I’ve been mulling a post about the role of digital media, and how bloggers, online video, and similar devices should be infusing journalism, instead of causing it’s slow stagger toward the respirator, and a ready-to-be-pulled plug. While that sour jolt of professional pride may still be forthcoming, I thought I’d share instead a small victory in another quest of mine: learning German.
I’ll resist the temptation to tell every detail of getting to this point: my many years of French, wanting to speak it, without working; an ill-fated attempt at German through an online course attached to the local community college; or the partial Rosetta Stone program which prepped me for the Flughafens (Airport) und Bahnhofs (train station) of last year.
Following the epic journey across Europe, though, my wife and I decided if I was to learn German, we should do it 100%. It would be a common link between us, and it would facilitate a fellowship, were I to get one abroad. Germany has special ties to my wife’s heart, and it’s prominence on the world’s stage makes it a prime target for a journalist.
100% translated into the full version of Rosetta Stone, costing a couple hundred bucks for an online subscription. For months I’ve been scratching away at the program, learning some of the ins and outs of a mechanical, but interesting language. I diligently write vocabulary terms and phrases in notebooks, and onto flashcards. I listen to German music. I watch some German TV, and an occasional movie. But these activities are hardly enough to keep the juices flowing, as it were–and keep me moving toward being a conversational speaker.
My wife helps, some. We will speak German with each other when the situation permits. A creepy guy, for example, was watching me play video poker one weekend at a casino. Casually, I get the tip in code. “Der Mann hinter dir sieht du.” Or something similar. I only knew “sehen” or ‘to see,’ instead of a verb for ‘watch’ or ‘oogling’, but I picked up the meaning, nevertheless. Sure enough, creepy man was watching, so we moved.
We also use German in the grocery store, important in communicating our need of various Fleisch (meat) or Gemüse (veggies.)
At the end of each Rosetta Stone lesson holds a “Milestone” activity, though. It’s a representation of what you were supposed to have learned in your arduous language exploitations. In the form of a slideshow, you speak into the microphone and fill in the blanks. A characters asks “Wie heisst du?” You must answer “Ich heisse Gisela” or whatever the name is, lest you receive an annoying buzzer letting you know you’ve failed.
These are great for a change of pace in learning, but they don’t take the place of a real-live milestone.
At the local German bakery my wife and I prepared to buy our assorted cookies, and things. We decided to get some white sausage, too, which we found at the front counter. I had heard the shop workers speaking German, and thought…why not give it a shot?
“Koennen wir Weisswurst kaufen?” Can we buy Weisswurst?
“Ja, ist es das” Is that the one? the shop worker asks–I think that’s what she said.
My wife asks for some chocolate in the case, and directs the shop keeper to the right one, all in German of course. Time to pay…a lesson I fortunately passed.
“Kann ich mit einer Kreditkarte bezahlen?” Can I pay with credit card?
“Ja, mit Visa oder Mastercard.” She says.
These few lines seem like very little in terms of discourse, but they are tangible examples of my progress in this not-so-easy language. It’s sometimes tiring with its intracacies. For example, only the first verb in a sentence is conjugated, the rest are thrown to the end of the sentence. So, “Kann ich mit einer Kreditkarte bezahlen,” Kann has been conjugated from Koennen, but bezahlen (to pay) has not been.
The important thing, though, is something’s clicking, and it feels nice. Our next step will be to find more ways to use and practice the language, preferably without creepy guys and veggies. Maybe the weekly German speaking meets at local pubs are the answer to my passing the not-so-glamorous “Beginner” title.