Saturday, April 09, 2005


Feeling a bit out of the loop is pretty much a given when visiting a foreign country, but I really had the best time with Kristina and Anna because they had infinite patience in coaxing my German skills (YES, I HAVE THEM) out of their shell. Besides, Kristina’s English is AMAZING so I just substituted the English word and continued on with the sentence, or when times were really hard she acted as translator. Or Dolmetscher, as they say in Deutschland! Ja, bestimmt! I told you I fucking speak the German.

Actually, I was pretty startled at how much of my German stuck with me, considering it’s been two years since I’ve either been in Germany or taken a German class. If I had studied abroad in a foreign language country, this would have been it. I completely underestimated the effectiveness of learning a language through practice rather than theory. I’ve only been here a few days, and for the most part, I’m amazed at how easily the language is coming to me, even things that stumped me in high school and university German classes (i.e. articles, variable accusative/dative prepositions).

There are holes, of course. The flip side of the situation is the incredible frustration of not being able to express what you’re thinking, or kinda sorta getting it out but knowing that you sound like an absolute imbecile and there’s really no reason for the person you’re talking with to think otherwise, because when the tables are turned, most of us do the same thing.

The thing is, most of the time, I’m just missing a single damn word: either in the sentence I’m trying to say, or in a sentence someone I’m trying to understand someone else say. In the case of the former, all I can do is gesture wildly and grunt in frustration; in the case of the latter, the other person just assumes I didn’t understand anything they said and repeats it in English, which is totally counteractive. (That’s another thing: most people here speak at least a little bit of English, so when they hear that I suck they switch to English and I’m shafted out of German practice.)

Kristina and Anna thought it was fun practicing with me so they adopted a “no English with Eric” rule. That was helpful, although I spent more time with the gesturing and grunting. Whenever I get too pissed off at not being able to talk to people, I try and remember that I feel the same damn way all the time both in America and the UK. I say things and people don’t get it. It’s a fact of my life. Maybe studying in a foreign language country would just be a change of scenery.

When Greg graduated from UW last winter, instead of getting a job, he signed up to live in Spain for a term learning intensive Spanish through an independent organization, not through the university. I would definitely consider doing that here in Germany, especially considering I have no fucking clue what to do with my life after I graduate, which looks to be frighteningly soon.

All I know is, I love it here, and I love the language. The flip side of the flip side is how awesome it is when you realize you can fully express what you’re trying to say. Sometimes I’ll say a sentence without thinking and I’m not sure if it came out in English or German because I didn’t encounter any linguistic roadblocks.

And this is only after three days...


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