Caught in Language Limbo?

Moin moin meine Lieben!

It’s been about a week since I last checked in with you, and perhaps you’ve been making waves in the mean time. Perhaps you’ve had some sort of breakthrough in your work. Perhaps you’ve even made an incredibly difficult decision since we last caught up.

Well, if you’ve done any of those things, or even considered them, then you’ve been a lot more productive than me. In the last week I’ve managed to watch the last two episodes of Sherlock, many more editions of Catfish (I’ve developed a crush on Max- he’s like a salt & pepper dream) and sleep for a bit. That’s about all. Oh, I also made banana bread. Perhaps not so unproductive after all.

I’m not a huge fan of January in general; I tend to get stuck in a bit of a low rut which begins on New Year’s Eve and carries on for a while through this month. I hope to be able to climb out of the rut in the not-too-distant future though, and having booked a mini Scandinavian adventure for the half term I will have here, I feel like things are looking up! More about the Scandinavian adventure another time.

Not having done very much is, of course, not especially useful for writing a blog, it has to be said. So I’m borrowing the theme of this post from a mini blog entry I wrote a few weeks ago as part of a module I’m taking for the Nottingham Advantage Award. The title of that post was ‘Language Acquisition’ and the more I got into it, the more I realised that it’s not that easy to say how I feel about how my German has come along since I moved here.

I’ve certainly picked up more of the little daily exchanges we use all the time when doing the weekly shop, explaining to someone how to use the machines in the launderette (never have I felt more like a pro), travelling from A to B or, of course, trying to get the person on the escalator to just bloody move to the right so you can pass. Please aaaaand thank you, good sir.

Don’t get me wrong, these things are incredibly useful. That is, unless you actually want to speak to a native German for longer than three seconds. This is where it gets tricky. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed above all else, dear Reader, it’s that to blend in with the local culture, you really need to be a little bit foreign.

At school and Uni, we’re taught to use the proper German words for things, not their frequently borrowed English cousins. The frustrating thing is, however, that the more you insist on being entirely true to the language and not straying from a textbook, the more foreign you will sound.

Dear modern language students, if you’re reading this and you’re anything like me, then this will probably annoy you, too. In a sense, it does indeed make it easier here when you can just throw in an English word rather than recalling its German equivalent, but equally, we use the vocabulary most familiar to us in daily conversation, knowing full well that our marks in a speaking exam would plummet if we were to let any traces of our native language slip through our carefully rehearsed phrases and topical views while under pressure.

I’m talking about instances such as a person on German television being complimented on their intelligence, ‘Du bist so clever!’ Clever. Not a German word, last I checked, but nonetheless I hear it used all the time, even by some of the teachers at the college where I work.

A few months ago a German friend of mine’s younger brother told me that he had ‘gelost’ his phone, and that a girl he had a crush on had ‘geliked’ his photo on Facebook. I was about to write that these are just a few examples of English words used in a fully German context, but then again, is there even such a thing as a ‘fully German context’? Or indeed an English one?

That, my dearest Reader, is where this issue, if it can be called one, stems from. Thanks to social media, to the internet and video game phenomena amongst other things, I doubt that there is any area of our lives that hasn’t yet been brushed by a passing international breeze.

The frustrating truth for any student of a foreign language is that the practical experience of speaking a language in its own country doesn’t line up with academic methods of evaluating the skills we may pick up while abroad. You may well be able to hold an almost flawless conversation with someone at a party, but in a little room with two professors staring at you, a microphone under your nose, saying that a question is ‘clever’ might not get you so far.

Or maybe they expect us to throw in some English words, who knows?!

If I’ve learnt anything about being stuck in linguistic limbo, it’s that the last thing you should do is panic about it. You may have started reading this post absolutely calm and not fussed, and now find yourself worried, but if that’s the case, then just go and make yourself a cup of tea, maybe get a biscuit (don’t forget to dunk the biscuit. As if you would forget.), and then come back and read the next bit.

Language learning is all about trial and error, it’s all about accepting that sometimes you are going to embarrass yourself. You might on occasion say you’re going to the cherry, rather than church (German pronunciation joke right there. I use the word ‘joke’ loosely.), but everyone has to start somewhere.

And, my dear Reader, if in doubt, just pick an English verb, stick ‘ge-‘ on the front of it, and see what happens. You might surprise yourself! (Or accidentally offend those around you…but that’s part of the journey, too.)

Mach’s gut!

Charlotte xxx

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