This is the latest guest post from Adam Fletcher, author of the hit dual-language book Wie man Deutscher wird / How to be German in 50 Easy Steps.
Below are fictional diary entries. The diary of the average German-learning expat, at least as I imagine them. Together they document the eight stages of German language learning. Many do it far quicker and with commendable commitment, though most, I imagine, follow a path this haphazard (as I did and I’m now at about step 7.5).
Stage 1 – Don’t learn German
Dear Diary, guess who moved to Germany? Me! Yeah, crazy, right? It’s a great adventure. Berlin is just amazing. I was born to live here. I can feel it in my soul. I have this super sweet WG down by Sonnenalle
ye, with this crazy Spanish artist guy and this lesbian couple from Canada who have a dog and a parrot and one has a tattoo of a wolf on her butt. Can you imagine that? I know.
Yeah, I’m so happy to be out of my home country. Boring! That place was just stifling my creativity. Everyone should travel more.
Anyway, the only problem is that people speak German here. It’s really hard to understand them. I’m not learning that shit. Did you see what Mark Twain said about the terrible German language? He said it was pretty much the hardest language in the world to learn. I don’t have time for that. I’ve got this big art show thing coming up. It’s probably easier to learn Chinese than stupid German. In German they even have this thing with genders. Did you know that, Diary? Der, Die, Das. Totally crazy. I’m probably not going to stay very long. A few months max, I reckon. No need to learn it.
Stage 2 – Don’t learn German
It’s been a year already, Diary? Unglaublich. See how I said unglaublich there? You can have that one for free, Bitte schön. Yeah, can’t believe I stayed a whole year already. It’s been wild. I love Germany. Especially the beer and the six streets of Neukölln that I know. I think I’ll live here forever. But I still not learning German. I mean, I already learnt quite a lot. I get by. Basic conversation. In bakeries, sorry, I mean die Bäckerei’s! Anyway, I going to leave pretty soon, I’m sure. A few more months, I don’t really need German, you know? I work in English. When I work. I have many German friends. Pretty much all my friends are German. We even speak a few words of German together, manchmal.
Stage 3 – Don’t learn German
Two years already, Diary? Unglaublich. See how I said unglaublich there? You can have that one total kostenlos, Bitte schön. Yeah, can’t believe I stayed two years already. It’s been wild. I love the Fatherland. Especially the beer and the eight streets of Neukölln/Kreuzkölln that I know. But, I’ve still not really learnt German. I work only in English, you know.
I can speak “enough”, just the other day someone confused me for a German, when my back was turned to them and I hadn’t said anything and I was wearing a hat. Yeah, happens all the time. Anyway, I’m going to leave pretty soon, I’m sure, a few more months, max. I love it here, but I’m just getting tired of all those new expats coming in and totally ruining the Kiez. Stupid Ausländers, they don’t even like try to fit in. Yeah, I don’t really need German, I speak “enough”, you know? I get by. I mean I’ve tried, of course I’ve tried. But every time you speak auf Deutsch, they just reply in English. It’s pretty much impossible to speak German to them, they all just want to practice their English with you. Maybe I should pretend to be Russian.
Stage 4 – Don’t learn German
Three years here already?
Seemlich Ziemlich Verruckt! See how I said zeimlich Verruckt? Ja, you can have that one total kostenlos, Bitte sehr. I can’t believe I’ve stayed a whole three years already! It’s been a techno-filled blur. If I didn’t have the 8201 photos of partying that I uploaded to Facebook, I’d not remember a thing.
It’s been really wild. I’m thinking about doing a startup now. Yeah, I’m just tired of that whole “arts” scene, you know? Or maybe I’ll try some kind of DJ thing. Or I’ll open a restaurant, maybe something with cakes. I don’t know. Let’s see. Many options.
It did get a bit embarrassing the other day when someone commented on
meiner mein meinem Portemonnaie and I reacted angrily because I thought they were talking about my gut. I got a bit fat or should I say dick (hehe!) on Bier und Wurst. And port can mean like fat in English, you know?
My lack of German is getting really peinlich now. I think I’ll start learning it. I probably won’t stay much longer though, a few more months maybe, max. But still, I think I’ll do a course at the
Vauxhallschooler Vaulkshallschule Volkshochschule. Foreigners really should make effort to learn German. No, Diary, Volkshochschule is not a place where they make cars. It’s a public-funded college thing so it’s super cheap, but most of its teachers lost the will to live back in 1973 and now are just going through the motions. It’s just round the corner. I start on Monday. It’s super cheap.
Wow, it was awesome. It’s amazing how much I already knew. I guess you just pick it up over the years, you know? Like osmosis oder etwas. The course was good. The instructor didn’t speak a word of English to us, right from the erste Klasse. Bin beeindruckt! So, the beginning class was pretty easy, names, ages, hobbies and all that. I can’t wait for class tomorrow! I’m totally nailing this German thing now, I have no idea why I waited so long to get started? I love Sprachen lernen! Ich bin ein Berliner!
Stage 6 – Grammar
I hate foreign languages. I hate foreign people. I hate life. But mostly I hate German. The class is okay, I’m one of the worst, which can be super peinlich. I try to do my
homework Hausaufgabe, but the class is in the morning. You might not have heard of the morning, diary, since I mention it so infrequently. It’s basically all the things that happen before lunch. I know, crazy that they expect people to do anything before lunch, never mind complete tables of irregular boring verbs. Anyway, learning Vokabeln was fun but now all we do this total langweilig grammar shit. If I hear the words Akkusativ and Dativ one more time I’m going to punch someone in dem Kopf. It’s total sinnlos. The German language is such a dinosaur. Not even one of those good and dynamic dinosaurs like a T-rex, just a shit dinosaur that makes no sense like die Vaterkrautasaurus. I missed class today, for the first time. I had a headache and I hadn’t done my homework. I’ll totally be back there tomorrow though.
Stage 7 – Language no man’s land
I didn’t end up going back to class, diary. I missed a few with that really bad headache, more of a migraine really, a severe one, actually. Then I’d missed so many classes, I just couldn’t really go back because I’d be too far behind. But it’s cool, I’ve got the books and CDs and stuff, I’m totally going to study at home. I’ll start tomorrow. If I just do one hour a day, I’ll be fluent in six months.
Author’s note: This stage can last for several years and it is only when the weight of public shame becomes so great, when sheer embarrassment has crushed all your excuses into dust and you’ve finally accepted you aren’t going to leave Germany in a few months, that in fact Germany is your home. Only after all that can you pass through to the final stage of German language learning.
Stage 8 – Endlich Fließend
Heute habe ich endlich mit Englisch Sprechen
stopped aufgehört. Egal, wer mit mir redet, jetzt antworte ich nur auf Deutsch. Ist peinlich, ich hasse es, niemand kann ein interessant Gesprach mit mir habe, weil ich wie ein Kind mit zwei Jahre rede, aber egal, ich muss das machen. Da gibt keine shortcuts Abkürzung, keine mehr excuses Entschuldingungen. Ich möchte hier bleiben. Ich möchte Deutsch sprechen. Ich möchte mit dir Familie von meine Partner sprechen. Es wird nicht einfach sein. Aber, enough genug ist genug.
Author’s note: This is the final stage. You must refuse to speak English with everyone. Even English people. That’s it. Once this realisation is made, it’s just a matter of repeated effort, refusal to speak anything but German and the normal passing of time before you’ll reach fluency, or at least the working semi-fluency you’ll never really need to improve upon.
You can now buy Adam’s book How to be German here.
Kreuzberg bridge: Flickr user Andreas Lehner
Neukölln dancers: Flickr user nevsred
German vocab lesson: Flickr user Erling A
German article chart: demotivational / We Know Memes
thumbs up: Flickr user .reid