Friday, February 6, 2009

Finally... some progress!!!

This comic represents what I hear when German is spoken to me.
I can totally relate to this poor dog.

I've been here over a year now and today I did something I never thought I would have the courage to do. With an intro like that you are probably expecting some tremendous escapade, but no. For many of you, this will be nothing, but for me it was a huge step.

Today there was an Eltern Frühstück (Parents Breakfast) at Gerrit's Kindergarten. I saw the list yesterday and it asked people to RSVP, so with some reservation I signed myself up. (I figured it might be a good way to network with other parents, and possibly set up some play dates for Gerrit.) This may sound silly but the thought of putting myself in a situation like that where people would likely talk to me in German and expect me to respond (in German, no less) really really had my stomach in knots. For those of you who have no fear of throwing yourself out there and mutilating a language in order to learn it better, I applaud and admire you. I, unfortunately, am not one of those people. So for me, knowing I would understand very little German conversation in the first place, yet also make a complete arse of myself as I butchered their language while attempting to communicate was nauseating. You may think I'm exaggerating, but I was one of those kids who totally feared being called on by the teacher. (Yes, I can totally relate to the anxiety of some of my own students.)

I arrived this morning with Gerrit and Willem in tow. I dropped Gerrit off at his classroom and looked at the room where we would meet for breakfast. I thought about bolting but convinced myself that the experience would never be as bad as I had played it out in my mind. At first, parents smiled but no one spoke with me. Many parents seemed to know one another already and there were no introductions. I tried to listen in (and perhaps interject if possible) to a group of women chatting, but they were all speaking over one another and so fast that I was completely lost. Finally, a gentleman sat across from me and spoke to me in German. I responded and immediately told him (in German) that I only understood and spoke a little German and that I didn't know very many words. He said that he knew a little English and I could try to speak a bit of German to him and he would try to speak a bit of English to me. I requested (can you believe it) that he try to speak MORE German to me than English but very slowly. We did... a bit of pidgin English and German back and forth... but it was working. It was probably the most German I've used in any one conversation since being here. The breakfast ended and although I hadn't made any connections with parents that might turn into something more, at least I took a step in the right direction.

When the breakfast ended, I only had about an hour and half before I would need to pick up Gerrit. I decided it wasn't enough time go home and get settled. Feeling a bit more positive about my Deutsch sprechen, I decided to strike while I still had the courage to do so and headed to Regina's Deutsch Mother/Baby group at the local Mother Center. There, I continued to practice very pidgin German throwing in English when I didn't know German words. My grammar, cases, and articles were complete garbage, but I muddled through. I kept telling myself no matter how awful I sounded, the attempt was what mattered.

I have always been bad at learning languages. Add that to my extreme insecurity and fear or failure and it's amazing I utter a single word of German EVER.

Today is the FIRST day I've felt like my frustration in trying to learn German hasn't been all for nothing. Six months ago, I would never have attempted what I did today. Today, I made some (albeit minor) progress. I hope this is a trend that continues.


At February 7, 2009 at 8:53 AM , Blogger Beth said...

Yeah!!!! You SHOULD be proud of yourself! I can only imagine how scary that was. Congrats!

At February 7, 2009 at 11:19 AM , Blogger Smith said...

Steph, I am the same way with language! Here I am a sometimes ESL teacher, ever encouraging of my own students but totally afraid to butcher another language myself. I am with you 100% on putting yourself out there. Kudos to you!

At February 9, 2009 at 9:50 PM , Blogger Mama Crazy said...


Progress is progress no matter how small! I wouldn't even attempt to learn so you're doing smashingly!!!

At February 12, 2009 at 8:58 PM , Blogger Adrienne said...

Yeah Steph!

I want to give you a HUGE hug but you're too far away.

We must celebrate this moment at a later time by braiding our hair and having a candy and pillow fight.

At March 17, 2009 at 10:35 AM , Blogger andrea said...

Hi I came across your blog while searching for things to do in Munich and Unterschleissheim with my 4 yr old daughter. Good for you for putting yourself out there and speaking German! My daughter and I will be traveling to Germany in May. I am a German/American and would like to expose my daughter more to the langauge. Is it possible to send her for a week to a Kindergarten, daycare or do you know of any good playgroups, etc. For part of the trip we will be visiting my Aunt and an American friend who have no children in Munich. So, I'm looking for ideas as they are out of the children loop.

At April 1, 2009 at 12:27 PM , Blogger April said...

Thats great! I don't even like to go to things like that where I DO speak the language...I'm 99% antisocial :) If it makes you feel any better, after 3 years of German I still slaughtered the grammar, cases and articles. You're doing awesome!


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