I had an interesting idea this evening. In a bid to try and improve my foreign language skills, I decided to start having the occasional nibble round the edges of the German Wikipedia.
I studied German for a couple of years at school as a teenager and actually got quite keen on it. I wouldn’t say that I was ever that good at it — I’ve never been a great one for small talk, but I did spend quite a bit of time after school brushing up my language skills chatting with some of Dad’s German-speaking Bible College students, and I even thought about carrying on with it to A level at one stage. I also got hold of a German New Testament and spent a lot of time reading that as well. I’ve been to Germany five times over the years, and had a great time on every occasion. It’s a lovely country with great people, great food, great scenery and great culture.
However, I have not been travelling anywhere over the past few years, and my language learning has long since fallen by the wayside. Leider sind meine Deutschkentisse jetzt ein bißchen eingerostet worden.
German is a particularly useful language to know on the Internet. It’s the second most widely used language on the web, especially in the technical arena: the German Wikipedia is the second biggest in terms of the number of articles, with nearly half a million. From time to time I come across German language papers and web articles that are worth reading, more so than in any other foreign language. Sure, you can use online translation tools such as Babel Fish, but it’s so much more rewarding and fun if you can actually understand and communicate in the language for yourself.
Quite how successful this approach will be I don’t know, but it’s worth a try. One good thing about Wikipedia is that when someone comes along and corrects your spelling, for instance, by changing “das Wikipedie” to “die Wikipedie” (or is it the other way round?) you can get a diff that highlights exactly what they’ve changed, so you can see where you’ve gone wrong and learn from it.