It’s high time for me to catch you up on my German classes. I have been attending once a week on Wednesday nights for the past five weeks and I feel only slightly more proficient than when I started. In the words of the Mom before I even agreed to this job, “German is hard.” It is. It’s really hard. It doesn’t make sense most of the time, and even when it does, it takes me somewhere around 5 times to get it right. And I even thought at one point that I was good at languages. Hit up one class and that will change your mind, real quick.
We had last week off as it was a holiday the following day and the school decided to close early. Not that I would have been able to attend as I was currently out of the country (see below). After a top-notch day in the city catching up with au pairs and swapping travel stories with Jill, I was ready to tackle this class. Nevermind the fact that I did my homework in a Starbucks a mere 3 hours before it was due; I suppose that shows how seriously I take this class. I showed up ready and raring to go. After a brief lecture about prepositions it was time to get down to business. We were divided up into groups of three and had to take a dialog between a customer and cashier that had been dissected and put it back into the correct order and identify the speaker in each situation. Relying heavily on context clues, my partners and I were able to work through the exercise. Actually, I should clarify that. My new English-speaking Turkish friend and I did the entire assignment while the other member, I believe he is Bosnian, watched in complete confusion and scribbled (most likely flowers and rainbows) in his Kursbuch. I can’t really blame the guy, though. Right before our pause in the middle of class he had gotten into a fight with the lehrerin about wanting to test out of our section and move to the next level. She put him in his place, flipping through his homework and showing him the empty pages and telling him he actually had to do work in order to get ahead. He threw his hands in the hair and sulked like one of the charges I have here at home. Clearly, he was still a little miffed. After breaking the syntax and vocabulary down, I believed we had correctly ordered all the parts. Now it was time to prove ourselves to our classmates. The lehrerin played the CD, which had the correct answers. As each piece of the conversation puzzle came into place I became more and more excited. By the time the recording was finished I was ready to reach across the table and high five my comrade. What am I, twelve? I had to settle with surreptitiously patting my back in congratulations. But, oh no, the lehrerin wasn’t finished with us yet. She now wanted us to take turns reading the dialog aloud. My Turkish friend and I were the second pair to try, after suffering through some serious second-hand embarrassment for a Portuguese couple who read (read: butchered) the part before us. We sailed through our 10 lines of dialog with ease. Afterward the lehrerin exclaimed (in German, natürlich) what great melody we had and the rhythm of our speech was right on. OK, at this point I am a table distance away from chest-bumping this guy. I was so happy to hear that I am actually getting this beast of a language.
I suppose it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, if my family didn’t possess this passive aggressive nature toward me learning their Mother Tongue. The Mom will make comments like, “Whenever Kristina is ready, we will speak High German. She just has to let us know. It’s all up to her. No pressure or anything.” Alright, maybe not that last bit, but the rest of it, yes. Or at dinner just last week, after 45 minutes of straight German the Nonna looked at me and said, “I’m sorry, you can’t understand anything we are saying.” To which, the Nonno replied, “Well, she needs to learn German some way.” (By the way, they happened to be talking “smack” on my host parents, who had gone on a dinner date, and I’m sorry, but I can understand bad mouthing in any language). The thing is, the family doesn’t speak High German, the speak Swiss German, which might as well be a completely different language. Furthermore, each city in Switzerland then has their own dialect of Swiss German. And, it’s not so easy as say, a Boston accent versus a Georgian southern drawl. Words are not even close to the same. For example “to work” in High German is arbeiten and in Zürich Swiss German it’s schaffen. Does that even make sense? Negative. So, can you blame me for not picking up as fast as I am apparently expected to? Again, negative. That’s why I was so excited to do well in class tonight. I just wish they passed out “Caught You Being Good” slips like I did in my Student Teaching classroom last semester. I presume I would have a small fortune by now.