and welcome to a review special. In these specials I review something that has to do with language learning, be it an app or a website or a book. Today it’s a book and it deals with… learning vocabulary. Ugh.
Learning vocabulary. That brings back memories…
“And on Thursday we’ll do a little vocabulary quizz, so make sure you to
learn the words on page 121.”
“WHAAAAT? 20 French words in 3 days is too much… oh and why are we speaking English in French class.”
I really hated it in school. And I think few people really enjoy it. Learning vocabulary – the mega chore of language learning.
But just like the Super Micro Pore space tested Sponge can clean out burnt milk just without detergent and water the book we’ll look at today can make learning new words as easy as eating… almost.
The book is essentially a dictionary but with a little twist. And that twist is: etymology . Now… I know, etymology doesn’t exactly have much sex appeal. And plays close to no role in language learning. But etymology is actually pretty cool and it can be tremendously, incredibly, super mega helpful. Why?
Well, sometimes words are hard to pin down. They have various translations that seem to have very little to do with each other. Etymology can help us understand that and show us the common root that all the diverse meanings grew from. So etymology helps understand and “feel” words.
The best thing is this though… etymology doesn’t only tell us where a word comes from, it also let’s us see relatives of a word in other languages. So called cognates. And that’s where etymology gets incredibly helpful. New information sticks in our minds better if it is connected to stuff that’s already there. And if a new German word links up with a word of our mother tongue we already know… well perfect. We have something to connect it to, even if the translation is something else. In fact … let’s do a test…
- das Vieh – lifestock/cattle
Looks random… but
- Vieh is related to fee. And before the ascent of money cattle was an common way to pay a fee
Now we have pictures in our minds and the word Vieh actually makes sense. I’m sure, you’ll still know this by the end of this post. Das Vieh means cattle because it was used to pay a fee.
So… I think etymology rocks. And many of you have left comments saying that they like the etymological bits in the posts.And that’s why I’m sure many of you will really really love the book
“Intuitive Vocabulary – German”
The author, Azzan Yadin-Israel, discovered just how helpful etymology can be back when he was learning German. That experience stuck with him for decades and he felt that too many people are missing out on this great help. So he got to work. And the result is amazing. A dictionary that gives you the related word and the translation as well as some other useful German words with that base.
Here’s how it works. For each German word we get the English sibling.
das Haus – HOUSE
The sibling is not always the translation though, so there’s the actual translation too:
kaufen – CHEAP (related word) || to buy (actual translation)
And the book doesn’t stop there. It also gives us a neat little explanation of how the words relate to each other and how they changed. Here’s the one for kaufen
Until the 16th century, an inexpensive purchase
was “a good cheap,” i.e., “a good buy.” The surname
Kaufmann is vocational: a businessman, merchant (the
English equivalent is Chapman).
Or let’s take another example:
fressen – FRET ║ eat, devour (said of animals)
To fret is, figuratively, to be “eaten up from within.”
The s of fressen appears in FOSTER, which originally
meant “to feed.” Remorse, like fret, is a word that
denotes a negative emotion but derives from a
That’s really cool, isn’t it… ESPECIALLY because it is not as exhaustive as a normal etymological dictionary with all the abbr. and Ie. and weird letters from old Germanic or Norse and the references to Old Greek and Indo-European and so on. It gives us all we need… a nice little bridge from one word to the other and from the word to the meaning. Just as the title claims… it’s intuitive. And that’s what makes it so helpful.
Another nice feature is the order of the book. There are many correspondences between certain letters or sounds in German and English. A b in German is often f or v in English or a German g is a i or y. Azzan has organized some of the entries based on these relations. That way, you can get a feel for it and if you feel like an English word might fit in one of these patterns you can look it up somewhat quickly (the alphabetical order is based on the German words).
In a second part, which is about one third of the book, the book rearranges all words by categories such as arts and leisure, movements and change, commercial activity or food and cooking, which can be really useful if you’re at a loss as to what words there are or if you want to cover one field systematically.
How many entries does the book have? I don’t know. I’d say between 400 and 600. That doesn’t sound like much but it’s 400 to 600 CORE words. Zimmer, schnell, bringen, Fluss, lassen… these kinds of things. With those you can build lots of compounds or add diverse endings and prefixes to make new words. So in reality you get thousands of words. Oh and you get training. Because once you start looking at etymology and related words you’ll get a sense for it and you’ll start spotting relations yourself.
Another difference to a standard dictionary is that Intuitive Vocabulary doesn’t always list ALL possible translations for a word.Only the important ones and sometimes even an important one might be missing. But that’s totally okay because that is not the purpose. The purpose of the book is not to look up the meaning of words. The purpose is to look up an anchor for words, a hook. Something to make them stick. Or as we would say in German…
- Ein Buch voller Eselsbrücken.
- A book full of mnemonics/memory hooks. (lit.: donkey bridges)
You have a word you can’t seem to remember? Well, check the Intuitive Dictionary and maybe that’s just the link you needed. I mean.. what does Vieh mean again ?
Damn right. Cattle. Because cattle was used to pay a fee. (seriously, did you still know it??)
Even if you’re not searching for something in particular, the book can be quite fun to just look through for a few minutes. There are lots of surprising relations between German and English and maybe you end up learning 5 new words just because you make your loved one wait in front of the bathro… wait… I think I mixed something up.
Anyways… I really think that this book is a great help for anyone who wants to learn German and definitely worth the money. The Kindle edition is some 4 bucks and the hard copy is below 10 $… it’s really “kauf”. You can get it at Evilempire.co…uh… I mean at this likable cute little online book retailer around the corner. And of course you can take a thorough look inside there, too, if you want more examples
Buy it. And spread the word. And leave a nice review over at Amazon, if you like it. Azzan is working to do the same for other languages like French, Dutch or Spanish so your feedback sure would be extra motivation. He’s doing this as a hobby after all, which is super impressive.
So that’s it. That was our review of the Day
Oh wait. There’s one more thing… actually 3 things. Azzan has sponsored 3 paperback copies of the book for you. And since not everyone reads this at the same time, it wouldn’t be fair to do “first come first serve” so here’s what we’ll do:
Leave a comment and complete the following sentence:
I ♥ etymology because ______ .
(hint: it doesn’t need to make sense)
The 3 comments with the most “likes” next
Monday Tuesday will get a book.
(If no one likes anything I will use a very complicated mathematical scheme to determine the winner… or I’ll just pick randomly :)
So… leave a comment and let me know what you think about the book and whether you agree that these things should be used in teaching much more and if you want to win, tell us why you love etymology.
I’m out for today.
Hope you liked it and see you next time.