Yesterday was a big day for me. It was the first day of school for me for language school! I have been gearing up for this month for a little while and it has always been part of the plan around me coming here for a while. When Ana and I talked about me moving to Berlin for a little while, one of the things I immediately said was that I wanted to learn the language. In preparation I took a class at Portland Community College last fall but I still want to know more.
You see, its the strangest thing living in a land where you know what is going on only part of the time. There are days when I think I am living in a movie with really horrible English subtitles. Much of the time, it’s not a problem. In Berlin especially, most people speak English. There are so many different people here from so many different places that English seems to be the meeting grounds. Most of the time if I start to speak and the person can hear just how American I am, they switch to English right away. But there are many times when the German is flowing around me (as it should in Germany) and I can pick a word here or there that I understand but its most frustrating when I really can’t come up with the words to answer.
How do you fully express yourself in a language that doesn’t feel like your own? Ana and I talk about this a lot because our relationship is based in my native language and not hers. She is amazing in English and most of the time I forget that she hasn’t known it forever. But there are moments when I can tell that she can’t fully express herself to me in this foreign language. Or in a better way of explaining, I can hear her express herself more fully in Serbian.
I want to know more. I want to learn more. I want to be able to have at least a simple conversation in German or know the questions that random people ask me in passing. I really dislike having to stop and look at the person and say, “I am so sorry. Can you say that again in English?” It is an immediate barrier to talking with someone and being even more invested here while I am here and above all, why not? I am here! This is the perfect time to try to learn German while I can daily learn German.
So yesterday I went to school! For four weeks, I will be going to school Monday-Thursday for three hours a day. Intensive. Yesterday was the first day. I studied up on my introductory phrases and some vocab and walked myself to school (it’s a 10 minute walk away). I came in like a nervous wreck, convinced that perhaps I had chosen too high of a level. I tested into A2.1 (comes after two other levels). Others were just chatting in German a bit…oh no, what are they saying?
The nervousness went up a notch. What if they find out I’m an imposter? I have no vocab in my head. The teacher begins. All in German. Great. But I am understanding some…most…some. She tells us to turn to each other and learn about our partners and we are going to introduce each other. Fuck. I didn’t study the you form of introductory statements. My eyes go wide, I am sure. Now all I can think of are Spanish words, phrases….all Spanish. My partner is very patient. Her German is pretty bad too. Ok, not alone on this. We hem and haw and I write down some basic phrases.
Now it’s time to do this thing. The woman who I think probably knows the most at this point wants to start. Great. I can’t do that. She says like a bajillion sentences…ok, maybe 8 but it might as well be a bajillion. The room goes silent. Ok, maybe she’s the exception. A few people make their way through sentences. A man introduces someone else and only has one sentence. Ok, I can do that if I panic. Doable. People are from England, South Africa, the United States….more intros. A woman walks in, listens for two sentences and leaves. It’s too much for her we guess. Ok, moving on. It’s my turn. I introduce my partner and tell the class four sentences. That’s what I can do right now and still breathe. The teacher response, “Genau!” phew. Made it.
The class continues with a practice. I can’t think of the word that I want. We are supposed to write what we are doing in the afternoon. It’s an exercise to get us talking about because. I can’t think of the word. The wifi is down. Can’t look it up. I start to panic again. Everyone else seems to have theirs right away. I look at the teacher bewildered and blurt out…
“To volunteer!!! How do you say to volunteer? I can’t think of it!” I am sure there is a little desperation in my voice.
She calmly looks at me and says, “Because that word doesn’t really exist in German. That’s why you can’t think of it.” I sigh a big sigh. I am not a huge failure. The word doesn’t exist! It doesn’t exist? We come up with something and then the exercise begins with conjugation. It’s coming back to me here and there. Others stumble and ask for help. There are 9 of us here and it’s all ok. It gets closer and closer to my turn and there are three of us left to do the exercise in the class. Break time. I jump out of my seat and grab ahold of the other two signs we are to read off of. The teacher says, “Are you studying which one you want?” I smile and nod sheepishly. She laughs, “Smart move. Although you will be fine here. This is the right level for you.”
It’s the right level for me!!! I feel elated!! She said its all ok! I’m ok!
We jump into grammar. Oh, I can do grammar. Bring on the grammar. I got this.
It’s ok. It’s gonna be ok. It’s going to be quite the challenge but ok.
My world right now is full of newness and checking in about how I am ok.
I leave school to have lunch with Ana and then I am off to volunteer at Rufugio café, a café that helps to fund services for refugees in Germany. I am now barista-ing twice a week to serve and volunteer and learn about refugees.
My brain is tired but happy and all afternoon I am picking up new words. It’s going to be ok. This rhythm will be good and today felt like I did some things.
Thanks for reading.