Sunday, January 19, 2014

Who Owns a Language?

In Intro to Cultural Anthropology freshmen year, Tom Williamson asked us if its possible to ever really be fluent in a language. I dismissed his question immediately. Ja, duh. I'm fluent in English. Case in point. Then he went on to say that he is certainly not fluent in Physics. Or anything related to football culture. I had to agree, neither was I, but how well do you have to know a language to be considered fluent? Although frustrated at the time with Tom's question, his conversation helped prepare me for learning German abroad. I understand that fluency isn't a constant, its fluid. Fluid enough in a language to be able to adapt to never before discovered vocabulary or grammar structures.

I've never been one for memorizing grammar rules. I liked memorizing vocabulary, but that was mostly in comparison to learning grammar. My solution to mastering German has been repetitively living in the country. Its much easier to try and pick up on a language as a baby would than sitting with a textbook.

They say living in a country is the best way to learn, but there is a flaw in that logic when 85% of the country (ballpark figure) is "fluent" in English. And 99% of that 85% REALLY love speaking English. Its a rare occasion I meet someone new and they learn I'm American and they don't try and say something in, if not switch the entire conversation into, English. Or worse, they very sweetly and in a generous voice let me know that they speak English and we can just speak in English (because thats probably easier, right?).

Am I exaggerating? Perhaps a bit.

However, I honestly feel panic-y sometimes when talking with other people I know speak English because I'm just waiting for the moment when they revert back to English. Or the moment they'll lose patience with my jumbly opinion and ask me to repeat it in English. Or I won't understand what they've said, and instead of repeating it a different way in German, they'll say it in English. I feel physically distressed even writing this. I know the don't mean to insult my intelligence, but thats how it feels. They don't realize what its like trying to learn another language when everyone else already speaks yours.

How many times have you heard people say, "if you want to learn a language, you need to live there; you need to immerse yourself"? This is such a commonly understood fact, yet I have to fight for my right to speak German. That's how I feel. I have to fight my own laziness for I know I could be well understood in English and I have to fight the determined will of the German nation to practice and perfect their English.

I don't live in a host family. When I'm at home, I'm in my own English brain. Then I'm teaching English in class. Or lesson planning. 50% of my day is going to be, without much choice, in English.
Which means that any conversation in German during the day is highly valued and highly appreciated.

I know I can be unjustifiably sassy about this topic. Probably because I never confront people about it and just let it boil.

Because, what right do I have to say what language we should speak? How is that wholly my choice? A conversation, a relationship, is more than one person. Because at this point, I really feel like Germans own the English language (what does "own" even mean? ... ) Americans don't own English and if the British did, they certainly don't now. English- the global language. Its not American English- the global language, or BE for that matter. Germans have their own way of using the English language that is different than how I would (not wrong, just different). English is fluid, too.

So do I have the right to say I only want to be spoken to in German?

Friday, January 10, 2014

That Time I Thought a Lot and Wrote Nothing

I'm embarrassed. I haven't written in months. Much has happened and I partially regret not documenting it at the time. I love patterns and consistency, and I broke my blogging pattern. I was angry and frustrated at times, and afraid I'd write something that I would later regret, so I didn't write anything at all.

October brought letters to 8th grade parents, the much awaited conclusion of a NYC travel project, and a wonderful 2 week vacation full of old friends and swiss alps.
November brought strong emotions: frustration, indignation, disrespect and immaturity; but also respect and appreciation. It brought new relationships, mentors, friends. It brought kale, and lots of it. It brought a week long trip to Berlin and a holiday concert in a castle. It brought acceptance. It brought grammar lessons. It brought honest conversations. It brought resilience.
December brought a little bit of snow, soup recipes and reassuring words. It brought a good friend with sound wisdom. It brought teacher conferences. It brought Haribo. It brought pranks. It brought time spent with families. It brought IPAs. It brought a visa. It brought a flight home to Massachusetts for the holidays.

I returned home (?) from Massachusetts this morning after a 3 week vacation in the US. My good friend Lena, bless her, picked me up so I didn't have to battle the Deutschebahn system with all my luggage. I couldn't have packed more. Granted, much of the weight was from gifts and consumable goods such as baking soda, chocolate chips, vanilla and powdered cheese (I saved weight by leaving the box of macaroni at home), I know come July I will be regretting the accumulation of belongings I've transported to Germany.

I guess there's a lot I want to say right now, but I don't know how yet.
I mainly wanted to reopen my blog up tonight so that the next time I have something I want to write about, I won't hesitate trying to summarize the last 3 months.

I'm trying to catch my breathe this weekend from the holidays and travel. I'm also trying to finish all my grading. I'm not dreading school, but I wish I was walking back with a real plan of how to change things. I've talked to enough people about 8th graders over the vacation that I know I can't keep troubling myself with how frustrating they can be. Its the age, and not all my fault. But I still need to figure out how to manage an effective classroom, and thats the knowledge I wish I was walking into school with on Monday.

The best part about coming back, was knowing that I haven't even reached the half way point yet. I have more time in Rimbach ahead of me, than I have lived previously. That, I find very uplifting.