I hate to say this, but German really gives me a headache. Today my lovely Swiss coworker (I’ll call her N-) decided to converse with me in German over lunch, so I could “practice”. She has somehow got it into her head that I know lots of words but just need practice stringing them together. After all, Englisch und Deutsch Wörter sind ähnlich. (Yeah, I learned that phrase today. Just barely. I had to look up the word for similar because I forgot it already. I hope I got the right one.)
As usually happens when the conversation turns to German, I got very quiet during lunch. Mostly because I had no clue what N- was saying, and I also had no idea how to respond. It’s not even like I was too afraid to speak gibberish… my mind went completely blank and I couldn’t even recall the few German words I thought I knew.
I mostly just looked out the window and at other people in the cafeteria, trying to avoid the entire situation, but then I realized that was appearing a bit rude, so I started looking at N- while weird German sentences were coming out of her mouth. She kept repeating herself, speaking slowly and clearly, probably using the easiest words she knew… but I still could not understand anything.
I must give her credit though. The girl was really patient and really tried to help me, despite all my grumblings of I’m hopeless… I can’t learn German… I don’t know anything… I’m really bad at this…
Finally I had to resort to English and ask, what are you saying? Turns out the long story about a garage at her home and her car going kaput was actually her trying to say that she had a narrow garage, so she scratched her car on the side while going in. A couple of times. I did not get that at all when she said it in German. I thought her car had broken down while she was driving it in the garage, and I couldn’t understand why.
My German’s pretty pathetic. I totally hate using it. And it’s not really a matter of whether I like the language or not. I’m pretty ambivalent to it; it’s just that I’m not really talented enough to pick up foreign languages or something. When I first learned Spanish at age 11, it seemed a lot easier. But my mother said that we only learned really simple words back then. Right now my Spanish is probably just as bad as my German, so I can’t really say that I know either language at the moment.
Usually I plop everything into Google Translate to try to make sense of what’s going on. But N- suggested another website today called Leo for doing her translations. I tried it out, and it seemed quite good for individual words, but I can’t figure out how to do massive blocks of text. Another colleague of mine said he uses dict.cc for his translations, so I’ve also bookmarked that site for future reference.
Lunch today was quite painful–literally–because I think all the pressure of trying to use the German was giving me indigestion. I appreciate N-‘s thoughtfulness and generosity, but it’s going to be a while before I will really be able to say anything meaningful to her. In the meantime, I’ve roped in two other guys at work to take part in any future “German lunch conversations”, so hopefully I won’t have the pressure of so much air time and can just listen to the other guys practice what they know. 😉