In the past week, I have learned the future tense and the subjunctive mood. Our lessons illustrating these concepts represent an interesting difference between my culture and this one in which I have landed. To practice the future tense, our teacher gave us two series of pictures. In the first series, we started with a picture of a man and woman getting married. We discussed this at length in the present tense.
“Justus and Nina are in love.” “They have a wedding.” They celebrate and eat cake with their families.”
In the next picture, the man and woman have kids, a dog, a cat, a house. They seem to be spending an idyllic summer day in the back yard. We talked about this in the future tense. “Justus and Nina will have three children.” “They will buy a house.” “They will cook hamburgers in the garden.”
Finally, we get to the end of their story. “What happens next?” my teacher, Sabine, prompted us. The third picture is a diptych. We describe the couple’s fate in the future tense. “They will get divorced.” “Justus will watch t.v. alone in his room.” “Nina will read trashy celebrity magazines.” “They will be sad and lonely.”
We got to practice again on the next series of pictures. Our conversation went like this:
“First, Claus opens a new shop.” “He has a grand opening party.” “He is optimistic.”
“Soon Claus will be very successful.” “Many people will come to his shop.” “He will make lots of money.”
“In the end, Claus’ business will fail.” “He will work at a little kiosk on the corner.” “He will sell tacky souvenirs, but he will not have any customers.” “It will always be raining on his corner.”
I don’t know how they teach the future tense to English learners, but I’m pretty sure in my schooling we never had any lessons that were this gratuitously depressing. Poor Claus and Nina and Justus!
The following day, we learned the subjunctive tense, used for dreams and wishes. We began by contemplating a picture of a girl waiting at a train station. Sabine asked us imagine what the girl in the picture was thinking about. We could use subjunctive because we didn’t know for sure whether we were right. The girl in the picture is wearing a long black coat and a black hat. She is looking down, and she is all alone on the platform. It’s a cloudy day, and the train station is in an industrial area. The overall impression is drizzle and parting and depression. I have never seen a sadder picture in a textbook. What could the girl be thinking?
“She could be thinking about her sick grandmother whom she is going to visit.” “Maybe she could be thinking about her boyfriend who she had to say good-bye to.” “She could be going back home to her village after she couldn’t find work in the city.”
My German vocabulary grows daily. I now have a cache of bleak words with which to discuss a range of gloomy topics.