Learning german in a classroom was one of the best decisions i’ve made this year. The main point was to ready myself for a certification exam, as a kind of ‘There, i did it,’ and a ‘So i must now therefore be somewhat capable’.
I’m taking a term’s break, but here are some of the things that i will miss:
Hearing others speak german. The range is wide as their personalities. Whether accented, or completely thrashing it, it’s a strange wonder seeing grown adults giving their very best to express themselves in a new tongue. When spoken well and ventured bravely, inspiration blossoms and i was in absolute awe. The times rosie wasn’t in class, the class felt a lil lost, without a captain to guide us through the day’s new grammar.
Hearing german spoken in real life. No matter how wonderfully my humble grado headphones transmutes deutsche welle podcasts, nothing beats hearing a new language performed in the physical present. Signing up for a class was a good way for a spot of authenticity. Cadences stick better when you’re engaged in the emotions of the exchange. I can almost see the fricatives grate their way out from the teacher’s throat. English got ‘weirded’; you get so used to your own language, it’s a little strange hearing it in reverse. So there we are speaking singlish-german, and there’s our english spoken germanly.
And I’ll miss the clean calm expression of the language. With an undertone of earthy gruffness, from the teacher especially when we’re not getting the grammar. How a language sounds truly is relative. I could easily say i find french clogs my ears but i wouldn’t want to invite a germanic-romantic debate here.
Actually having to communicate in it. So i’d listened to miles-long of german audio, i can parrot cute regional phrases. I force-fed myself Scrubs in german. The placement test didn’t put me on the B1 highway i was hoping for, but given my preparations had been more play than anything serious, i was feeling good. In class though, questions came fast and hard (well, not even that fast, but it definitely felt hard hearing it face-to-face). With each hit, what felt like an infinity passed as my brain took it in and tried to send something intelligent back out. My confidence crumbled as the illusion of my german knowledge vanished, any possibility of a comprehensible sentence like a shifting oasis in the distance. I kept breaking the cardinal rule of ‘nur auf Deutsch sprechen bitte’, tainting the sacred classroom space.
I felt an absolute dope, which is a pretty intense feeling if you haven’t felt so in a while. The language class brought a kind of reality. While not the same as living where it’s spoken natively, learning it in class was definitely a step up from talking to myself at home (or at work).
The people. On a scale of social-ability and language-helpfulness, i was zero in class. So i feel very grateful to those who were kind when i was pretty much an incommunicable idiot. Who forced me to get my game up when, weeks in, i still remained a spluttering idiot. And who so willingly shared their books and tips with me. I did feel sad that i would not be moving with them to the next level.
As i learnt german, i felt it really was teaching me instead. The simplest things shift perspective. Like when i properly understood the case system was a hierarchy for thinking about things. Or killing the present continuous tense forever–probably a fantastic cure for procrastination.
Someone once said the easiest way to speak german properly is to just speak clearly. That was an ‘aha’ moment for me. We often don’t get something new or something different because we are so used to our old habits. We have to make “The Leap”: a beloved term in the english self-help lexicon. This thought even tailed me on shopping trips; you’d never know how new clothes will fit if you don’t first take off your old ones. It takes effort. And you must want to try on the new clothes. Strange metaphor i know, but philosophy was never born in shopping malls.
Learning about myself. After each 2.5 block of class having to comprehend, think write speak and listen in another language, trust me, you tumble out a different person. Wound up in areas old and new. So i confirmed this guilty suspicion that i’d become a far lazier bum, unused to concentrated study. But i also began questioning motivations and purpose: why was i paying to learn a language with whom i had no one to speak with. Surely not for nerdy linguistic pleasure. Speaking it would come handy should i actually live in germany. Then horrors, i began questioning that. Why would i move to a place where i would not only not know anyone, but not be able to speak to get know them? I imagined myself a silenced vagabond. No one with whom to bounce lame jokes in english, or enjoy dry english wit (very different things). Why would one choose to remake themselves? Bleak stuff. I had to find my light at the end of the language tunnel.
My cousin wondered why i didn’t pick up japanese instead. Something more–you know, useful. And less.. ugly. With ugly comes clumsy/rough/unnecessarily difficult. Things that would be easier to bear if it weren’t so ugly. She did the throat-clearing thing. In darker days, I could agree with Mark Twain:
These things are not words, they are alphabetical processions. And they are not rare… and the inventor of them ought to have been killed.
… When a German gets his hands on an adjective, he declines it, and keeps on declining it until the common sense is all declined out of it. It is as bad as Latin.
So why german. Honestly, (when i’m being honest and not simply giving a ‘um Spaß zu haben’ english equivalent), I’ve never quite been able to explain without resorting to drawn-out references to various spots of my biography–beginning somewhere with anne frank and sebastian faulks in my pre-teen readings, and punctuated along the way with the world cup of 2002 and a language immersion. Who can explain the congruence that causes a spark? Along the way, you pick up further fascinations. Frustrations too, definitely. I’m not sure which came first, the learnings or the liking. But both reinforce each other, as a good relationship should.
I also keep finding things that warm my heart towards this adopted language,
Long post this turned out to be. Perhaps I should have written it all in german to prepare for the exam tomorrow..