I took my car in to the shop today for some suspension work and left with a feeling of language acquisition accomplishment. When I walked in, I remembered to say “Guten Morgen,” or, “Good morning.” An employee came out of the office and returned my greeting. I asked, “Wie geht es Ihnen?” or “How are you doing?” He answerd, “Gute,” and then asked, in German, if I was dropping off the Volvo. I said yes as I attempted to separate my car keys from my house keys. He said, “Schwer” which means “hard.” I grinned and said, “sehr,” very. I handed him my keys and he handed me a form and asked for my phone number. I didn’t catch what he said the first time so I asked “Wie bitte?” “Pardon me?” He repeated it and I caught “Telefonnummer.” After writing down my number, I asked, this time in English how much it would be. He said, in German, that he didn’t speak English. As I fished in my brain for the German question, the customer who had come in behind me asked for me. As the employee was figuring it up, I said, “Ich habe VAT form,” letting him know I had a VAT form. (As service members we don’t have to pay some of the German taxes and the VAT form is what gets us out of them.) As I walked out, I realized that I’d asked him in English without really realizing it because we had been communicating. It just seemed natural that we would be able to continue to communicate if I switched a little bit to English. It was kind of weird but fun, too. I left feeling really good. I would have been able to do the entire conversation in German if I’d needed to. It took me a couple of minutes while driving home to remember how to ask “how much” in German but I did finally remember. “Wieviel costet das?” “How much does that cost?” Not perfect but good enough for communication, which is what I aim for.
Midterm, quitting and a bit of philosphizing February 11, 2009
I got the only A+ in my class. I am really excited about that. I got a 100% but to be fair, the test was WAAAAAY easy like Herr Trost said.
We are working on more grammar stuff and it is really throwing my classmates for a loop. I wonder what they expected when they signed up for this class. One of the guys today got really angry at Herr Trost and was muttering about how this was a “fucking stupid class.” Another guy asked the same question he asked a week ago and, again, Herr Trost had to spend five minutes explaining it. I heard one of the guys mention he had to get a C in this class or else Tuition Assistance (the Air Force program to pay for college courses you take while enlisted) wouldn’t pay for it and he’d have to pay for it out of pocket. Language courses are hard. Very hard. Especially if you don’t know the grammar of your native tongue. I’m guessing there are probably four or five people who are going to fail this course, or at least get lower than a C. And I wonder what they will blame it on. Will they blame it on Herr Trost? The Air Force? The book? Themselves? Will they think they should have studied more? Will this be an enlightening experience for them in which they realize foreign language is not for them? Or will they simply decide that higher education is not for them?
I don’t know. I just wonder. I do not deal well with failure. I don’t know if I would continue to take this class if I were really struggling. One of the things I am really looking forward to about pursuing my degree is challenging myself. I am looking forward to the class that pushes me to my limit. When I left home and moved to Cedar Rapids, I took some classes at Kirkwood. I took some horse training classes and a photography class. I also took a writing class.
One of our first papers was supposed to be about an important event in our lives. I shared my testimony, or at least one significant part (though I can’t remember what it was). I got a C. I didn’t think I deserved a C. Grammatically the paper was perfect but the professor said I didn’t know my audience. I didn’t write to the audience; I assumed they would know what I was talking about. I didn’t explain who God was or what sin was; I assumed the people reading my paper had grown up in Western Christianity and spoke fluent Christianese.
At the time, I couldn’t see any of this and I thought he just didn’t like me because I was a Christian. Now, as someone who no longer calls herself a Christian and as someone who has learned to see things from others points of view, I can see that he was right. But at the time, I simply saw that I was “failing,” or simply not exceeding which to me felt like failure. I didn’t get an A. I didn’t even get a B. I got a C and I didn’t know how to fix it. So instead of going to my teacher and talking with him about it and finding out what I needed to do to improve, I dropped the class.
And I didn’t take another college class until this German class. Why? Why was I so afraid of failure that I couldn’t handle a “C” paper, which in all honesty, was probably a “C” paper. I couldn’t handle it. I was distraught and broken.
What will I do when it happens again, as I am sure it will? Will I be able to work through it? Will I be able to humble myself and ask for help? Will I be able to take the constructive criticism and make it work for me or will I give up and cry? Will I be strong or will I be weak?
I just don’t know but I want to find out. I want to find out what my limit is. What if there is a brilliant geologist hiding in my brain? What if there’s a biochemist trapped in there? What if an archeologist or a war reporter or a talented artist is beneath the layers of complacency and safety I’ve wrapped around myself? What if I peel back the layers and it’s just me, with no layers? Will I be okay with that, too?
I don’t know.
But I aim to find out. Yay for me and my amazing brain!
Learning German January 2, 2008
I am studying Germany and the German language specifically and it’s blowing my mind. The language is beautiful and easy, something I did not expect. Umlauts are hard, there is not denying that but after a couple of weeks of practice, they come a bit easier. The vocabulary is about 40-60% interchangeable with English, either by spelling, pronunciation or both. The syntax, or order of words in sentences, is like old English. Imagine you are in a Shakespearian play and translation becomes simple. “Ich auch” does not mean “Me, too” as Pimsluer would have you think. It means “I also.” “Ich merschte jetz etwas trinken,” (I am guessing on most of the spelling as that phrase is from the audio set) does not mean, “I would like something to drink now,” it means “I would like now something to drink.” I don’t know. I just love it.
But the language is only half of the coolness. I graduated high school with a 3.9 GPA. I got a 31 on my ACT’s. I was home schooled (which means, through magical means which required no effort on my part, I am supposed to have a more complete education). Yet, if you had asked me three months ago what I knew about Germany I would not have had much to say. They started both World Wars. They had really high income tax but great socialized medicine (my husband worked with a German national and that’s what she said). I could have told you that the country was smaller than America but larger than…oh, some small country. I might have thought they still dressed in knickers and suspenders. Maybe I would have known that they enjoy and are proud of their beer. I don’t know. But that’s about it.
First of all, Germany is a very young country. The people have been there a long time but they did not unify under one flag until 1871. They, in a very short period of time, became powerful enough to be a threat in World War 1. Then, after being beaten soundly, they recuperated and in a couple of decades were again strong enough to threaten all of Europe. After being soundly beaten again, the country was divided. Half was ruled by the France, the U.K, the U.S. and the other half was ruled by Russia. The non-Russian side prospered under nonRussian rule and the Russian side struggled to keep its head above water. The two sides were reunited in 1990 and is now the fifth largest economy on earth. Not bad for a country that had to clean up the mess the Russian’s left, eh?
Also, about ten, fifteen years ago, they noticed that their trees were dying. Now the forests are a big part of German culture. Hansel and Gretel were lost in a forest, most of Grimm’s other fairy tales involved a forest of some sort. The Black Forest is the setting for many of them and the trees of that forest were being poisoned to death by pollution. So they cleaned it up. The whole country. They walked it back. They cleaned up the Rhine river. They’ve lowered the amount of pollution they produce from cars by encouraging alternate forms of transportation. And no, I’m not talking about electric cars or hybrid SUV’s – the very phrase of which makes me want to vomit. Words can not express how much that pisses me off. Yes, the answer to America’s gross overconsumption of power is to turn our big, lard-ass gasoline vehicles into big lard-ass electric vehicles. We couldn’t just drive a smaller vehicle, because that would be going just too far. Anyway, Germany has bike paths that connect the place you are to the place you want to go, resulting in, get this, increased usage of bikes as transportation. Amazing, no?
What else have I learned? All stores are closed on Sunday. Federal law. “Not free market,” we scream. Yup and yet, they’re economy is growing. Hmmm. I guess if you aren’t pretending to have a free market economy, you can still make it work. Interesting.
Anyway, I am loving studying German. I’m using three different sources right now. An purely audio CD set and two books. They don’t agree with each other in pronunciation which makes it a bit difficult but it’s fun nonetheless. I figure maybe I’ll reach a nice balance.
Auf Weidersehen! (Good-bye)