'Kannst du meine Schnürsenkel binden?' the little voice said as we prepared for tap-dance class. The main teacher was already starting the class so I was helping the last kids, aged around 6-8, to find their shoes. And although I didn't understand every word, with context this little sentence actually made sense! I'd even managed to initiate the conversation saying 'Kann ich helfen?' when I saw one child struggling. Now, this might not seem like much, but for me this is a huge victory. Slowly but surely I'm starting to be able to talk here and there with the kids and hopefully to progress into actually being able to teach them things with verbal commands in German over time!
I'm British you see. And sadly I conform to the tereotype that we don't know another language. English, as the international business language, makes it all too easy to travel around and not need another language since it seems the rest of the world speaks it. I like to think I'm quite well travelled, having lived in 6 countries so far and visitied many others, but then again four of those countries I've lived in were primarily English speaking. But this time is different. That small 6 year old girl I'm trying to teach a hula-hoop trick to doesn't know any English. Encouraging smiles and saying 'Sehr gut!' can only get me so far.
I've already finished my German language course that I got as part of my voluntary service. I was in A1.1 Deutsch, the most beginner class they had. But it was what I needed: the basics of the crazy grammar full of genders with no rhyme or reason, cases I still unfortunately don't understand, and sentence structures I still struggle to remember. One month of intensive classes 4 hours a day every week-day did make a difference though and more of the vocabularly and grammar has stuck than I thought. Although on many many days I sit in the staff room completely bewildered as I listen to the conversations between 5 fluent adults and barely understand 1 in 200 words, I should remember that this is at least more than nothing, since nothing is where I started.
So I'm trying to remember to celebrate the small victories on this long path that is learning German, my first learnt language. Things like managing to order my falafel in German, even though the guy replied to me in English, managing to say 'no sorry, I don't have exact change', or simply remembering vocabulary and getting it right when my colleagues ask me the name of something in Deutsch. Oh, and also casually dropping 'genau' into conversation and feeling like a real pro for a tiny second (it seems to be the most common word)!
But now that my course is done and there isn't a patient teacher and fellow students to invest time and effort into encouraging my baby-steps in speaking, I find that some days I've barely said a word in German. A busy workplace means that too often my colleagues need to explain something to me and the most efficient way is in English. But this is starting to irritate me: I want to speak German or I'll never progress but it's hard to find the balance between efficiency and progress. I often leave a class at my project feeling very down about my lack of language skills, feeling useless and unable to contribute. I'd never truly experienced a language barrier before and it's very aptly named I think because daily goings on are often a mystery to me, German language being the key I do not yet possess.
But the course is done, and now I need to continue to self-learn. After a day at work trying desperately to understand everyone and if I'm honest, failing most of the time, it's too hard to have motivation to study books. So I'm trying other methods. Listening to German music (bonus: new favourite band found - 'AnnenMayKanteriet'), watching familiar Disney movies in German and labeling everything in my house with the German names. By the end of this year I'll be very happy if I can hold basic conversation, understand the majorityof what's said and at least teach basic things in German.
But I'll always remember the most important German word as one colleague very producly taught me: 'Dingsbums' (translation: 'thingie') for all those times I can't remember the word for something!