The Eight Stages of Learning German
I've noticed that when trying to learn German, many foreigners, myself included, will follow a distinct pattern of eight language learning steps. Or, as is more often the case - eight not language learning steps. Only once we've completed all eight, can we really call ourselves integrated. Below, each of the eight are presented as fictional diary entries.
Stage 1 – Don’t learn German
Dear Diary, guess who moved to Germany? Me! Yeah, crazy, right? It’s a great adventure. Berlin is just amazing. I was born to live here. I can feel it in my Sailor Sayle Seela Seele. I have this super sweet WG by Sonnenalleye with this crazy Spanish artist guy and this lesbian couple from Canada who have a dog called MUFFINS. Can you imagine? I know. Ferruckt! Yeah, I’m so happy to be out of my home country. Boring! That place was just stifling my creativity. Everyone should travel more. Like me.
Anyway, the only problem is that the people here speak something called German. Who knew? It’s really hard to understand them. I’m not learning that shit. Did you see what Mark Twain said about the German language? He said it was pretty much the hardest language in the world to learn. I think it’s probably easier to learn Chinese than stupid German. In stupid German they even have this thing called genders! Did you know that, Diary? Der, Die, Das. Totally crazy. I don’t have time for all that nonsense. I’m probably not going to stay very long anyway. A few months max, I reckon. No need to learn it.
Stage 2 – Don’t learn German
It’s been a year already, Diary? Unglaublich. See how I said unglaublich there? You can have that one for free, bitteschön. Yeah, can’t believe I stayed a whole year already. It’s been wild. I love Germany. Especially the beer and the six streets around my apartment that I know. But I’m still not learning German. I mean, I already learnt quite a lot. I get by. You know? Basic conversation. In bakeries, sorry, I mean die Bäckerei! I don’t really need German. I work in English. I mean, when I work. Plus, I have many German friends … Some of my best friends are German ... Actually, pretty much all my friends are German … Wait, all my friends are German! Yeah, I'm very integrated. We even speak a few words of German together, manchmal. Prost!
Anyway, I am going to leave pretty soon, I’m sure. A few more months, max.
Stage 3 – Don’t learn German
Two years already, Diary? Unglaublich. See how I said unglaublich there? You can have that one total kostenlos, bitteschön. Yeah, can’t believe I stayed two years already. It’s been wild. I love the Fatherland. Especially the beer and the nine streets around my apartment that I know. I love it here, Diary. But then I’m also getting tired of all those new expats coming in and totally ruining the Kiez. Stupid Ausländers, they don’t even like try to fit in or learn German.
I mean I'm not like fluent, but I can speak genug. Just the other day someone confused me for a German, when my back was turned to them and I hadn’t said anything and I was wearing a hat. Yeah, stuff like that happens all the time. I mean I’ve tried, of course I’ve tried. But every time you speak auf Deutsch to them, they just reply in English. It’s pretty much impossible to speak German to them, they all just want to practice their English with you. Maybe I should pretend to be Russian? Ypa! Anyway, I’m going to leave pretty soon, I’m sure, a few more months, max.
Stage 4 – Don’t learn German
Three years here already, Diary? Seemlich, hmm, no, I mean ziemlich verruckt! See how I said ziemlich verruckt? Ja, you can have that one total kostenlos, bittesehr. I can’t believe I’ve stayed a whole three years already! It’s been a techno-filled blur. If I didn’t have the 8201 photos of partying that I uploaded to Facebook, I’d not remember a thing.
I still really love it here. Although, if I'm being really honest, Diary - my writing career has not really taken off as I hoped. That novel I planned to write about a foreigner living in Berlin is still in the planning stages. I'm thinking of opening a cafe now, something with cupcakes. I don’t know. Let’s see. Many options.
My lack of German is getting really peinlich now, though. I think I’ll start learning it. I think I’ll do a course at the Vauxhallschooler, no, Vaulkshallschule, no, Volkshochschule. Foreigners really should make the effort to learn German. Volkshochschule is a public-funded college thing so it’s super cheap, but most of its teachers lost the will to live back in 1973 and now are just going through the motions. It’s just round the corner. I start on Monday.
I probably won’t stay much longer here though, Diary. A few more months maybe, max.
Stage 5 – Erster Deutschunterricht
Wow, Diary. It was awesome! It’s amazing how much I already knew. I guess you just pick it up over the years, you know? Like osmosis oder etwas. The course was good. The instructor didn’t speak a word of English to us, right from the erste Stunde. Bin beeindruckt! So, the beginning class was pretty easy, names, ages, hobbies und so weiter. I can’t wait for class tomorrow! I’m totally nailing this German thing now, I have no idea why I waited so long to get started? I love Sprachen lernen! Ich bin ein Donut!
Stage 6 – German Grammar
UGHHHHHHHH. OWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW. OUCHHHHHHHH.
I hate foreign languages! I hate foreign people! I hate life! But mostly, mostly, mostly, I hate the German language!!!!!!
Marky Twain! Oh, Marky Twain. You were so on the money, son. Really. I salute you in your historical rightness. The German language lives only to mock me. To make me feel inferior. My German class is okay, I’m one of the worst, which can be super peinlich. I try to do my homework, Hausaufgaben, but the class is in the morning, Diary. You might not have heard of the morning, since I mention it so infrequently. It’s basically all the things that happen before lunch. I know, crazy that they expect people to do anything before lunch, never mind complete tables of irregular, boring verbs. Anyway, learning Vokabeln was fun but now all we do is this total langweilig grammar shit. If I hear the words Akkusativ and Dativ one more time I’m going to punch someone in dem Kopf. It’s total sinnlos. The German language is such a dinosaur. And not even one of those good and dynamic dinosaurs like a T-rex. Just a shit dinosaur that makes no sense - Vaterkrautasaurus - that sits around confused, trying to remember the 87 different Endungen to its verbs and adjectives.
I missed class today, for the first time. I had a headache and I'd not done my homework. I’ll totally be back there tomorrow though.
Stage 7 – Language no man’s land
I’m sorry to say that I didn’t end up going back to class, Diary. I missed a few with that really bad headache ... more of a migraine really ... a severe one, actually ... probably an untreated brain tumor effecting my foreign language learning nerve center.
Then, once I'd recovered, I’d missed so many classes, I just couldn’t really go back because I’d have been too far behind. But it’s cool, I’ve got the books and CDs and stuff, I’m totally going to study at home. I’ll start tomorrow. If I just do one hour a day, every day, I’ll be fluent in six months! Let’s do this! I will slay the German language dragon this time. I’m so ready!!!!
Author’s note: Despite the best of intentions those books will never be opened. They will sit on a shelf where their primary function will be the accumulation of dust. This stage can last for several years and it is only when the weight of public shame becomes so great, when sheer embarrassment has crushed all your excuses into dust and you’ve finally accepted you aren’t going to leave Germany in a few months, that in fact Germany is your home. Only after all that can you pass through to the final stage of German language learning.
Stage 8 – Endlich (fast) fließend
Heute habe ich endlich mit Englisch sprechen stoppen aufgehört. Egal, wer mit mir redet, jetzt antworte ich nur auf Deutsch. Ist peinlich, ich hasse es, niemand kann ein interessant Gesprich Gesprish Gespräch mit mir habe, weil ich wie ein Kind mit zwei Jahren rede, aber egal, ich muss das machen. Da gibt es keine shortgecuts Abkürzung, keine excusigungen Entschuldigungen mehr. Ich möchte hier bleiben. Ich möchte Deutsch sprechen. Ich möchte mit der Familie von mein meine meiner Partnerin sprechen. Es wird nicht einfach sein. Aber, genug ist genug. Ich will Vaterkrautasaurus reiten.
Author’s Note: This is the final stage. You must refuse to speak English with everyone. Even English people. That’s it. Once this realisation is made, it’s just a matter of repeated effort, refusal to speak anything but German and the normal passing of time before you’ll reach fluency, or at least the working semi-fluency you’ll never really need to improve upon. The German language loves you, and supports you, and so do its people. It could always be worse. It could be Russian...
This post was originally published in Adam Fletcher's book Make Me German.