Sunday, February 03, 2019

Relearning German

"Hauptbahnhof" I would say to the Strassenbahn ticket taker.

"Hobahnhof," he'd correct me. I was on my way to Kelley Baracks in Möhringen, Germany for my intensive German course.

The next morning, same conductor, I'd say, "Hobahnhof."


After a couple of weeks, I jumped on the Strassenbahn and said, "Hauptbahnhof oder Hobahnhof."

He stared for a moment and then we both laughed.

Once on the base, I would stop for a coffee and a raised, honey-coated doughnut before class which was from 9 to 5. It was taught by a Spec 4 who held an M.A. in English literature. My goal was a English, a degree interrupted by my marriage. During lunch we had great discussions--in English.

When the course was over, I could function well in German, as long as we were not holding intense philosophical discussions.

Back at university in the States, the school did not offer German and I found myself in a French class, with a professor who spent little time teaching French and a lot of time talking about his life. Little did I know then, how much I would need French later in life.

Only during my senior year, German was added the curriculum. The prof had studied at Heidelberg University. One of the first things my prof said when I spoke with him in German, "You have a Swabish accent." He was right. That was the accent from the Stuttgart area.

Then decades went by. Moving to Switzerland, I needed to learn French, which I have done--painfully. My German had deteriorated to the shopping level, although I could garble out a response to an almost understood telephone conversation with my housemate's German relatives. And when my housemate and her son had a conversation in German, which was strange in itself, I did catch parts about her worry when he would be home and things around that. Stranger still, until I realized that night they had planned a surprise wedding reception and were finishing up details and went to the language which they were sure I would not understand.

When I was having radiology in Bern, I was worried about understanding the doctor. No fear. My doctor spoke seven languages fluently and was functional in three more. I chose English.

Last year, I decided to get my German back to functional. With the Rosetta Stone installed on my computer for the past several months, I've dutifully gone lesson by lesson. I have language cards. Many words are the "Oh, yes! I remember that" kind. Verb forms are no mystery and even some declensions make sense although not all.

Pronunciation not so good. Any word with an R is victim to my Boston accent. I do not worry about it because I live in Switzerland with its many Swiss Deutsche accents.

Last weekend in Saint Gallen I was able to hold a couple of short conversations in German. Very short. Every time I'm tempted to skip a day, I force myself to go on. When I have no choice about skipping a day, I try and double up.

So until my next blog, Auf Wiedersehn!


Miss Footloose said...

Oh the fun and frustration of learning foreign languages when you're not 5 or 6 years old! I'm Dutch, learned the basics in several languages, and learned English fluently as a teenager. But now I live in France. The basics of French came back, but now trying to learn it well is a struggle, especially since I live in the far south where people speak with heavy accents or use incomprehensible dialects. Swiss German is quite different from main-stream German, so that too can be a problem in Switzerland. One very strange thing for me is that I completely understand Frisian, a real language spoken in the north of the Netherlands which I heard spoken by my family my whole life but never learned to speak. My parents were adamant I learned accentless Dutch, so only Dutch between parents and kids. It seems very strange to me that I understand Frisian perfectly but I couldn't ask for a loaf of bread to save my life. Surely there must be switch in my brain somewhere? Enjoyed reading your post!

DL NELSON said...

Very interesting. Somehow, we manage to communicate. If I ever waited till I spoke perfectly in any language including my mother tongue, I'd never say anything.