Still trucking along in the German language, trying to add more and more words to my seemingly small range of vocabulary. Unfortunately I’m not one those with the kind of brain that soaks up new knowledge like a sponge; my brain is more like a rock for knowledge to bounce off of then roll far away from down a mountain. For as long as I’ve been alive, I’ve functioned in this way. If I’m going to remember a fact or new word long-term, it either has to be significantly important to me or connected to an action that I find funny or tragic or terrifying. Sometimes those online vocabulary training sites work for me if I keep up with it every day. Like this one that I do that “plants seeds” when it introduces new words, then I must “harvest” the seeds and “water” them daily, and when those “seeds” become “flowers”, the new words are in my long-term memory! But if I just read new words out of my German dictionary, I might as well be reading about the history of math because they do not stick in my head for anything.
One way that I’ve found to help keep new German words in my long-term memory, as I’ve mentioned before, is to be around kids. Sometimes, yes, it’s impossible to understand what they’re saying if they’re talking 100 miles a second, but when they’re talking at a normal speed or even slower (because they know I don’t speak German), I can pick up a few new words or phrases per day. The chance to significantly improve my vocabulary was presented to me this last week when I was camp counselor at a German-speaking kids camp. Though I prefer to learn words through the sweetness and friendliness of children, most of my learning came from trying to decipher the Schimpfwörter* from, you know, regular “aw man!” words. Not to say these kids weren’t sweet or friendly, but sometimes an intense game of 4Square can bring out words you wouldn’t normally use around Preacher Joe, you know what I mean? So I got to know the Schimpf* words pretty quickly as I frequently heard myself saying, “Nein! Das ist nicht ein schönes Wort!*” And then there were some words that almost sounded like Schimpf words, and in those cases I would ask the adults the meaning behind them just to be sure I hadn’t been tricked into thinking the word was “ein super schönes Wort*”.
Another way I’ve found to help improve my German, still along the lines of kids, is by either breaking up fights or needing to get onto a kid who is in the wrong. Situations such as these require immediate attention, especially if a kid is about to receive the black eye of the summer. I could let my lack of German vocabulary hold me back and just stand there and be the first one to grab an icepack, or, I could interject and list off all of the ways to say “STOP IT” that I know in an ugly sounding but totally functional way. The way I say “HÖR AUF!*” may physically hurt a fellow German-speaker’s ears, but hey, at least their kid didn’t get punched in the face. Sometimes the German that flies out of my mouth amazes me, usually because it’s not until I’m in the heat of the moment when I realize I actually used proper grammar as well as words I had no idea were in my memory bank. It’s much less intimidating to a child when the adult who’s teaching him or her a lesson is fumbling and stuttering through their “Here’s what you did wrong and here’s how you can make it right” speech, so I’m convinced that in these moments of teaching, my brain saves me from embarrassment and befriends me for as long as “Life Lessons From Holly*” spills from my mouth. Poor kids…
Now I’m back from camping in the mountains with kiddos and return to the frightening world of not-a-native-speaker-adulthood in the city. I will say that I’ve had some small victories as of late, such as successfully describing my ailments to “Herr Doktor” and purchasing medicine from our neighborhood Apotheke*. Unfortunately in this same victory I failed to get a receipt for our insurance, so after a week of my husband urging me to go back to the Apotheke to get the receipt (I was indescribably nervous), I finally did and retrieved the receipt without dying of embarrassment or being yelled at by Herr Doktor. The most important thing that I have to tell myself
daily hourly secondly while I flail through this wonderful but difficult language is: I’m going to survive. Sometimes “Life Lessons From Holly” auf Deutsch* may cause a misbehaving kid to crook an eyebrow and make me feel lame, or sometimes I may buy enough lunch meat to feed an army instead of enough for just two people, or sometimes I look like a deer in the headlights in front of a large group of people. Regardless, I will survive.
*Schimpfwörter – swear words
*Schimpf – swear
*Nein! Das ist nicht ein schönes Wort! – No! That’s not a nice word!
*ein super schönes Wort – a really nice word
*Hör auf – stop it
*Apotheke – pharmacy
*auf Deutsch – in German
*Life Lessons From Holly – Lessons in which I assume immediately changes the life of every child who has heard them and later becomes a lawyer or doctor or famous movie star by their 18th birthday.