Sunday, January 01, 2012

2011/2012 State of the me address

I was thinking of not writing a "state of the me" this year since I'm not feeling very ambitious this year, so most of my goals are of the "just keep swimming" variety. I want to work harder at helping my kids develop good study habits so that they'll eventually do their homework on their own -- plus I'm trying to encourage their independence in other age-appropriate ways, even when (or especially when) it's easier for me to do stuff for them than to insist they do stuff for themselves. I'd like to continue to get my stuff in order in preparation for moving to a new apartment next Fall. (I'd like to travel light through life, but the kids aren't always on the same page with me on this.) I have some things I'd like to write for Main Street Plaza, and I'm planning to attend Sunstone. And, as always, I need to keep studying German.

Anyone who follows this blog knows I'm always on about learning German. (Just click on my "German Language" label below!) So it seems like I should be done by now, right? It's frustrating that I've put other projects I care about on indefinite hold in order to devote more time to German, and it's still not "done"!

The other frustrating part is that I'd thought that once I got to this level (the level I'm at now), improving my German would stop being work because I'd be constantly getting German practice in my daily life. And it's true to a certain degree. I often read the free newspapers, and I always read all of the ads in the tram and at the tram stops -- and these items improve my vocabulary and my familiarity with different grammatical constructions. (Ads are very helpful because they often include wordplay.) But in day-to-day conversation, people are as likely to speak English or Swiss-German (Züritüütsch, specifically) as they are to speak high German, and the local dialect isn't really mutually intelligible with high German until you've reached a level of both that's... well, higher than the level I'm at.

These days, when I meet new people that I need to communicate with, the first question that comes up is language. Do I speak Switzerdeutsch? No? Shall it be high German, then, or English? After two years of working on this, I still can't just communicate and interact with people without this whole Ausländer! Foreigner! American! thing constantly in my face and everyone else's. It drives me nuts.

I don't mind being different, I don't mind being a foreigner, and I don't mind the fact that I don't always fit in, but I don't like the fact that the second I open my mouth, I get sorted into a little mental cubbyhole that I don't want to be placed in. And I'm tired of always having to make small talk about where I'm from. I don't want to be rude to people who obviously mean to be polite and friendly by asking, but I'm just tired of it. Sometimes I want to reply: What does it matter where I'm from? It's far from the most interesting thing about me...

Also (to make this post more pathetically self-absorbed than it already is) nobody understands why it bugs me. Seriously, nobody. My fellow foreigner-in-Switzerland friends are basically like Of course we always go around with the equivalent of a big neon "Ausländer" sign around our necks -- you'll be happier once you stop fighting it and just accept it. But I don't want to accept it.

The thing is that in France it wasn't like this. It was never like this in France. There I could define myself in my own terms. I feel like I lost something valuable in the move, and it's costing me a pretty penny to get it back.

I was trying to explain it to my Austrian friend the other day. I told her that in France, I would talk to people for a while, and they'd perceive that I have some kind of foreign accent, but it wasn't obvious where I'm from. People would try to guess, and they would essentially never guess correctly. This surprised my friend, and her surprise depressed me all the more. So my crappy German makes it hard for people to believe that my pronunciation in French is (or was? :,^( ) pretty good...? Lovely.

The German language itself is actually quite interesting. My goal for the year is to read all of Nouvelle grammaire appliquée de l'allemand avec exercices corrigés, and do all the exercises. I'd even call it fun if I didn't have so many negative/frustrating associations with the whole procedure. Plus I want to take an evening conversation course, to help me motivate myself to compose my thoughts in German.

I imagine that, once I'm ready to start learning some Switzerdeutsch, the whole procedure will become fun again. Nothing against high German, but on some level it feels like high German is something I have to do simply to get myself out of this hole and back up to ground level again, and then when I start learning the dialect, I'll be building something up. We'll see.

Wish me luck!


Donna Banta said...

Good luck with the German! Our daughter is struggling with the same thing now that she lives in Berlin. She was fluent in French, now the introduction of German over the past couple years have sort of mushed the two together in interesting ways.

But you can do this! This is your year

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Donna!!!

I hope you're right!! It's interesting how adding an additional foreign language after a successful language experience sets you back to square one. Mixing them up can be amusing, yet somewhat frustrating...

Aerin said...

I wonder if it's just a conversation thing - much like people ask "What do you do" here with someone they've just met. I wish you luck. Have you been able to read any German? Philosophers, etc.?

jen said...

Good luck with the German! If I were living in a foreign country, I'd want to be good enough that people couldn't tell where I was from...

Really, I was there for two weeks, and I wished I didn't look like an outsider. I hadn't put any work into it, but... still.. that's what I wanted.

I agree with Donna - this is your year! You can do this!

Allan said...

When I was a missionary in Bolivia it was nice when I finally got to the point when it wasn't obvious I was an american. I was clearly not Bolivian, but I could sometimes pass myself off as Argentine where there was a lot of european ancestry and a different accent. But it was really difficult for most of us gringos to lose the accent.

For a while I had the weird challenge of throwing in random russian words. I took 3 semesters of russian at BYU before my mission hoping to get called there and somehow that played havoc when I tried to dredge up a foreign word as my brain initially didn't discriminate particularly well between spanish and russian; if it didn't know the spanish word but did know the russian one then it spit out the russian one.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like you have already come so far. I'm impressed! Hang in there. You will do it!

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Aerin!!!

Yes, of course it's just a conversation thing. That's half of what makes it so frustrating. Since their questions are nothing but polite and friendly, it puts me in a position where I'm the jerk for feeling annoyed and wishing they'd knock it off.

Hey Allan!!!

It's not at all surprising that you'd throw in Russian words when you first started speaking Spanish. Mixing the languages is a near-universal experience of people who have learned multiple foreign languages.

I had a funny experiences with this recently when I was in Italy (see here). I was trying to speak to people in Italian, but I kept accidentally mixing in German words, so -- since that part of Italy is crawling with German-speaking tourists -- the Italians all assumed I was German! So, even if no one whose mother-tongue is German would mistake me for a German, at least I've reached the level where I can pass for a German in Italy. ;)

Thanks Jen and Cognitive Dissenter!!!

dee said...

Having been SO OVERWHELMED with Other Things when I moved here, I admit freely that I wrote German off entirely. Seven (eight??) years later, I still suck at it and now have Issues that block me. So I understand what you mean, from a different standpoint though. Let's get together and speak loud English and drink a lot. Kthx!

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Dee!!!

Sounds like a plan! :D