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Out of my league



“Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung”. It means ‘certificate of incapacity to work’ and is given by your doctor in Germany when you’re too sick to go to work. Not exactly A1 level material, but there it sat in my beginner’s coursebook alongside other helpful words connected to the topic of illness. Its existence on the page was not only a source of amusement, but proof that the vocabulary we need for real life doesn’t always correspond to our level.

The outbreak of the new coronavirus is a case in point. *Ausbruch, Hamsterkauf, dicht machen. Before last week I hadn’t heard of these terms. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a perfect opportunity to increase my German vocabulary (I’d rather not know the words and the virus not exist), but I do find it interesting to note how different it is to learn vocabulary through exposure to the language around us compared to using books on a language course.

For example, in real life you’re unlikely to wait until you’ve covered the subject in class before making a trip to the dentist or applying for a job. Instead, a situation presents itself and words you’ve never used before will suddenly be required. Language learning in this way is a bit like doing a jig-saw without a strategy. It looks a bit unstructured, but you get there in the end!

A problem with this learning 'on the fly' approach is the quantity of new language you can be faced with. You have to be selective. If you try to remember everything, there’ll be little time for anything else! That said, when you’re stuck at home for days or weeks because of a virus outbreak, you might have more time on your hands than usual... 

*In English these are outbreak, panic buying and shut down

Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash


words from the text

incapacity   inability
alongside   beside, together with
outbreak   something that happens suddenly, usually a virus, disease or war
case in point   an example
to note   notice
you’ve covered   you’ve studied or looked at
presents itself    happens, occurs, arises 
jig-saw   a puzzle, a picture broken into little pieces that you have to put together (see picture)
on the fly   without planning
be faced with   meet, encounter

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