Thursday, October 05, 2006

With a little help from my friends ...

I’ve been dreaming in German. This could be a turning point; I hope it is at any rate because I’m weary of stumbling through this language. I’ve read numerous accounts of other Expats banging their heads against the wall after struggling to learn German and seeming to get nowhere and I have resisted joining that club. I actually want to learn the language, not just so that I can get around or read the newspaper or share in the secret language His Holiness now speaks with his mother and his German relatives, but also because I have seen bright smiles on the faces of people on the street – people I’d like to know - and in my small neighborhood here in Cologne I have begun to make friends, slowly mind you, but certainly, and those friendships will only move forward if I can fully participate in our emerging dialogues.

After a long hiatus I’m enrolled in German classes again. I have a good teacher and an interesting assortment of classmates, but even though my class time is vital to eventually mastering this language, I am finding that speaking and living in German is just or more important than the time I spend in school. What I must do, however, is resist the temptation to speak English. A number of my new German acquaintances speak halting English and they are very keen on practicing with me, but instead of speaking English with them I’ve been experimenting with a new form of conversation, where the German person speaks English to me and I speak German to them. This creates a situation where neither party is able to communicate clearly or confidently and even the simplest conversation can take a very long time. That said, it’s proven to be a great way to practice the new vocabulary and verb conjugations introduced at school.

Then there is His Holiness, the greatest teacher I have. HH is just flying in his growing command of German and he is my deep defense should I get into a language jam while out on the street. Try to imagine if you can a large, graying man (that’s me) standing at the counter of a shop or sitting on a train or in any number of other scenarios, bending down to ask the three-foot tall three-year-old standing beside him to please translate. HH does his best to assist me and I think he really gets a kick out of it as well. At some point I think he realized that this wasn’t just a game that Papa was playing but that I really didn’t understand the language as well as he and that when I asked him - “What did that lady just ask Papa?” - I really wanted to know! His brand new brain functions like a sponge, he hears something once or twice and it becomes incorporated into his vocabulary. This is a wonderful thing when it comes to learning a new language but it can be very embarrassing if Papa forgets that the human sponge is also picking up and remembering and repeating the full range of what he overhears. I was reminded of this fact the other morning. I was dropping HH off at his kindergarten and one of his little classmates (also a native English-speaker) came by to say hello. In a very short time I learned that I had been the subject of a recent dinner conversation in this toddler’s home. I also learned a few other things that were discussed at the dinner table that night but discretion precludes me from repeating them here.

This struggle toward comprehension is an ongoing story … I’ll keep you posted.

13 Comments:

Blogger Carol said...

Dreaming in German is an indication, I think, that you've turned to corner and are now thinking in German -- even subconsciously!

I speak great German after 2 glasses of wine and I dream in German after three weeks there -- usually about 24 hours before coming home. :-(

Carol

8:40 AM  
Blogger christina said...

Stick with it, Richard - you'll get there eventually. And you have now discovered the key - that the time spent *outside* the classroom speaking German and living the language is what will make or break it for you. I guess the advantage that I had when I was learning is that barely anyone around here tried to speak English with me so I *had* to struggle along in German, and boy, was it hard sometimes, but one day everything just goes "click" and there you are. Just wondering - do you speak German or English with your wife? When I moved here, my husband and I made the conscious decision to switch over from speaking English with each other to German only and that was a huge help.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Berlinbound said...

Carol ...

If I could bring a bottle of wine into class I would!

Christina ...

I speak English in the home and in my close personal relationships. Life is difficult enough without adding linguistic confusion to the mix.

7:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Christina, stick with it, and I also agree with Carol, having a glass of wine or two makes me speak foreign languages - even French (!) - more easily.

On one hand, I think that you are in general in a good position to learn German since you are 'forced' (at least to some extent) to speak German in public, even if it seems rather broken to you. And who said that learning a foreign language is an issue of a couple of month?

On the other hand, the temptation of speaking of your native language is quite an issue. You should avoid to speak English in some occations, for example, with HH's mother and relatives. Couldn't the both of you just agree, like Christina suggested, to speak German at home? I think that this could advantageous to you.

Anyway, good luck for your German class, I'm sure you will succeed in it (and I'm waiting for your first German posting...)!

10:33 PM  
Blogger montchan said...

I found you through some link. You have a very cool blog!!!

About German, I used to speak it, well sort of, the Namibian version at least, as a child. It was my first language. And now, though I can still read the newspaper and understand the conversations, speaking it myself became nearly impossible.

But after a few weeks in Germany, it all comes back, eventually.

Good luck to you in your language struggle!

And remember, German is not that bad... I will be happy the day I can finally dream in Japanese!

:-)

Cheers!

Misty

3:49 PM  
Blogger Berlinbound said...

Sandy ,,, Thanks for the encouragement - it's always great to hear from you!

Misty ... I'm happy you found my blog - through whatever channel! Stop by anytime.

7:13 PM  
Blogger Mike B said...

I just spent a few days in my new job riding around with truck drivers, all of whom were Khazaks with no English whatsoever. I could do Russian, but they all wanted to do German. Talk about having to focus your German language skills! Good luck with the classes.

12:02 AM  
Blogger Cathy said...

und jetzt...ganz wichtig; was hast dein sohn's freund gesagt? Du verdest Deutsch lernen; und dann werdest Du eas nie vergessen.

xo
Cathy

3:39 AM  
Blogger piu piu said...

aw. best of luck! you have the right attitude of course! hey.... and youre cool!

7:25 AM  
Blogger J said...

I guess that's one of the good things about living in my small city. Nobody speaks English here so they can't switch to English if I have a problem in German.

I hope that your son grows up speaking English like a native speaker, not with a German accent.

As with Christina, I think you should also switch to German as much as possible with your wife (but not with HH). It's only when you have to say something (like 'Could you please pass me the salt') that you realize you don't know how to say it. Your wife is an invaluable resource because her English is probably excellent.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Berlinbound said...

Mike B ... Now that sounds like a full-on language challenge ... You must have an interesting job. THanks for stopping by.

Cathy ... My lips are sealed.

piu ... I haven't been cool for a long time - but it made my day to read that you think so!

J ... I know you're right and yesterday during a walk with HH we actually tried it for an hour or so. We filed divorce papers this morning!

6:31 AM  
Blogger J said...

LOL Richard. Jen has said the same thing about speaking German with Sparky.

8:16 AM  
Blogger Ruby said...

It's a huge step to start dreaming in the language you are learning, it's a sign that your subconscience is really absorbing it and soon, if you stick to it properly, you'll be able to think and speak German...

4:44 PM  

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