January 27, 2007

Deutsche Schule II

Today, for the first time in more than three full weeks of German class, I understood what the Hell was going on. Everyday I sit through five hours of class in a dense fog, understanding only about 1 in every 10 words my teacher is saying -- and only about 1 in 20 of what my classmates are saying. (It's difficult to parse the German through their thick French, Spanish, and Chinese accents.) I only make it through the day by the grace of German-English cognates, my teacher's elaborate pantomimes, and the generosity of my fellow students.

Most of the time, when called upon to speak, I repeat verbatim the examples listed in the book, only improvising with the addition of a few impressive nouns that I've committed to memory: Monatsfahrkarte (monthly pass), Staatsangehörigkeit (nationality), Gemeinsamkeiten (commonalities), u.s.w. (und so weiter, i.e. etc.). Still, I'm often surprised at the end of an exercise to learn that I've completely misunderstood the topic we've been discussing for the past half hour. That graph we were looking at wasn't about Arbeitslosigkeit (unemployment) but about the planned professions of a bunch of high school students (however these planned professions are a little optimistic, as unemployment here is over 14%).

So, you can imagine my thrill today when I understood everything -- everything! -- that was said in class. Granted, today's topic was pretty elementary: Leiblingsfarbe and Leiblingsfeiern (favorite colors and favorite holidays), but damn if I didn't describe my deep and abiding love of Thanksgiving (Erntedanktfest) and the color purple (violett, not to be confused with the German purpur, which is actually magenta) -- with ziel!

Still, I've not deluded myself into thinking that I've had some major language breakthrough. I still can't get the waiter at the neighborhood restaurant to understand what I'm saying when I say, "Die Rechnung, bitte" ("The bill, please"). Instead I've settled on the less polite, but easier to pronounce, "Ich möchte bezahlen, bitte" ("I'd like to pay."). More likely, I've just reached a narrow language plateau. But reach a few plateaus, and I guess you've scaled a mountain.

The class celebrates a Geburtstag (birthday).


The Essentialist said...

The great thing about this picture is the three people behind the Asian kid. Their expressions are priceless as though they are thinking, "Oh, that crazy kid and his peace signs. How utterly droll."

the Collector said...

The worst thing I ever did was teach the Asian kid how to make "air quotes." Now he makes them all the time, even though he has no idea what they mean.

The Essentialist said...

He is kind of like an Asian Ron Burgundy. When in Rome, I guess.

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