Tuesday, December 9, 2014

I am epic win.

Just kidding! This post is about me making a fool out of myself and smiling and nodding a whole lot.

I've been in Germany for a little over three months now, which happened sometime when I wasn't looking.  Before I'd came, at one point I'd told Andreas that we'd be speaking only German together by Christmas. He said "Not before?" And I replied that I hoped before, but hey, lets not set ourselves impossible deadlines!

Former Elizabeth and Andreas are optimistic morons. Three months is not enough time to learn a language. In three months I've gone from "Ich spreche kein Deutsch" (I don't speak German) to "Entschuldigung, mein Deutsch ist sehr schlecht" (Sorry, my German is very bad) whenever I have to go out into the world and deal with people. Its actually a pretty big difference. The first says "don't even try to talk to me." The second says "You could try repeating that very slowly and like you're talking to a child and it might work this time."

The most useful forays into language learning are when the universe sets the How to German game up to expert level and there is no choice.

For example, I have a piano student who speaks Spanish and German, but only a bit of English. You don't actually need a whole lot of words to teach beginning music, so lessons are going rather well, but occasionally I forget really important stuff.  At our first lesson I'd compiled a massive list of German musical terms, but I forgot that rests exist and didn't know what to call them, instead just yelling "pause!" (which works in both English and German) every time we encountered one. I was extremely lucky that a rest in German *is* actually called a "Pause". Was less lucky two weeks ago when I forgot to look up "tie" for that day's lesson and had to explain the concept without being able to tell her the name for the darn thing. She is an unbelievably kind lady and is very patient with my musical version of a cliffhanger chapter ending.  Tune in next week when I'll finally be able to tell you what the thingamabob is called!

I accumulate more and more terms but sometimes I worry I'm not using the best one. A tie is "haltebogen" or "bindebogen", but are they equally used in practice? The internet has so far told me three separate names for "bass clef." Of course it has other names in English as well, but when teaching a beginning student you're going to call it bass clef rather than explain F clef just yet, and I suspect this is the flaw in my internet based term learning, that something could be technically correct but not widely used.

Luckily I recently learned that a friend in town plays classical guitar, and she and I have a beer and German musical theory date planed for this week. Now contemplating that a certain semester of grad school would have been a lot more fun if I'd thought of combining beer and music theory study sooner than this.

I also visited my in-laws for a weekend recently, and they too speak no English.  They moved to Germany from Russia in the mid 90s and also learned German as adults, and so they are very patient with what I call my impression of a German dictionary in a washing machine. There's no grammar, no proper conjugation, just me throwing out any word I know in the vague direction of where I'd like to go. My father in law found television very useful when he was learning German, and my (attempted) protests that the internet is now the most useful supplementary tool in language learning are ignored. Several times during the weekend he sat me on the couch, announced "Du musst Deutsch learnen!", clicked the television on and left.  Overall we understood each other better than expected, with the mutual understanding and acceptance of the fact that I sounded like a train wreck. At one point we skyped to my mother, who was impressed with my ability to translate. To be fair, we mostly stuck to topics I'm very comfortable with, which are what the weather's doing today and food. Afterwords I told my in-laws, "My mother thinks I speak good German now."

That was a real table pounder for everyone.

The next day my brother-in-law, who is 15, speaks very good English, and is very observant told me "My father thinks because you laugh when he laughs you're understanding him. I know you just pretend sometimes."
Well. Yep, sometimes when there is no hope, I smile and nod and laugh when everyone else laughs.

Coming soon to this blog which I promise I'm going to start writing on more often; how it took me seven hours and ten miles of bike riding to send a package, and also Christmas markets!  Hugs and thanks for reading!


  1. Hahahahaha. I had to stop reading at "table pounder for everyone" so I could laugh hard. You have a wonderful gift with words. Surely this gift will seep into German!

    1. Thank you very much! And I hope so!

      Much as I too enjoyed the wording of "table pounder for everyone"... I worded it that way because there was *actual* table pounding when I told them that! ;D

  2. My father-in-law has not attempted to force me into learning Mandarin yet. I guess that's the difference of not staying longer than 10 days? I empathize with your feeling of being overwhelmed. It will be so cool to actually have control of the language though. You'll get it! (You have to hahaha)