I am a few weeks into German language lessons and I’m (surprisingly) loving it.
I’ve studied French (high school) and Danish (abroad) and I’ve always been intimidated by the result of my efforts when practicing with native speakers: The blank stare — the one that says: “What the heck are you saying? Are you an idiot?”
(Here’s a funny clip about how the German language sounds compared with others)
But I’ve been watching my daughter’s efforts to develop her vocabulary and build sentences and there’s something I can apply to my own studies.
Kids have no concept of embarrassment, the fear of looking like a fool to someone else.
My 2-year-old happily calls penguins “cremmins,” and builds sentences like: “Can we like to make Bubble Guppies together watch it TV?”
She understands certain words and throws them together in a sentence she believes will get her point across. Who cares where the verb is in relation to the noun. She’s not afraid to look imperfect. She doesn’t have that judge whispering in her ear: “They won’t understand anyway, and you’ll look stupid.”
I hear a word people say when they run into you in the grocery store. I’m certain it means “Sorry” or “Excuse me.” It sounds like “Enshootygong.” That’s a pretty bizarre word, and I feel foolish attempting it so I blurt out, “Sorry.” Luckily, the Swiss say “Sorry,” too. But Sophie hears a word, and she doesn’t have to know how it’s spelled. She can only go by how it sounds, so she says “Bitobitobito” for “pickle.” We learn to discern what she means and eventually she hears us say it enough that now she says “pickle.”
The word is “Entschuldigung” and I can say that with confidence, now. But I am also breaking out of my shell and trying to communicate other ideas, throwing nous and verbs and pronouns together in this or that random order. Some people just respond. Some stare until I give up. But others work with me, and it’s really fun to see I can communicate a tiny idea in another language.
Thanks, Starbucks barista whom I make repeat phrases and decipher my attempt to order. And thanks to my boyfriend and his family, who listen, without judgement, and help me over and over and over and over again with the same phrase.
I have to remind myself that my crappy German isn’t about some schmo on the street. It’s about me and my desires to learn. And that means I have to stop caring if I sound like an idiot. I accept that I will sound imperfect (like an idiot who is trying 😉 ) for a long time. That’s fine by me.