Learning a new language is always a challenge. I learned German at school between the ages of twelve and eighteen, and in my last year of school, my German class consisted of three students and was taught by one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. We drove him crazy by constantly inventing our own German words, quizzing him about his brief acting career in Germany, and refusing to learn any grammar, but we had it from the horse’s mouth that despite all that we were still his favourite class. It’s testament to how important great teachers are that I still miss those lessons. I often wish that I could tell my German teacher that after nagging him incessantly for two years to take us to Berlin with no result, I’d finally made it and was now living there for a year. Not only that, but one of my fellow classmates went on to do a German degree and is also interested in becoming a fluent German speaker. That’s two-thirds of our entire class; not too shabby, Mr W.
My decision to temporarily relocate is also greatly influenced by the fact that I have German family and that, growing up, I had considerable exposure to German culture, language, and food through both my grandmas and my mum. Frikadellen, kuscheln, Stollen, ‘Maden (‘Mah-den’) im Speck’ etc.. One of my favourite stories is that I used to gorge myself on so much red cabbage that I once delightedly told my crèche teacher that that was why the poo in my nappy was such a sickly shade of green (tmi?).
I used to fall asleep to my grandma’s stories of her childhood in Germany, many years later she helped me through my German A Level, and it really spurs me on to think that one day I’ll be able to have a proper, grammatically-correct conversation with her in German.
I’ve been taking German classes since the beginning of September. Three hours a day, four days a week, so it’s been pretty intense! The family I’m au pairing with, however, is half English so I don’t practice my German half as much as I should at home. Although I’ve just started a tradition where they each teach me a German word a day. So far we’ve had ,die Reifenschaukel’ (tyre swing), ,der Hustensaft’ (cough syrup), and ,die Kettensäge’ (chainsaw). In addition, one of the most frustrating things about learning German in Berlin is that Berliners are generally great at English and, even more annoyingly, they’re so happy to make life easier for you and respond to your stuttering Deutsch in their flawless English. I’ve spoken to people who’ve lived in Berlin for three plus years and they still only have rudimentary German. I mean, that’s not really an excuse. If you’re determined to learn a language, you will find a way, but I know I’ve certainly started taking it for granted that I can walk into a museum and be pretty confident that everything will be in both English and German and that most restaurants will have their menu conveniently listed in English too.
I definitely enjoy learning a language. My most recent favourite words are ,schlaftrunken’ (‘sleep drunk’, when you’re groggy and half-asleep in the morning) and ,mach keinen Scheiß’ (‘don’t make shit’, or don’t do anything stupid). But, as with most things, there are bits that are a little less interesting. Nevertheless, I’ve made it my mission to find plenty of ways to keep it entertaining.
Recently, for example, I prepared and delivered an oral presentation on why I believe the Earth is flat (a worrying number of people have genuinely questioned whether or not I believe it…). My arguments include, among others, that railway tracks aren’t manufactured curved to accommodate the supposed spherical shape of the Earth and, that if the world were round and span like it’s commonly believed, helicopters could just hover in place and wait for their destination to come to them. My favourite, however, has to be, that if you were to build a hypothetical tunnel through a flat Earth, you would jump in feet first and also come out feet first. BUT, in a spherical world where people supposedly stand upside down in the southern hemisphere, you would have to jump in feet first and somehow come out head first. I know, crazy, right? I’ve also enlisted the help of friends and family for their arguments. It’s surprisingly difficult to argue a point you adamantly don’t believe in.
I also constructed a small talk conversation with a friend in which she commented on her new helicopter and I responded how great it was that I’d just installed a helipad.
In an activity where we had to design our own decision tree, I suggested we help people discover their spirit animal. One of the determining factors as to whether you were an eagle or a pigeon was whether you liked to fly First Class or Economy.
I wrote a heartfelt email response to a fictional friend who was stressed about exams, at the end of which I drew a puppy (a hypothetical attachment) because ‘fluffy animals are scientifically proven to reduce stress’.
And, my personal favourite, when putting into practice the appropriate social protocol and vocabulary for phone conversations in German, I suggested to my group that our conversation with a travel agency should discuss the possibility of booking a trip to Mars. This escalated to the discussion of potential visas and complimentary Martian language courses as part of the three month voyage…
I then went home and told the six year old I au pair for what we’d done and we spent the afternoon designing space ships (which I then took into class the next day).
At the end of the day, learning a language is one of the most rewarding experiences I know: when you recognise vocabulary you specifically remember learning and you very proudly do a little fist pump in your head. It’s also more than a little bit exciting when you realise you’re living in a country with a different language where you can understand and get yourself understood in most situations.
Yes, it might not always be adrenalin-fuelled excitement, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.