Studying German is ‘fun’

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Yesterday I had not only my very first working experience in Germany, but my very first time working at a cafe/bakery. It was quite a long day, that left me no inspiration for writing. Probably, I will write another post about that in the future, but today I want to talk about German language and the ‘fun’ you can have while studying it.

Several teachers I met in Germany recommended me to buy a book in the picture above. Schritte Übungsgrammatik. Niveau A1-B1. This book summarizes the grammar rules you encounter on a daily basis. The other day I was working on exercises that help to understand the usage of damit and um… zu… as well as the difference between them.

The book gives the following explanation:

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First of all, somehow, many other German grammar sources state that when you see two different subjects in a sentence (e.g. Ich schalte das Licht aus, damit du schlafen kannst) you shall use damit. When there is one subject in a sentence (e.g. Ich schalte das Licht ein, um etwas zu sehen) you shall use um…zu… ONLY. Thanks to the book, I found out this is not the case. As we can see from the example: Ich schalte das Licht ein, damit ich etwas sehe. The subject is the same (ich). Nonetheless, we can use damit in this statement. Therefore, damit and um… zu… can be interchangeable.

However, you have to understand what are the cases where you can use um…zu… only. Here is an interesting part: The book does not give enough information to see it clearly. I had troubles to do the following grammar exercises:

um… zu… oder damit? Schreiben Sie um…zu-Sätze, wenn möglich.

1 Hilde besucht eine Abendschule

… Sie macht nächstes Jahr das Abitur

… Sie verdient später mehr Geld

I thought it would be completely fine to use damit in those two sentences, because the subject is the same (sie). So, I wrote:

Hilde besucht eine Abendschule, damit sie nächstes Jahr das Abitur macht

Hilde besucht eine Abendschule, damit sie mehr Geld verdient

The correct answers are:

Hilde besucht eine Abendschule, um nächstes Jahr das Abitur zu machen

or

Hilde besucht eine Abendschule, damit sie nächstes Jahr das Abitur machen kann

and

Hilde besucht eine Abendschule, um später mehr Geld zu verdienen

or

Hilde besucht eine Abendschule, damit sie später mehr Geld verdienen kann

The problem for me was the fact that sometimes Präsens in German can be used to talk about future events. For instance, Morgen lege ich die letzte Prüfung ab. Dann bin ich frei.

Also, damit has several meanings in my native language. I got confused.

I wanted to clear the things up by asking some native speakers about the rules. That’s where the fun began. I talked to four people and only the last one (Thanks, Anna!) could explain to me what was the problem with the answers I wrote. Everyone told me my answers were incorrect, but no one could tell me WHY. When I finally exclaimed ‘Jetzt verstehe ich‘, Anna was laughing: ‘Ich auch‘. I could not imagine two simple sentences can confuse everyone. Native speakers ‘felt’ the language. I wish it was easier for them to explain the ground for their feeling!

Obviously, what I wrote sounded weird in German. The two parts of the sentence did not correspond well with each other. Besucht and macht/verdient  made it sound like Hilde was attending the school and doing the exam/earning money simultaneously. The original meaning was that she attends the school now, so later she CAN (but not necessarily WILL) do the other things.

Working on those grammar exercises made me feel as if I was taking a quiz. I did not win any material prize, but I felt that I earned something more. I became one step closer to understanding the grammar rules of the language I learn. If someone asks me a similar question I can answer it. Sometimes, understanding the smallest details/meanings helps you to build up a solid ground of the knowledge. I do not regret spending the whole evening on this topic. It was fun for me to struggle with German (no sarcasm).

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