This post stems out of a new course of study I am undertaking: the study of German. This is new for me.
I have some background to German and Germany. My father studied German for a short amount of time while in primary school and was fortunate to visit the country for work (he’s retained quite a bit of his knowledge today). My best friend’s mother taught us both how to count till 10 in German when we were younger, and I joined his family in affectionately calling his grandfather Opa. I can recall other bits and pieces, the 2006 FIFA World Cup being held in Germany definitely prompted an exploration into their history and culture, especially because it overlapped with being introduced to Adolf Hitler in our History lessons at school. I represented Germany at a Model United Nations conference once. Subsequently, in more recent history, I was lucky to be extended the same good fortune of visiting Germany and meeting some friends there.
Additionally, my study of the language is aided significantly by the years I spent studying French and the excellent teaching that I had which grounded my fundamentals in the subject and gave me the confidence to express myself in a tongue foreign to my own make-up. I cannot discount how much of a role that background in a prominent European language from the Romantic school has played in my exploration thus far.
At this moment, I’m roughly two weeks into lessons. So no, I am not a native German speaker, nor am I anywhere close. I do, however believe that if I apply myself appropriately in the next few months, I can gain the skills necessary to go on a lifelong journey of picking up the language. That’s the insight I have at the moment.
Additionally, of course is the fact that I am in love with foreign languages and the kind of things they expose you to. Outside of professional utility, I think studying foreign languages has opened up this window to culture and media consumption like not much else has. It was in school that I read Persepolis on the recommendation of my French teacher, and discovered Corneille, Jean-Baptiste Maunier (of Les Choristes fame), and managed to read Le Petit Prince too. Translated media rarely has the same impact that the original text does, particularly because I do believe there are no perfect translations. The meaning and connotations of words arise out of historical contexts and circumstances that are unique to individual/common cultures, and that is irreplaceable, as much as we strive to make it so.
Turning back, however, to why I think I’ll gain skills to begin a lifelong journey into the language. I don’t think we will ever fully know languages. There are differing levels of proficiency ascribed to the skill at which one can use their ability with the language, and naturally other markers (exams and certificates to proof proficiency, and so on). However, even with our mother tongues and native languages – we will know how much we choose to know, and how much we each individually choose to explore. For the most part, my thinking happens in English. Taking that as my illustrative example, I’m on a continuous path of learning the language more and more – I learn new words even today, words I’ve never come across before. I understand the diverse manner in which these words can be employed to create differing effects. The ordered systems that make up a mode of linguistic communication are things I explore each day I think and use it. That’s true for every language I am exposed to.
Developing that proficiency in German, to consume more media, to carry out more conversations, to use it more frequently – I’m not sure where it will take me. I’m excited to see where it does lead to. I’m very fortunate to have a teacher who understands why I’m studying the language, who encourages me by pushing me to take to the language quickly, and more crucially points out my errors immediately and repeatedly. I am finding out that the classroom is the place to make mistakes and gain confidence. You’re just less likely to make those mistakes in regular conversation that way.
Finally, I’d also like to admit how much this lockdown has helped me brush up and rediscover languages I lost fluency in, while learning new ones. As I’ve chronicled before, the Kannada project is the big one I have going on at the moment. Side projects however, have included Spanish, Italian, and figuring out why on Earth I can read and write the Arabic script but not speak it beyond saying a few phrases. All I hope for is that I tick off more languages off my list.
This is not a sponsored advertisement of any kind for Duolingo, but I need to give credit where it is due. They’ve developed a fantastic, gamified platform that has so much additional content to make the learning enjoyable. The community side of things on the application is also testament to how much languages can connect us all. I’m glad it exists across platforms, and that I’m discovering that too.