26 February, 2014

Status Update

You may have noticed that I haven't been posting recently with the usual frequency. It's been two weeks since my last post, which is worth noting since the weeks before that I had been particularly keen on writing numerous blog posts. The lack of recent blog posts has corresponded with a general lack of enthusiasm and a heavy dose of frustration, which have only grown worse the past week or so.

To put it more simply: homesickness. And not just a longing for home and family, but a longing for cultural and linguistic comfort. I miss knowing every detail about how to act, what is appropriate to say, and how to say it. I miss being in my own house and being able to have friends over. I miss knowing everything about the language being spoken around me, and not having to think about every word I want to say before I say it.

That last point is really the foundation of the problem. I could overlook all of the other things, but communication barriers are impossible to ignore. Even though I've learned a lot of German, I'm still at the very beginning of an incredibly long journey. German makes me feel like a fish trying to walk in high heels, and I haven't even learned all of it yet. I'm tired of having to expend so much energy to have a simple conversation, and then feeling like a failure when, as almost always happens, I just decide to speak English because it's easier.

German is complicated in ways that I didn't even know a language could be. Nouns have three arbitrarily assigned genders; articles and pronouns change depending on the gender and case of the noun; most of the verbs go at the end of a sentence and in the complete opposite order as verbs in English; if the sentence starts with something other than the subject, then the subject comes after the verb; some verbs are reflexive, some come in two parts with the second part all the way at the end, and some are two-part and reflexive; adjectives change depending on the gender, case and number of the noun AND depending on which article (or no article) comes first... I have to keep all of this in mind, and more, anytime I want to speak. (For a much more upbeat and hilarious assessment of the German language, I encourage you to read Mark Twain's "The Awful German Language." You can read it here: www.crossmyt.com.)

I was just starting to feel like I was getting a handle on what was going on, and then more and more got piled on top of me. About a week ago, I had a "Good German Day," which is what I call days when German happens more easily for me. This day was the example of what I want all other days to feel like: I felt like I could say anything, explain anything, and from here things were only going to get better. Then the following day was horrible, and I felt like I had been shoved down a steep flight of stairs. Since then I've huddled at the bottom of those stairs, frustrated, homesick, and ready to give up. And in the meantime, more and more information has been thrown at me and I'm having a really hard time absorbing it.

This pattern is very similar to what happened to me in Spain: in the beginning I was excited to be in a new country and spoke my new language enthusiastically. Then I realized that I wanted to say things that my Spanish abilities wouldn't allow, so I got frustrated and switched back to English. Once I switched to English, I never got my feet under me again and Spanish continued to be a huge challenge. I don't want that to happen again, but I feel it happening a little bit every day, and it feels like I'm failing.

I know that I've only been at this for six months and that learning a language takes time. But when eating dinner with 10 people all speaking German around me still makes me want to cry, it's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I guess I should try to think of this as a temporary slump. Hopefully my supply of enthusiasm is restored soon.


  1. When I start feeling like I can't do it, I take a little bit of time off and do some English speaking stuff. It always makes me feel better! Try watching a movie or reading a book. Also, eat lots of homey foods--its good for the soul. Then, when you feel better, you can re-tackle German!

  2. Kopf Hoch, Danielle, if a doof like me can learn Tscherman so kin you, 'cuz yer lots smarter than me.