on language learning – step 1

Part I
Part II

On a blog I’m calling ‘abuse of time’, I’m preemptively assuming you will forgive the lack of chronological order of what follows hereafter. The trials experienced were not politely lined up one after the other, rather, they were simultaneously dancing up in my face, in pants that didn’t fit and smelling of well lubricated limbs.

Most ominous and telling in terms of the immediate success or failure of any kind of German undertaking was language. Inflicted with twenty five years of monolingualism, I was in a position to fail.

Step 1 :
Bring your brain to an area where everything is contextualized differently. Confront it with false expectations and embarrass it for failing to describe basic needs. Journey along the line of tourist and resident and hide amongst other English speakers. Motivate through embarrassment. I was surrounded by people in very similar predicaments as myself and there were two very basic responses. I’m doing this. I’m maybe doing this, for the full three hundred days I’m scheduled to be here.

Over-confidence helped – look at all these people communicating such basic needs. I can do that. I’m a first rate expresser of needs. Dear bakery worker, who I will never forget, thank you for not understanding my firstly expressed German desire to order a bread roll. I’m here to study German philosophy but must first despair over awkward speechlessness at the baker’s counter.

Under-preparedness helped – I arrived with no pillow, no blanket, no ideas or plans for self comfort. Mistake one, acquire a pillow with down filling and spend the next period of your life trying to cope with feather allergies during the sleeping hours. Mistake two, try to buy a blanket but end up with a duvet cover. Do all Germans use these as sleeping bags? I couldn’t figure out sleep. I didn’t know how to sleep. I failed to order bread using a basic expression of desire and I failed to sleep comfortably, having incorrectly purchased the most basic nighttime necessities.

Having one thing and only one thing to do, fit in, was one of the most beautiful predicaments I could have possibly put myself in. In a life that constantly searches for all encompassing goals and motivations, I will never forget how happy I was to get up in the morning and awkwardly stumble across the new context of the world into which I was cast. I had something to do in the morning, the afternoon and the evening – not be an embarrassment. Being happy about the quest to overcome my foreign-ness was also a despairing and exhaustion over the repeated daily failure.

Step 1: realize that your jeans are baggy, that your socks don’t have to be white, that, for all speech in praise of individuality and personhood, you are nothing but a silly representation of local, crowd owned representations of normal. I was lucky and accidentally dyed my white socks pink.

(These “steps” are just how I break up my journey in learning German. I don’t mean them to be a “how to guide” even though I realize my word choice puts me in danger of doing so).

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