I wrote, but never published, the following post a few weeks ago. My final German class has now wrapped, and my time in Germany is slipping through my fingers at an alarming rate. I’m still a thousand miles off the shores of fluency, but I am still bouyed by a sort of wonder at the language. Das ist mein Schicksal; this is my lot.
Call me Yoda.
I am not wise; I am not green; I am not cute and pointy-eared; I am not short.
But language I do speak, in foreign and fitful patterns I do. German is like that– its subjects and verbs bounce around depending on meaning, subordination, etc. It sounds cute when Yoda does it. And I actually find it enchanting when German does it– infuriating, but enchanting. But this doesn’t help my plight in language class.
We are rapidly moving into our final weeks here in Germany, and I’m still attending German class . . . but not flourishing. I will make my excuses up front. Let’s start with my teacher. (She is very nice, but just ill matched to my learning style)
I’m back with my original teacher who is all about book work and learning all declensions, conjugations, variations, grammaticalizations . . . which is not a real thing, but you get the picture. I’m stuck back in class with the engineers and their precision-cut cogs of language (if you have no idea what I’m talking about,
you are more sane than me look back at my past blog post–here). This class doesn’t really suit the way I learn, but I’m hanging in there, most days. (I have been known to play hooky a little.)
Still, the truth is that I am languishing horribly.
I like the word “languish,” it’s kind of visual for me. I see a boat stuck on a windless part of the sea, which of course is just a few days away from disaster and decay . . .but let’s say the wind eventually picks up, and disaster is averted (happier story). So, anyway, “languish” means “to lose or lack vitality, to grow weak or feeble.” And this is me in German class right now, but it occurs to me that the word “languish” sounds like the word “language” if spoken by a drunk person. This somehow makes me feel better. Like the word was specifically invented for my situation–as if it’s a natural thing to languish in a language when one is somehow lacking in mental power, for whatever reason. A reason like stress brought on by an impending move.
Or like sitting in a book-learning class with my head down in a page, when I can only absorb words by speaking and hearing and bandying them about like a game. It’s a messy, garbled way to learn, but I’m a messy, garbled person.
I like language– I bloomin’ love language, honestly– but not because of its precision bits. I love it for the most idiotic, but sonorous, reasons– like the fact that “languish” sounds like a drunkard saying “language.” That makes me happy.
And language makes me happy.
But today I sat in German class, having missed a few classes (for various reasons: some good, some bad, some worse). I was lost. And the verbs and nouns were jumping all over the place in sentences–like fleas on a dog’s back–for reasons I couldn’t quite understand. But I liked it. It made me laugh.
So there I was, some of my classmates scratching their heads and trying earnestly to grapple with the language, others following dutifully and expertly along, and me–the village idiot–just thinking how cool these slippery constructions were, although I understood them not one bit.
And then, at the end of class, came the best moment, the icing on the cake. My teacher brandished her eraser and said, “I vill vipe die blackboard.”
My ears were in heaven! While everyone else noted the homework and closed their books, I struggled to stifle my giggles. The word-fleas jumped, the teacher “viped avay” at the board, and I just laughed.