Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thoughts on..

... Living in a country where your native language is not spoken.

I arrived in Germany with no real expectations of what life without English would be like. I'd visited here enough times to know how to say "Hello" (Hallo) and ask for basic things like a pen (Stift) or a Guinea Pig (Meerschweinchen) and I knew how to sqeeze past someone in a crowded pub (Entschuldigung). I had visions of initially struggling in places such as the supermarkets or caf├ęs and slowly building my vocabulary until I was comfortable enought to ask questions such as "Are you sure that's the right amount on the bill?" or play the supermarket guessing game with the cashier "I guess that this bill is going to cost 53.66 Euros, how much do you think it'll cost?".

As time dragged on however, I realised that this was going to be really hard. I tried to learn the language on my own and was confused by the word order, the difficult pronounciations and the complex grammar tables. Deciding that I needed help, I asked my girlfriend to teach me. The word order was still alien, hearing the correct pronounciation of words made me feel worse about my own way of saying them and the grammar tables were still too complex. I realised that this was going to be a complete uphill struggle, being a lazy English speaker and all that.

English will get you everywhere. Germans are taught English in school to a certain level and if you are visiting the country they will be more than happy to practice their English on you, they will even go to the point of apologising because they can't speak the language better. I have repeatedly had to point out that I am in their country, I should be speaking German. Of course I secretly hate it when that happens because the conversations usually go like this:-

Curly: Uuuuhh... Ich brauche ein Stift. (I need a pen)
German: Was? (What?)
Curly: Ja, und ein Meerschweinchen. (Yes, and a Guinea Pig)
German: Tschuss. (Bye)

Over a year and only a few weeks of German lessons later, I'm still struggling. I can now mumble "Thanks" in the supermarket and I can order beer in the pub but when it comes to doing anything else such as going to get a haircut, rent a movie or have an arguement with someone, it all falls apart and can be incredibly frustrating. When your power to express your opinion or will is taken away from you it can be one of the most demoralising experiences. There were days that I avoided buying food when I was hungry because I didn't know how to ask for it, I need my girlfriend to accompany me to the hairdresser or to the bank because I just cannot get my point across without her to translate. From being a completely independent person in the UK to suddenly having to rely on other people so much has been a kick in the balls and it will continue to ache for a while to come.