eskandar wrote:How much time would it take for me to develop decent reading skills in academic German?
Depends how intensively you can study it. An academic course could accomplish the job in a semester, but if you're doing it all yourself, I'd allow a year.
but I'm intimidated by the grammar, the necessity of memorizing genders (if you just want passive reading skills in a Romance language, for example, you don't really need to memorize noun genders, but that seems not to be the case with German
I'm afraid that without a grasp of noun genders, relative sentences become hard to unpack. The good news is that academic texts are thick with abstract nouns and the rules for gendering them based on their derivational suffixes are pretty straightforward.
eskandar wrote:I know German has a lot of English and French loanwords and cognates, but the bulk of the vocabulary must be unfamiliar, right?
Yes and no. German is chock-full of loan translations, particularly from Latin. So if you know some basic morphemes (which tend to have English cognates) and you have a good Latinate vocabulary (from English and French), you can decode a lot of German. E.g.:beeinflusstbe-
causative prefix (cf. Eng. be-
"in(to)" (cf. Eng. in-
"flow" (cf. Eng. float
past participle ending (cf. Eng. -ed
is a straightforward calque of Latin influentia
derives a causative verb from this and -t
makes it adjectival.GeisteswissenschaftGeist
"spirit; mind" (cf. Eng. ghost
"to know" (cf. Eng. wit
abstract noun ending (cf. Eng. -ship
is a calque on Latin scientia
, which Geistes-
then qualifies. And the gender is no mystery since nouns derived with -schaft
are invariably feminine.
All in all, it's something of a steep learning curve at first, but the downward slope is pretty easy. I find I have more trouble translating academic texts than understanding them. That is, often the meaning of an unfamiliar word is perfectly clear from its components but I struggle to find an equivalent in English because it may not be modeled on the same Latin or Romance word.
"Richmond is a real scholar; Owen just learns languages because he can't bear not to know what other people are saying."--Margaret Lattimore on her two sons