), I don’t think I would bother to learn it. Sadly, I never found (or made) the time to study more languages. My English is pretty decent, and I’ve studied Japanese for a few years, most of which I forgot again, unfortunately. While I use English all the time, I just had no opportunity or necessity to maintain my Japanese. But I always wanted to try at least one more. Now, being self-employed and with all the responsibilities of being a grown-up and a dad, I can’t even find the time to go see a movie, so it seems that this item on my list will have to be pushed back. Maybe until retirement, or until one of my sons brings home a non-native girlfriend. Many years, in any case.

If I were to choose a new language to learn, I would pick one that “unlocks” the most people or countries. So I’d probably go for Spanish (boom! 500 million people to talk to) or Chinese (1 billion). Or maybe one that’s useful in the close neighborhood, such as Italian or French? Well, I don’t have to choose quickly anyway.

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27 comments on “Manfred von Richthofen
  1. Pete Cook says:

    So, does the German speaking world have the same problem as the English speaking world? A people seperate by a common language…

  2. stef says:

    Haha, I guess! We use the exact same phrase, actually. Some people take it more seriously than others though.

  3. Wade Moeller says:

    English isn’t separated by a common language, they are separated by assimilation. People will ask me how to spell some word and I’ll rattle it off ending with “Just like it sounds.” But the trick is that you have to know the origin of the word so you know which letter combination to use for the sound.

    Don’t bother to learn Italian. It’s actually a modern language that takes the regional languages of the country and chucks them into a blender to come up with a “common” language that isn’t really understood by the natives.

  4. JPKalishek says:

    I’ve a brother-in-law who is Japanese, and he spent more time here now, than he has in Japan, having spent his teen years in the Atlanta region, then Auburn for college, and Memphis where he married my Sis. His mother gives him a hard time over his “atrocious” accent, even though he uses Japanese almost every day in his job (Import/export forwarding). Apparently he has a southern American tinged Accent in Japanese now.

  5. Captain Dunsel says:

    I took German in High School (1968-72), because it was the language of science and space exploration (besides, Latin had been dropped as being dead!). We were told French was for politics, and Spanish was for those who couldn’t hack German or French.

    I wasn’t a great student, but living in Kaiserslautern (courtesy of the USAF) for three years helped me improve my German. I’d never say I was fluent, but I could get by and have fond memories of some great German folks I got to know. Oh, and I did learn not to speak with my HS-taught Berliner accent, especially not in Rheinland-Pfalz!:-)

    JPKalishek, I think you’d appreciate this: One of the guys in my unit had a deep New Hampshire accent, which really came out in his German. The cleaning ladies thought is was very endearing!.


  6. Bernd says:

    Captain Dunsel, was German really considered the language of science after the Second World War? I know many terms from before, which are still in use, stem from German roots (“Bremsstrahlung” comes to mind, or “Gedankenexperiment” or “Gestalt”), but after that my impression is that most fields were English-dominated.

  7. Bernd says:

    To add, sure, some of the early visionaries of space exploration were German (von Oberth) or Russian (Tsiolkovsky), and one of the most famous rocket engineers (von Braun), but that’s mostly of historical interest today.

  8. Tom says:

    The comment “separated by a common language” is found in a quote widely attributed to George Bernard Shaw dating from the 1940’s: “The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.” Whether it is original to him, I cannot say.

  9. markm says:

    @Bernd: I also took German 1970-71 – to fit it into my senior year in high school, I walked over to the community college. In science and technology, it was probably third (after English and Russian). Since English is my native language and communication with Russian scientists was rather restricted, that left German as the best choice for a 2nd language. In hindsight, Japanese or Mandarin may have been better, but weren’t available, and are much harder to learn.

  10. Captain Dunsel says:

    When I started in High School, no one had yet walked on the Moon. So, yes, it is history (I’m 63). Germans who’d come over to the US were a large part of the space sciences community and had a very large effect on it.

    I had a break in schooling and didn’t get my B.S. degree (Meteorology) until 1980; when I did, taking two years of literature in translation met the foreign language requirement. So, I took German and Russian lit. As the USAF was paying for my degree, I had to take the shortest route, so no time to actually learn a language.

    Going back for my M.S. (more Meteorology), fluency in a computer language sufficed. As I was doing a lot of programming in BASIC and FORTRAN, once again I had no time for an actually human-spoken tongue. Now, BASIC is forgotten; FORTRAN is disappearing rapidly.

    Side note: One of my college professors for both programs (same school, St. Louis Univ.) was ex-Luftwaffe (cadet). We had many interesting talks about the closing days of the War. He never got closer to flying than guarding some Ju-52’s on the ground (and was glad of it, considering how many Allied fighters he saw!). Very smart man, he was also part of the NASA Viking team.


  11. Speedsix says:

    About germans learning the english language: It´s firmly rooted inot the syllabus of every german school today. It is our No, 1 foreign language to learn. When I did not yet speak italian and I had lost my way in Firenze / Italy I just spoke english and very soon found somebody who showed me the way.
    English is the predominent language on the internet and in most technical publications, plus popular music plus advertisements
    I wonder what people would think about the german lingo when it had the same rrole in a lot of countries.
    About the “unlocking language”: In Europe, surprisingly enough, this can be Latin. Once you got the grasp of it you will learn western european roman languages really fast.

  12. Jean Loup says:

    I was born from a German general & a Belgian colaborateur in Paris, January 1943. After loosing the war, we were a “French speaking family” hiding in the Chevreuse Woods until January 1948, when we entered Spain to live in Pamplona. I learned Spanish & no German. In january 1956 we moved to México & I became Mexican instead of German, since I Never spoke any German nor ever have been in Germany. I studied High School in USA and learned [i](some british Friends say CHEWED)[\i] English. Since then I lived my life in México & like it, with my european part included: Chevreuse Woods are beautyfull!! Much better tan war & it’s after effects… I was lucky!!

  13. Fbs says:

    Preaching for my church, check about the French. Between Belgium, Switzerland, Canada and countless former African colonies, it is spoken in quite a bunch of places…and people too. And with the brexit leaving no English-speaking language in EC (at least officially : Irish choosed Irish, Malta the local language and so on…), it might well become the new official language for EC…(or maybe German, who knows…).

  14. Jean Loup says:

    Gravatars vanish with PC changes…

  15. Manuel says:

    You can bet that he German speaking world has the same problem as the English speaking world.
    Take a German from Berlin, Hamburg or central Germay, put him somewhere smack dab in the middle of Austria or German-Switzerland and watch him understanding hardly anything.

    Heck, take a guy from Vienna, throw him into the mountains of Tyrol and watch him struggle 🙂
    (quite a funny sight though 😉 )

  16. Captain Dunsel says:

    You’re right about most Germans being able to speak English. We haven’t been there since 1992, but even back then, when my German ran short, folks were happy to help me by speaking English.
    My wife (who had 5 years of French in HS and College) and I always tried to start conversations in the appropriate tongue. As visitors, we’re guests in someone else’s home. So, we should make the first effort. We ALWAYS got courteous responses (and, sometimes, laughter!), even when we were in Paris — so much for the French being rude!

    One quick story: Our 12 year old beagle died shortly after we arrived in Germany, leaving his 7-year old beagle-mix playmate alone. We held on getting another dog, due to our being in military family housing. So, our beagle mix had no doggie playmate for three years.
    Shortly before we returned to the US, I was walking him in the woods bordering US housing, when I met an elderly lady walking a dachshund pup. The two dogs hit it off and began playing very happily. It didn’t matter the lady could barely understand my fractured German, nor I understand all that she said. What mattered was that the dogs played, very happily, for several minutes, and that made her and I happy.


  17. Random related trivia: A Red Baron relative became very famous a few years ago when she killed her parents:

  18. KKrummy says:

    Studied German in high school four three years, but lack of practice has taken its toll. I can still conjugate the verbs, but can’t remember what they mean. Ich Kann, ya!

    Auf wiedersehen!

  19. Bruce says:

    Why is the British pilot descending by Parachute? in WW1 the British did not issue parachutes to its airmen as it was believed to encourage cowardice…. (unlike the Germans who did have parachutes…)

  20. markm says:

    Bruce: Quite true. Another reason parachutes were rarely issued to heavier-than-air crews was that the parachute packs of the time were quite unwieldy, and the cockpits usually tiny (like the airplanes). Even if one could get into the seat with the chute, getting out of it in an emergency was difficult. However, parachutes were standard issue to the observers in tethered balloons for artillery-spotting. These were inflated with flammable gas (hydrogen or illuminating gas = H2 + CO, generated by passing steam over hot coal), and were favorite targets of the most daring fighter pilots – look up Frank Luke for an extreme example – so it didn’t make sense to leave the observer without a quick escape. IIRC, the Allies rarely or never used these balloons, while the Germans used them widely – so another reason the Germans would have been more willing to hand out chutes was that they had them in mass-production for the balloonists.

  21. mike says:

    Thanks for the great comments everybody!
    Let me answer Bruce’s question since there is a simple explanation: If the British chicken didn’t have a parachute, the joke wouldn’t have worked….

    I am from the Vienna area and I had a room-mate from Vorarlberg when we were working in LA many years back. Most of the time we spoke English since our accents were so different, HAHA! Also, my wife is learning German as we speak. It’s rough watching her struggle through it, but she’s a trooper. I think of this comic strip often when I listen to her…

  22. Jean Loup says:

    my gravatar iS BACK!! About the parachute & pilots not having any in the Great War: they were much better off flying without a parachute, tan fighting in the trenches with tics, mud & unburied bodies roting all around, plus lack of food suplies & the gas… I just watched the Verdun battle in the History Channel yesterday… WHAT HORROR!! (like any war today).

  23. Captain Dunsel says:

    Actually, the Allies used quite a few observation balloons.

    Regarding the Brit having a parachute, I’d call it ‘artistic license’; the joke needed it.

    As a side note, so would be either one of the pilots being able to hear the other. An un-muffled rotary engine is LOUD!


    p.s. Both sides used observation balloons quite bit. The Brits kept the design around, and used them as barrage balloons, etc., in WWII. One such balloon (claimed to be the only one left in the world) is on display in the USAF Museum.

  24. A bit late comment, but anyway:

    Being Danish, I had both English and German in school. And when I was a kid, there was only one Danish TV channel, but we could also watch 3 German ones (ARD, ZDF, NDR) so I also picked up some German from Sesamstrasse and Der Alte. English we pick up a lot too, as our TV use subtitles instead of lip-sync, so all non-Danish programs on TV is with original sound – and there’s a lot of English there. Later staying a year in the US as exchange student has made English my best foreign language, while German I’ve used mostly as a tourist (+ when I worked as sheriff in Legoland, there was a lot of German tourists.)

    Now I’m a database developer. At present living in Hamburg working temporarily on a project here, and most of my colleagues definitely prefer German, even in the IT world. I have also been a speaker at a German IT conference – along with most other international speakers I spoke in English. But the conference room was equipped with simultaneous interpreters, as a lot of the German attendees preferred hearing German.

    Most Danes tend to think of English as being the lingua-franca of the world – they think you can get by everywhere with English. Sure, you can probably get by – but as Danish Export Council advises: If you as Danish company want to make deals with German company, it’ll be a very good idea to speak German, or you’ll probably not get the deal.

    Anyway – those are my experiences 😉

  25. Bernd says:

    That “German IT conference” wasn’t by any chance the Chaos Communication Congress? (Not really sure I’d call it an IT conference, though.) Just curious because I’m part of the simultaneous interpretation team there. Very few people listen to the German translation, though, and hardly anyone gives feedback. Our German-to-English services are much more appreciated. The worst English speakers are typically Japanese (very few), followed by eat Europeans. German speakers who are not sure about their English language skills are strongly encouraged to speak in German, and rely on our services.

  26. Bernd says:

    Sorry, that was supposed to read “Eastern Europeans”, not “eat”.

  27. NRudy says:

    @Bernd Well that`s because in East Europe most of the people learned Russian as 1st foreign language up to the 1990. 2nd were English, French, Latin and German (in that order). Other languages (Spanish, Italian, Arab…) were learned in special classes or on universities.
    My generation was one of the first that learned English in elementary school (and last that learned Serbo-Croatien as native).
    German was the language of mechanics here and many words in Serbian sleng for machine elements and automotive parts came from German.
    Nowadays kids learn English from 1st grade and other language (German is most popular) from 5th grade.
    Many of us have dislike for German because they were the main bad guys in old yugoslav war movies (partizan films) 🙂

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