I have been familiarizing myself with The German language since I first met Thorsten. However, once we moved to Germany it became priority number one. To that end, a few times I have spent an afternoon playing with the children of Thorsten’s friends because talking to a four or a six year old is good practice and sometimes easier than talking to an adult.
Then I began watching children’s cartoons and continuing with Duolingo. (I highly recommend this free online platform for learning a new language.) Talking to Heinz and Jola is probably the very best practice of all. The sounds of the letters start to become familiar and so then the word order becomes more intuitive. All of this has helped me to speak a little bit of German, but I knew even before I moved that my first “job” should be completing an intensive course at a language school.
As I understand it, in order to get and keep legal working papers here, one needs to be able to pass a German language test. In order to create a situation where people will be able to work and therefore become participating members of society, the German government subsidizes the price of the language school. We settled on the Euro Schule in Bamberg. It’s a close walk from the train station (der Bahnhof) and for the duration of the school one can get a student discount for the train route between home and Bamberg. Not to mention Bamberg is a beautiful city in its own right. Any excuse to spend time there is a good one.
There are about 20 students in the course. Ages seem to vary from about 20-60. It’s about 1/3 men and 2/3 women. The variety of cultures represented is the most exciting part. There are students from the US, Canada, Syria, Ethiopia, Romania, Hungary, Chile, Brazil, Honduras, Bellarusse, Kazahkistan, Italy, and Thailand. (And I maybe have forgotten one.)
There is so much smiling at the school, and welcoming behavior. Everyone is eager to learn in their own way. I sit most often next to a woman from Brazil. I am very partial to Brazil and really want to talk with her, but we don’t know enough German yet. She doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Portuguese. This is an example of the motivation we have to increase our German so that we can all talk.
Because there is no common language except German,the teacher can never say, “This word means this.” Instead, she has to explain things in a different way and we are forced to think harder because we have to understand what she means. About seven us of speak English and a few more know some. The challenge here is make friends with the people who don’t speak English.
During the Longwood Graduate Program, I met and became friends with a woman from China. Then I met Thorsten. These two relationships showed me that there are people like me all over the world, people who share my sense of humor or similar values. But it is only because they spoke English that I got to know them. If we hadn’t shared a common language we would have missed out on knowing each other. Starting this course has reaffirmed this idea. Suddenly you meet a girl from Syria and you find that she speaks English and then you start to talk and you laugh about the same things and you think, wow, what a world. Think of the potential for a society where such a diverse group of people are able to live together, speaking the same language.