A little more than a year ago, I began my journey of learning German. I’ve always been intrigued by languages in general, and I think if I had known earlier how much I would grow to love them, I would have pursued the acquisition of multiple languages much earlier. Interestingly enough, on the full spectrum of languages in my life, German was technically the fifth language I began learning, although I unfortunately cannot say that I speak five languages.
English is, naturally, my first language. When I was nine, I began taking Swedish lessons, which I definitely loved, but they were short-lived, and so too was my grasp on the language. I can still count to 10 and refer to my parents, spout out everyday and holiday greetings, introduce myself, tell someone to stop, tell someone that I am drunk, and say that I can’t speak Swedish (an important sentence, although the very fact that I can say it in Swedish kind of negates its meaning). But that’s about the extent of it.
The third language I started learning – also around this time – was French, although I must say that very loosely, because there was no formal structure to it. What really happened is I was in a program for super smart (or “academically talented and gifted”) kids, where I was sent away once a week to another elementary school to do science experiments, make creative projects and sing songs in French. You know, standard fare for fourth graders.
Of course, the bits and pieces of conversational French that I learned drifted away as quickly as they came, and it wasn’t until high school that I began to get serious about learning a language. The fourth language I learned, and the second that I attained fluency (or near fluency) in, was Spanish.
It began as an obligation. One year of a foreign language to graduate high school. Two to be accepted to a UC or CSU. So I slogged through the first year, attempting to piece together what was happening in “La Catrina,” all the while dreading dialogues and not really understanding much about conjugations.
Some time during year two, it all began to click. And then instead of hating the five hours a week I had to spend in Spanish class, I began looking forward to it, and eventually loving it. Which is why I then took third year Spanish, and then AP fourth year, and finally more Spanish in college. And this is when I learned that in addition to enjoying learning a new language, I seemed to have a knack for them.
So when I made the decision last year to study German, I guess the main question was why it had taken me so long to move on from Spanish to something new. But I suppose that, as with everything else in my life, it had a lot to do with the fact that I have always had the tendency to spread myself too thin. But suddenly I found myself with a lot of free time (unemployment will do that to you) and I also had motivating factors (which are huge). So I enrolled in German.
The journey has not been easy. It has been filled with long hours and countless frustrations. It has required as much, if not more, time and practice and dedication as my graduate school work has. And for every new concept I succeed at and commit to memory, another two or three concepts pop up and completely baffle me and make me want to just quit.
But it has not been without its rewards either. German is one of the most logical things I have ever set out to learn and that is what I love so much about it. It’s hard. But if I work hard at it, when I finally get it, I get it. I am constantly having those “a-ha!” moments and they seem to be increasing as I continue to put more effort into my learning.
I suppose if I were in a relationship with German on Facebook, it would read “It’s Complicated”.
Of course, I still have so many things that I consider problem areas, and in spite of a range of native speakers telling me that I’m doing well, I of course have my doubts. I’m critical of my speaking mostly, and I take a long time to do my homework. A lot of it is tedious work that doesn’t have instant results. But it’s all part of the process.
What’s perhaps most interesting about learning German has been the fact that it’s begun to define who I am in a way that Spanish never did. I don’t know how to explain that, other than to say that German (and Germany) has become a piece of my identity in a completely unexpected but ultimately redefining fashion.
And while I set out learning it for a specific set of reasons, I’ve come out a year later with a whole new set of them. What I thought would be the beginning of something fun and enlightening has turned out to be a serious academic concentration. So serious, in fact, that next semester I will be taking two advanced and work-heavy courses, in preparation for taking the Zertifikat Deutsch.
What this essentially means is that (provided I pass the exam), I will be considered an “intermediate” speaker of German.
Of course, intermediate is still two or three steps away from absolute fluency, but (not to sound like a defeatist) I suppose that isn’t really possible. I imagine I will eventually come close – especially after living in Germany for some time – but that grasp of German, that (what one of my professors refers to as) “marrow-deep understanding” of the language, will probably always be just out of my reach. And I’m OK with that.
In the meantime, today was my first day of one-on-one private German tutoring. Because I came to the realization that my propensity toward languages and my motivating factors are only so strong and will only get me so far. At some point I need to put forth that extra effort to propel myself further. And that time is now.