I spend a lot of my days explaining the Present Simple tense and phrasal verbs to, at times keen, at times bored, but almost always polite, German students. Often, when I am knee deep in passionately explaining when to use a tense, and I am about to throw a new example into the mix, I have that awful feeling of ‘shit, none of this makes sense, and this new example may or may not oppose everything I have just been banging on about for the last ten minutes and yet still make sense for this tense.’
I therefore have no idea just how horribly confused my students may get.
English, as a language, often doesn’t make sense. Or, all too often, takes great joy in setting a rule and then turning around and breaking it. And when my students say, ‘but why?‘ I cannot tell them. Because it can, I suppose. And because it keeps it interesting. And it makes for exquisite pieces of literature; it is its fluidty, I suspect, that makes English one of the most wonderful languages in the world. In my humble opinion, the most wonderful. But it is also this fluidity that makes it the most difficult to master. It’s like trying to grab water.
When I am not attempting to master it myself, or discuss countable and uncountable nouns with the aforementioned students, I am trying my hand at possessing a second language. This language that loves rules and is the precise opposite of my mother tongue in a very specific manner. English, with its lone article and lack of official formal/informal division, is easy to grasp the basics of, but beyond that, really quite a squirming beast to perfect. German, however, is horribly difficult to grasp the basics of but, once they are posssesed, one can build upon the foundation with greater logic and method than one can with English.
My efforts are … unconventional. My ears and eyes are my teachers, as long as time and money negate an official class. Sometimes, I am in the zone and can merrily chat or read or write away feeling incredibly brilliant. Most of the time, I hover just outside of the zone getting horribly confused and speaking in some sort of bizarre English as a Second Language with a vaguely Germanic accent. And, naturally, making some sensational errors.
For example: I routinely call a pigeon (taube) a grape (traube). I told someone the other day that he has skinny bees (bienen), instead of skinny legs (beine). A week prior, I texted him, proudly informing him I’d baked a kitchen (küche). Not a cake (kuchen). And despite the girth of my stomach (bauch) I complain often about my fat tree (baum).
I’m not going to get started on what I do to the past tense. I wield the ‘ge’ with abandon. And I just cannot wrap my pea brain around the ‘ie’ and ‘ei’ sounds, which I am permanently reversing.My umlaut sounds are far from perfect, I call everything female (feminist principles and its similarity to ‘the’) and cannot roll my ‘r’ in the back of my throat.
But one thing is certain; I am a very sympathetic teacher.
Not long after I published this, I was reminded of a particularly uncomfortable situation in which I confused what the English understand French Kissing to be and what the Germans do. Needless to say the Germans have made it something far less innocent than the English did.