Yesterday I attended my last Deutsch class, possibly ever. I have now completed Level B2.1. I had intended to move on to B2.2 for the next six weeks, but my teacher’s attitude of sarcasm and derision convinced me otherwise. I learned a lot of German, and I met some lovely fellow language learners in my class. However I can’t subject myself to six more weeks of scorn from Frau M. (name changed).
Thankfully, we only had Frau M. for half our lessons. She taught Monday and Tuesday, while the supportive and nurturing Frau B. encouraged us on Thursday and Friday. I’m torn about bagging out on my studies. (zweifeln, auf Deutsch – see the root “zwei” meaning two?). Unlike most of my classmates, I have no higher purpose for improving my German. I don’t want to study here, like Maria the Canadian. I’m not married to a German and raising a bilingual son in Berlin like Esmeralda the Peruvian. I didn’t grow up here speaking German but never learning the grammar officially like Sultan the Turkish-German. Me? I’ll live here till July, then pack my German knowledge into my suitcase with the other trappings of my experience abroad, and probably never find cause to haul it out again. And for that I should spend appalling afternoons watching Frau M. shame my classmates and studying my notes at strategic moments to avoid getting called on myself?
Yes, I have a long way to go before I’ve mastered German, and before I could speak up in complex, conceptual conversations. But, we’re halfway through our time here. My thoughts rush towards the worries of next year. Already, I can shop, I can participate in Tae Kwon Do, I can understand almost everything I hear even if I can’t always answer, I can communicate with Claudia and Anne and the people of many nationalities with whom I share German as a common language. I can pick up more tidbits of vernacular (Umgangssprache, auf Deutsch, literally “the going around speech”) from these interactions.
Rather than invest more time and anguish in formal instruction, let me instead savor the blessings I will treasure long after the grammar has faded. Let me stroll through the lengthening, warming Berlin days with my lover. Let me bask in my authentic friendships, my new hobbies, my everyday immersion in the Foreign.
And, in case you wonder what has made Frau M.’s langauage instruction so repulsive, let me regale you with a few anecdotes. As a teacher myself, I learned at least as much about leading a classroom as I did about Deutsch. Unsurprisingly, we learners of German make frequent mistakes, both subtle and glaring. Frau M. reacted with affronted shock at each error. “Why would you think that the correct ending for an adjective describing a masculine noun in the dative case in the presence of a definite article would be ‘m’? Obviously it’s ‘n.’ Only without a definite article would one add an ‘n.’ My goodness.” She loves to tell us, “You must read the instructions. You must think more analytically. You must be able to figure things out for yourselves.” And if perchance someone does say something perfectly, she rewards them with “Yes, obviously.”
Even better are her discussions of non-language related material. She has visited Miami, where she encountered many people with eyes “like this,” (pulls up corners to make slanty “Asian” eyes). And yet when you ask them where they’re from, they’ll tell you they’re from Miami! Obviously they’re from Asia. One day she gave us tips on how to spot people from the former East. They’ll be the ones with ugly, out-dated clothing and haircuts. They walk with defensive, crouching postures, and they use funny words!
No more for me, thanks! I hope to read on my own to build my vocabulary, and talk more with the long-suffering Germans. I recognize that starting today my German knowledge begins to erode. But I also recognize that I’m gaining much more from this year than language.