Herr Brouwer und Frau DeYoung go to language school

I love you  - in German

Having settled into our apartment, and unpacked most of our boxes, the Frau and I now turn our attention to the next important matter for newly arrived visitors in this beautiful country – namely, learning how to have actual conversations with people other than ourselves.

For the last week or so, just about every conversation we’ve had has started with a polite, “Do you speak English?”

And the Swiss person we’ve addressed – modest by nature, I guess – always looks slightly embarrassed and then replies, “A little.”

Well, that “little” bit of English the Swiss admit to knowing usually turns out to be stunningly good. Sir Laurence Olivier would weep over the impeccable grammar and pronunciation.

Which of course puts us to shame.

We know “a little” German too. And by that I mean that we know next to nothing. I can say “bitte” and “danke” (please and thank you), with a pronounced American Midwestern accent, but beyond that I, uh, am pretty much lost. If members of the International Protestant Church had not guided virtually every step to this point, we might still be standing at the Zurich airport luggage carousel.

So, that means the Frau and I will be attending language school. According to Swiss law, I will need to achieve a “B1” level of German proficiency by this time next year, and for some reason this has captured my attention more than Professor Kreutzer’s final exam in the subject at Calvin College more than 30 years ago. I wasn’t worried at that point in my life about not having my visa renewed. (How do you say “date night” in German?)

We’ll both be taking an entrance exam to determine our level, which I can already sense is closer to “beginner” than to “advanced.”

Constructions workers outside, laying in a new sewer line, can occasionally be heard shouting to each other. I’ve heard a couple of words more than once and am pretty sure I know what those words mean. It’s interesting that after “bitte” and “danke” those should be the first Germans words I learn.

I won’t be repeating them here, but I assume they’re terribly important to know to get along in the workplace. I’m hoping to add a few more soon.

german grammar

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.


8 Responses to Herr Brouwer und Frau DeYoung go to language school

  1. bob sadowski January 30, 2014 at 10:42 am #

    Good luck with that, you could also watch Hogan’s Heroes reruns!

    • Doug February 6, 2014 at 2:10 pm #


  2. Georgia Hamilton January 30, 2014 at 2:12 pm #


    I’m assuming the language is Deutsch.(?) I took German as a partial requirement for my graduate work—I loved it! I found it much easier than Frence. As i recall, it’s more structured than English. You only need work on placement of the “ch” and “K” sounds—you’ll do fine!

    Georgia ,

    • Doug February 6, 2014 at 2:12 pm #

      Thanks for your confidence in us! I’m guessing language-learning ability declines with age, as does everything else.

  3. Barb Keith January 30, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

    Doug and Susan,

    Welcome to your new world.
    We wish you well and KNOW you will feel right at homeSOON!
    You are missed here,
    Barb and Tom Keith

    • Doug February 6, 2014 at 2:12 pm #

      And we miss you !

  4. Clark Ellis January 31, 2014 at 8:38 am #

    Being raised with a Pa Dutch mother and relatives I learned alot.
    Right now dont know if I could get a sentence out. Also dont know if it
    would be the same dialect you will speak.
    Lots of luck.


    • Doug February 6, 2014 at 2:13 pm #

      Exactly my position, Clark. Am hoping I can access what I previously learned.

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