One year ago today was the first day of my six month integration course. Those of you who have followed this journey since the beginning know that it was a mulit-national course, made up of students aged between 18 and 60 who represented at least 20 different countries. Most people came to Germany for love—really they did. But some came from other countries in the European Union because Germany has more jobs and better public services. Some were fleeing from war torn places and a few came for soccer.
I was determined to become fluent by the end of the six month period, so that I could quickly acclimate and move on to working in Germany. This idea makes sense when you know me and you know that I don’t love transitional times. My goal to be fluent in six months would have allowed me to have a shorter transition period, so that the “becoming” part of becoming a Franconian would be short and I could get started with the business of “being a Franconian.”
It probably won’t surprise anyone to hear that after a year I realized that my goal was a bit lofty. Additionally I realized, happily, that I’ll always be ‘becoming a Franconian,’ and too, I’ll always be an American.
In the beginning I was afraid all the time–afraid that people would know I wasn’t from here. I didn’t want to mess up cultural norms or say too many words and give myself away. I didn’t want to seem like a visitor, but now I realize that just doesn’t really matter. It isn’t important whether or not I am from here. Truly, people probably realize I’m not from here long before I ever speak since I haven’t been able to let go of the American habit of smiling or saying hello to strangers and waving, (which as I’ve mentioned before is not a thing here.)
When school ended after six months, I think that my active German probably suffered a bit. But my passive German has improved at a really good clip since school ended and I can tell because I can compare the course I took with a bunch of other pregnant ladies in May to a course I’m taking now with a bunch of new moms and I am way less scared. I understand way more of what everyone is talking about in the conversations before the class and during the breaks. That really surprises me. How could I have learned more without studying?
What’s also amazing is that I can now overhear and understand lots of phone conversations. Sometimes I can follow a conversation at a nearby table in a restaurant or when people pass me on the street. Imagine– for a year or so I have not been able to eaves drop at all. It really brought a lot of focus to my life. Now I understand almost everything even though I can’t remember how to say a lot of the phrases I understand. I have few friends with whom I only speak German and luckily they can always figure out what I’m trying to say even though sometimes its just English phrasing directly translated into German. Now I hear the rhythm of the German language much more and am able to figure out the correct way to put sentences together using that rhythm.
Becoming bilingual seems like an on going experiment. I don’t think I’m going to wake up one day and say, “I’m bilingual.”
So for now I read the newspaper when I can. I try to write all of my text messages in German and I look for opportunities to ask questions in restaurants or shops instead of shying away from them. I hope to take another German course so that my grammar will improve and become more natural. But for now, I am thankful that I made it through that six month course. I am thankful that I have the first year under my belt. I am thankful that I am on my way to getting to know people better because we can speak the same language.