17 December 2008

Assimilation

The other day I called the veterinarian to schedule an appointment for my dog. She needed her regular vaccinations. In my broken German, I started in on the conversation with my usual, "Entschuldigen Sie bitte, aber mein Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut. Ich habe einen Hund, und ich w├╝rde gerne einen Termin," meaning "I'm sorry, but my German is very poor. I have a dog, and I would like to make an appointment". The receptionist on the other end rattled off a endless stream of German, and me completely lost as to what she was saying started again rather pathetically with "Ich habe einen Hund." (I have a dog). Exasperated, she responded with "Do you speak English?" which I very enthusiastically affirmed.

My own struggles with learning German has given me new appreciation for the immigrants in my home country. While I was never such a hardliner as to say "If you're in the USA, you should speak English," I did feel strongly that newcomers should be putting their best effort forward to learn the language of their new country and that they should assimilate.

However, I never before realized the difficulty of learning a new language. Even if you're studying a language every day, and you're trying very hard to learn the language, it will be years possibly longer before you become fluent in the language.

I've made a couple big mistakes in my efforts learning the langugage. The first mistakes, is that I've found my little security net of English speakers, where I'm very comfortable. Sound familiar? The second mistake, is that I have not put my best effort into learning the new language. I can give you all kinds of excuses, from "everyone knows English here" to "I'm pregnant, and don't have the energy to learn right now." The truth though, is that I'm just completely overwhelmed by the effort it takes, and it's just easier to not put in the required effort. And I'm also hesitant about trying to speak German because I know how bad my German is, and that people rarely understand me.

Well, the very fact that I'm a mother, makes it 10 fold more important that I learn German. While a whole lot of people know English, not everyone does. As my very good friend and teacher who is fluent in both Spanish and English puts it to the Spanish speaking parents of her students, you need to learn English so you can advocate for your child. Well, I need to learn German, much for the same reason.

So while, it's a little early to make New Year's resolution, this is going to be my most important resolution. First, I'm not going to stay comfortable in my little network of English speakers. I'm joining a German speaking playgroup without any of my English speaking friends. Second, I'm going to start studying the language on a daily basis, not just when I feel like it. And third, I'm going to be willing to embarrass myself in front of fluent speakers at the supermarket, at the banks, at the post office, everywhere. Because, lets be honest, embarrassment is going to be the key to me learning the language.