I interviewed writer and YouTuber Dana Newman for an episode of The Germany Experience podcast. Listen to the full interview here.
Dana Newman, an American living in Germany, is one of the most popular YouTubers documenting life in Germany for foreigners. Her Wanted Adventure channel covers the things we all know: culture shock, making friends, and learning German. When it comes to that last one, Dana published a book in 2019 called “You Go Me On the Cookie!” about her adventures (and misadventures) learning the language.
It was specifically written for German native speakers to highlight just how beautiful their language is (the book is in German). But when I read it, I realized that it has value to anyone who has learnt German, too. There were countless times where I would nod my head, smiling as I read it, because I could absolutely relate to many of Dana’s experiences and observations. That was precisely why I wanted to interview Dana on the podcast—to discuss some of her stories about learning German.
Dana moved from Florida to Prague after finishing college. During that stay, she met a German named Stefan, and she later moved to Munich. While the relationship might have been the reason she was inspired to start learning German, it wasn’t necessarily the reason she continued with it.
“Once I moved to Germany, I just knew, no, I can’t live here without being able to speak the language,” she explains in the interview. “That, for me, was really important because I felt so out of place living here and not being able to speak the language. I couldn’t read signs. I couldn’t understand what was going on around me. I really didn’t like it at all. I wanted to feel like I could understand things. I wanted to have the feeling that I could go into a store and get what I needed to get, you know? I didn’t like feeling like I was dependent on other people. So yeah, it was just really important to me that I learned it to make me feel at home here.”
The early days
Some of the book’s many funny moments come when Dana is describing her early days of learning German. For instance, you can just imagine Stefan’s chagrin when she labeled just about everything in their apartment with stickers—and later discovered that the stickers left a residue on their furniture when they removed them. Or how they tried to set up a “Deutsch Dienstag”, where they would only speak German on Tuesdays, and how that failed.
And somewhat surprisingly, it didn’t help Dana to have a native German speaker at home. “I would try to talk to him about German,” she says, “and he wouldn’t get it! He wouldn’t get why it was so hard. He didn’t know Dativ, Genetiv, Akkusative…he didn’t know any of those things.”
In fact, she somewhat good-naturedly says that if she could, she would go back and make a rule not to ask Stefan: “It just didn’t work, because he never had a satisfying answer. I would ask him, why did you say, ‘dem’ instead of ‘den’? And he just never had a good answer.”
But her book truly shines when it highlights just how counterintuitive German can be to learn. Case in point: for English speakers, the fact that “Wer” means “Who” while “Wo” means “Where” can lead to confusion between the two words.
Or how, for a culture that is supposedly very ordered, their language can be decidedly disorderly. For example: the fact that “der”, “die”, “das”, “den”, “dem”, and “des” all translate to “the”, while, “wieso”, “weshalb”, “warum”, “weswegen”, and “wozu” all translate to “why”. Or that you can eat “Mittagessen” and “Abendessen” (as in: “Let’s eat dinner”), but you can’t do that for “Frühstuck” (breakfast), because it’s its own verb (as in: “Let’s breakfast”).
She says about her motivation for writing the book: “I wanted to kind of show Germans how tricky their language can be. But also I wanted to show them how beautiful it can be.”
With all the challenges that German provides language learners, it’s easy to get discouraged. How did Dana keep going?
“There were definitely moments where I had this feeling of just, this is so hard it almost feels insurmountable,” she admits. “But I just kind of kept going. And I tried not to think too much about it. I tried not to think about how big that mountain was that I was trying to scale.”
And it also helped that she really just wanted to learn. “I would say I really, really, really wanted to. Like, it wasn’t this kind of, ‘Well, sorta…maybe it would be good’. No, I wanted to so, so, so bad. I think that was the biggest factor, just how much I wanted to, and so I kept going even when it was hard. Even when I was crying, I kept pushing. I didn’t give up on it. And also I think it does help that I’m fascinated by languages.”
For German learners who are at an intermediate or advanced level, this book is a treasure trove of relatable anecdotes and will almost certainly—as it did for me—bring back a flood of memories of struggling through the early days of learning German. It’s funny, too; there were multiple moments where I laughed out loud when reading it. But most of all, it serves a wonderful reminder of why we love this language we’ve chosen to learn.
“You go me on the cookie!” is available in bookstores in Germany as well as online (also on Amazon) – as paperback and Ebook. https://www.randomhouse.de/Taschenbuch/You-go-me-on-the-cookie/Dana-Newman/Goldmann-TB/e536279.rhd
Listen to the episode on The Germany Experience podcast to hear the full interview with Dana—where we also discuss her YouTube channel.
Wanted Adventure YouTube channel: https://youtube.com/wantedadventure