The German Language/ Where I’ve been

Hello! Yes- I’m still alive!

Sorry for the unintended, unexplained five month blog break.

Right after getting back from our summer vacation in the States the girls and I started school. Yes- me too! Kiera was accepted into the after school program (OGS), so I finally had time during the day to start my German language classes. I was excited to finally get started, but also dreading the hard work ahead of me. German grammar is SO complicated!

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Here’s my German language classroom. I’m here four hours per day, five days a week. I have the option of continuing with this schedule for the next two years. The other students in my class are from all over the world. Spain, Italy, Russia, Poland, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Syria, Montenegro, Africa, Turkey, Thailand, etc. I’m the only person in my class who speaks English. The good thing about this is that I’m forced to communicate with them in German during our breaks and before and after class. The bad thing about this is that we all currently speak German at about a 4 year old level, so it’s hard to have in- depth conversations.

The video below is of David Sedaris reading an excerpt from his book “Me Talk Pretty One Day”.  He lived in France for a while and took a French language course for immigrants and writes hilariously about how hard it is to communicate while learning a new language. SO funny!!

It’s really interesting spending so much concentrated time with such a diverse group of people.  Simon loves to hear stories every night about funny things that happened/ were said in my class that day. He thinks we should write a comedy sitcom about it. They are a very warm hearted group of people. Of course when they heard I was from America, the first thing they asked me about was this guy…

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“Wahnsinn” means dementia/insanity/lunacy/madness. “Hetzer” means agitator. Ugh. He certainly hasn’t helped how the world views America. Pretty embarrassing. I usually try to stay off the topic of politics here, but I also have to mention that lots of the Syrians here adore Angela Merkel and call her “Mama Merkel”!

When we first moved to Germany people would say, “Oh, everybody speaks English here- you don’t have to worry about it!”. Yes, many people here can speak English, but it’s usually pretty rudimentary English. Totally understandable, of course. English is not the spoken language here and I’m sure most people don’t have lots of opportunities to practice/use it.

I often dread going to parties where everyone is speaking German (or another language!) and being the reason everyone has to switch to speaking English. “Hi everybody! Yes, I am the typical American who only speaks one language!” Luckily I’m at the point now where I understand about 70% of what is being said (I just don’t get the fine details- my vocabulary isn’t quite there yet).

I always planned on going to school to learn German (once the childcare situation was taken care of). Not speaking the language has been pretty isolating. It’s hard to deepen friendships when you can only communicate on a very basic level. Every day is challenging. Simple, everyday things that you take for granted in your own country are harder here.

Things like parent/teacher conferences, finding Doctors who speak English comfortably, being able to call and make an appointment by yourself,  being able to call and order take-out food yourself, dealing with handymen/ plumbers/ electricians in your home, understanding why the subway train you are on has stopped after they make an intercom announcement (or even being able to read and understand the ads in the train!), being able to understand conversations that are going on around you (a bit scary, because if someone is saying something sketchy, I may not even pick up on it). Even doing laundry can be challenging. Here’s a pic of our washing machine…

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let’s get some close-ups of those words…

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Um… What?! After ruining some clothing, I had Simon print out a translation for me…

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I’m so lucky that I live with a native German speaker. Some of the people in my class are refugees who have moved here in dire circumstances, not speaking the language, not knowing anyone who speaks German. Talk about challenging!! I admire their courage.

Cooking/ baking can also be difficult. I’ve sometimes had to take a pic of baking directions and text it to Simon to have him translate and explain what to do. And then there’s the math of changing your recipe cooking times from Fahrenheit to Celsius.  And the American recipe ingredient measurements have to be converted from Imperial to Metric…

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My class is an Integration Course that also teaches us about German culture. We’ve spent LOTS of time learning about Recycling…

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…but that’s a whole other blog post (Germans take it to another level!)…

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I’m hoping my teacher can explain this magazine cover to me (lol!). Crazy Germans. (Gesundheit means health).

Simon just explained that Titanic is a satirical magazine…

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Germany has some AMAZING bookstores. But this is the tiny “English Section” in one of them… and I think it’s going to be some time before I’m reading novels in German…

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Many people have asked how the girls are doing with learning German. They’re doing SO great!! A few years ago we read a study that stated if a child is fully immersed in a language/ culture before the age of eight, they will usually be able to speak it very quickly, and eventually like their native language (with no accent). It’s just the way young brains work. Unfortunately the same article mentioned that it’s MUCH harder to learn a new language over the age of 40. Bad news for me, I guess!

Quinnie is especially fearless. There she is in the pic above buying bread by herself at the grocery store. She does this in Italy also. We just give her money and a list of what we need, and off she goes! I just noticed that she’s wearing socks with her sandals in that picture. Man, she really is assimilating (lol)!

The girls were conversational in German after about four months of living here. It’s been two years since then, and they’ve really improved (so I’m told). We speak English at home, but that’s only for a few hours a day- the rest of their day is fully in German.

Both of them talk in their sleep. About two years ago I noticed that when they do, it’s in German. I know this is to be expected, but I have to admit I feel a bit sad about it. They’re American also!

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Last week Quinnie told me, “Mama, I speak three languages now- English, German, and Kölsch!”

Kölsch is the local dialect of Köln. It’s almost as different from German as Dutch is (there are even some Dutch and French words in the dialect). Quinnie doesn’t really speak Kölsch, but Karneval is going on now, and all of the Karneval songs here are in Kölsch. The kids learn the lyrics to the songs in school the two weeks before Karneval every year. Kölsch is also the name of the famous beer brewed in Köln (and definitely deserving of it’s own blog post at a later time!). The pic above is of a traditional Kölsch glass that says, “Kölsch- the yummiest language in the world!”

The other day the girls were talking on the phone with their cousins and Aunt Amy in America. Later, Amy said to me, “It’s so weird- they’re really German.” She noticed that they’d had to sometimes pepper their English with German words because they’d forgotten the English ones. Quinnie gets a little upset about this. She complained to me that she’s forgetting some words in English. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to me that we spend our summers in America. It only takes about two weeks for them to catch up and sound like any other American kid. And they get to pick up slang and colloquial sayings that are not taught in their English class here (English language class starts in First Grade here).

Here’s a video of Kiera and her friend Louis speaking German (from a year ago)…

This video of the girls is also from a year ago. One day they busted in on me taking a “relaxing” bath, and were fascinated that I had the lights off and a candle lit. After that, they insisted on the same for their baths. I heard them singing this song about a Christmas candle and managed to get some of it on video (above).

Play dates at our place can also be challenging because the kids who come over usually don’t understand English. So I’m forced to speak German with them. Of course I make mistakes that my girls find hilarious, and they love making fun of my American accent- “Mama, you say that so funny!”. I don’t want to be one of those parents who embarrasses their kids because I never learn the language. But I’m always going to have an accent. Umlauts (the two dots over German vowels) and the German “R” sound are especially hard for me (and most Americans, I think). The other day my German teacher told me that when I read aloud in class I do a great job, but that I sound like a cowboy (lol)!

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Another challenge? Helping the girls with their German homework. Simon was working long hours, so I was often the one having to help them…

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Quinnie’s homework

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They start teaching kids cursive in First Grade here. Quinnie was stressed out about that at first because it’s a different cursive than what we learn in the States. Examples of German Upper and Lowercase letters and numbers (those are slightly different also!) in the link below…

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Math has also been more challenging for the girls since not only do they have to learn the concepts in two languages, but they have the added confusion that Germans say their numbers backwards (compared to English).

For example, for the # 25, we say “twenty-five”. Germans say, “five and twenty (fünfundzwanzig)”. The # 555 is said “Fünfhundertfünfundfünfzig”. So the girls were learning math at school in German, but then coming home and doing their homework in English. I offered to help them with their math in German (I have the numbers down pat!), but they insisted I do it in English.

So yes, every day there are many challenges, but luckily we still feel like the benefits of living here outweigh them. Hope it stays that way for quite some time. As long as I have my replenishing summers in the States every year, where I can truly relax and have some easy, unchallenging days, things should be good. I have really missed blogging though! I wish I had more free time to do it. We have the next four days off for Karneval though, so I hope to do some catching up!

Here’s a funny video I saw on Facebook today (about the German language)…

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “The German Language/ Where I’ve been

  1. grandma

    Boy! The girls German is very good and they seen comfortable. Q’s cursive is very neat..in the USA cursive is becoming “a thing of the past”. Love the videos..Thanks for letting us into your world at school and the barriers to learning the language! I would love one of those huge freshly baked pretzels..definately on our next visit! Xo mom

    • Meegan

      Can’t believe they’re doing away with cursive in the States! That’s horrible!

  2. Gay

    I’m so jealous of your German class. I’ve lost so much vocabulary and grammar from lack of use. I’d love to learn it again. So much fun to read your blogs, especially after you and the girls were here last summer. Looking forward to having you back again!

    • Meegan

      Thanks so much Gay! We can’t wait for this summer! There are lots of great online German classes you can take. I don’t have the discipline to do them (I tend to procrastinate and find other things that have to be done instead). I do better with a class I have to be physically present in.

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