After about four months of classes and 5 months in Germany, I find myself in German A2, well aware that German — with its random articles and various cases, not to mention the seemingly impossible sound that lingers in the gap between ‘sh’ and ‘ch’ — is a difficult language to learn. But there is good to be found in the language learning process. German relies heavily on compound words, which anyone can invent and use whenever they so desire, while still remaining grammatically correct. This allows for amazing specificity and has resulted in many odd, whimsical sounding names for various objects and ideas.
Despite the many difficulties I’ve encountered, it’s amazing how much of the German vocabulary has managed to seep into my brain. All the ä’s and the sch’s wormed their way in. Although the actualization of these sounds in my mouth is far from perfect, their theoretically impeccable pronunciation has found a comfortable space in my head, often looping through my mental dialogue as an accompaniment to my real-time conversations. Even with all the direction from my teachers as to its correct positioning, somehow my tongue can’t catch up to my brain telling it which teeth to touch when.
German is often described as harsh, guttural, and angry, but the dialect spoken in Berlin perfectly accommodates whispers. The shushing sound comes to the forefront as though everyone is telling secrets. I remember the shock of returning to the US over winter break, the airport filled with loud, Chicago accents speaking in conversations I could fully understand. It was odd how intrusive this felt. I was no longer able to remain alone in my head: Instead, I was suddenly berated with the personal lives of so many strangers. After months of existing in public spaces filled primarily by languages that easily became background noise to my thoughts, the change was overwhelming. It was also odd how many times I had to push down the ever-present German word for excuse me–entschuldigung–as I accidentally bumped into people with my suitcase. Although BCB is an English-speaking school and I occupy mainly English-speaking circles within Berlin, somehow my brain has been rewired to use the little German I have when faced with an anonymous crowd.
While it is true that I have spent many an hour staring at torturous verb conjugation tables and vocabulary lists in what sometimes feels like an ultimately futile attempt to memorize the language, it is also true that I enjoy German. I can have a simple conversation and understand much more than I did when I first arrived, and I’m becoming increasingly convinced that life isn’t too short to learn German after all.