I can a little German

Dear Reader,

Sprichts du Deustch? Well, me neither, at least not yet anyway. Usually, I would answer the “can you speak German” question with “ich kann ein bisschen…” (I can a little). I am on a German-learning journey right now. I love learning languages and although I am not fluent in any foreign language, I’m advanced in a few and am hoping to learn more! However, it can be quite hard to learn a foreign language in the United States.

In the United States, we are just not compelled to learn a language to proficiency outside of our mother tongue. I have always loved languages and have taken language courses when offered, however, 90 mins of a language a week in high school does not usually lead to fluency. Foreign-language learning in college was not much different. In college, students are expected to juggle multiple classes and hundreds of pages of reading a week. When a Spanish class is just one of five, it can be pretty hard to devote the necessary time to achieve fluency. Even when I studied abroad in college, I was with a group of Americans and our core courses were taught in English.

Although I know that I can gain fluency if I work harder, I cannot help but get frustrated at my own foreign-language learning ineptitude. For example, one of my colleagues comes from abroad and English is his third language. He was clearly a diligent student. Oftentimes he asks me to proofread his emails. His grammar is usually flawless, and his English vocabulary is superior (he writes better than many college-educated individuals that I know), but he still asks if I can proofread his work. He uses words like “plenary,” “tedious,” “germane,” and “foster” with ease. At the same time, I do not even know the word for “fluency” in German, the language I am trying to learn (okay, now I do, I just looked it up, it’s “Geläufigkeit”).

Salzburg, Austria, fall 2014

I frankly just become jealous of those people who can speak another language fluently. I sometimes just think to myself that if I lived in another country then yes, of course, I would learn the language to fluency. But, alas, I was born American, I grew up American, and I live in America like an American. However, I am not ungrateful. I know that that the reason that so many foreigners learn English is because it is a prerequisite for other opportunities. In this way, we native English speakers are lucky that we do not need to devote our time to English-language competency. Regardless, I really do wish to learn another language to fluency. I wish to pick up a book and read without a dictionary. I wish to watch a film without checking for subtitles. And, I wish to begin a conversation without worry that I will soon be out of my depth.

Although I am just in the beginning of my German-language journey, I hope that I can see this challenge through until Geläufigkeit. Afterall, “no pain no gain” or as they say in German “ohne Fleiß kein Preis.”



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