An unfamiliar way of saying something

Many things we say in German seem quite alien to learners, simply because in their own language they say it differently. What usually happens is that a learner will see the German version and register that it is different. When they use this snippet in speaking or writing, they will have to remind themselves that it is different. If they fail to do that, they will use it incorrectly. This can happen quite easily when one is concentrating on another aspect of the language at that moment.

Let’s choose a simple example: In English, when speaking about somebody playing an instrument, we use an article with the instrument. He plays the guitar. In German, we don’t use an article: Er spielt Gitarre.

It is easy for an English speaker to remember Er spielt ein Instrument. because to an English speaker that is the natural way of formulating it. Er spielt Gitarre. on the other hand, is unnatural to an English speaker. So, what we want to get away from is that unfamiliarity. You don’t want you to have a stumbling block in your mind, telling you that the German way of saying that somebody plays the guitar is somehow ‘wrong’.

How do you get there? By repetition, of course. Find yourself a band (or an orchestra), look up the words for the instruments if you don’t know them, and then make sentences such as: John spielt Gitarre. Dan spielt Bass. Steve spielt Schlagzeug. It is better if you actually know the band and the members, so your sentences are more relevant to you. You can also choose a few people you know, who play instruments. Anne spielt Klarinette. Frank spielt Klavier. Think of these people frequently and recite three or four simple sentences in your head.

Remember, this is not for you to understand that there is a difference between your language and the German language. You knew that the first time it came up. This is about familiarizing yourself with a way of saying something, so that it doesn’t sound alien to you anymore. Once you have reached that point of familiarization, it will actually sound wrong to you to use an article in the German version.