An update on language learning

learn german!

So, yes, life in Switzerland. An update.

A couple of younger women who live in the flat – I mean, apartment – below ours just asked if they could take our dog, Sammi, for a run or jog tonight. Through hand signals and making gestures on the wall, they indicated they would have the dog back in an hour. Nine o’clock, they said emphatically.

I’m reasonably certain that’s what they communicated. It took a while to establish that much.

So, I just handed them the leash and felt like a parent letting a child go on a date. It was hard to know what was happening because my German was better than their English. And trust me that that’s a frightening situation.

The women seemed nice. But then so did the boys who dated my daughters. I trusted them about as much.

I introduced myself as “Douglas,” because “Doug” for some reason always produces puzzled looks. But in response to “Douglas,” the younger one said, “Oh, Michael Douglas.”

And I thought, “Okay, isn’t he like 70 years old or something? Do I really look that old to you?” Not wanting to know the answer to that question, I returned our attention to the dog.

And I said with an excited look, “Wir gehen nach Berlin…eine Woche.”  Which, roughly translated, means “We’re going to Berlin … for a week!” I was hoping they would express interest in taking the dog while we were away, and – oh my! – they seemed to understand and said, “Ja!” The younger one said something about having “flexible hours,” but she could have meant something else entirely. I’m not sure.

You can’t imagine how good it feels to make a connection like this, to speak to other people in an utterly alien tongue, and to have someone say, “Ja,” as though that person understands completely, even when it’s not clear that she does.

I’m making progress. Even my language teacher agrees. She teaches six year olds during the day, and tonight she said to me – in English, of course – “You’re really doing well,” thinking maybe that I couldn’t handle that complicated sentence in German.

I felt prouder than I have since first grade, when Mrs. Myer told me that I had mostly mastered the first chapter of “Dick and Jane.”

(Update: Sammi was returned at 9:40. Mmmm. Is mostly tight-lipped about what happened while she was out. Am not sure these two women can be trusted. Will talk to her further – in English – about exactly what happened.)

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.


9 Responses to An update on language learning

  1. Kathy Smith May 7, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

    Sehr gut, Douglas! 🙂

    • Doug May 7, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

      Am impressed by your language skills too, Kathy.

      • Kathy Smith May 7, 2014 at 9:23 pm #

        Still remember some of my college German–which helped me while traveling in Switzerland!

  2. Sarah Tesnjak May 7, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

    I remember the first time the neighbour kids came by our house and asked if they can take Roxi on a walk. I had no idea what they were saying as walk referring to people and walking the dog are 2 different words in german. Your story just brought back that memory. I relate!

    • Doug May 7, 2014 at 3:01 pm #

      I keep forgetting that dogs are held in high regard in this culture, so that walking the neighborhood with a dog every morning is actually more than a chore. Maybe I’ll charge them to walk and take care of her!

  3. Elise May 8, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

    Can’t tell you how much I (we) enjoy your blogs! ….On so many different levels. As an expat myself, I identify with a lot of the joys and surprises of living in another culture. En-JOY!

    • Doug May 9, 2014 at 1:13 am #

      Thanks for the encouragement, Elise! Interestingly, I never thought of you as an expat until we met up in South Africa, and then I began to understand the enormous move you made.

  4. Steve Stimpson May 8, 2014 at 9:41 pm #

    Guten Abend, Doug,
    Haben Sie der Rosetta Stone fϋr Deutsch versuchen? Er hat mich sehr viel helfen.
    Auf wiederhören,

    • Doug May 9, 2014 at 1:11 am #

      Grüezi, Steve. In addition to my evening classes, I’ve been using Duolingo, an online learning program that makes encouraging noises in connection with correct answers. Also, at the train station I grab a copy of “20 Minuten,” a tabloid that nobody approves of, but that has all the day’s news at about the third-grade level, which is just right for me. Thanks for the tip!

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