The Lazy Guide to Learning a Language
I’m not a natural with languages; the process of language acquisition utilises one of the neural pathways that solidified pretty quickly for me. And I’m lazy. It was the latter quality that netted me 8% in my Year 8 Latin exam, a mark that may or may not have made my Latin-loving mother faint. The former attribute, or lack thereof, wasn’t aided by the fact I got to skip French classes in Year 5 for a special drama class, every Wednesday morning.
And so now, fifteen years after those drama classes and twelve years after the infamous Caecilius est in tablinium 8% Latin result, I am faced with the inevitability of having to learn the dulcet linguistic acrobatics of Deutsch.
I’m trying a few things. Classic osmosis is one. I have two books sitting on my desk and occasionally I touch them. Crack their spines, leaf through their pages, mutter aloud a few of the phrases. Mostly I just have them positioned so their vibrant covers are always in my peripheral vision. Right now, for example, the green ‘Pons Guide’ is the coaster for my packet of Doppelkeks. I can see its edges poking out from beneath the biscuits, and this comforts me.
Another method I’m trialling is Television Immersion. This is largely because Germans dub everything and CNN is the only English channel I have at my disposal; the gloss of 24/7 news loses its lustre after a while. Currently I have the TV running in the background as I work, alternating between the local news channel, Eurosport, MTV and the ecclectic array of American programs (dubbed) on offer. A German Homer Simpson is, take it from me, unnerving. The problem with my Television Immersion method is that I’m not as skilled at listening to German as I am at reading it (and I’m not particularly skilled at that either, but one can’t be perfect). I cannot isolate many words – the Deutsch speak so rapidly, particularly when scenes are heated or careering towards a dramatic climax – and I end up tuning out or assuming all the words that sound like an English word, mean the same thing (true only in around 30% of cases). So I have had to take the step of turning on the subtitles – only available with two channels – which, whilst adding a layer of learning to the immersion technique, require incredibly rapid reading. That being said, MTV’s Disaster Date is even more watchable with German subtitles – the German propensity to fuse five words together to create one giant new one is funnier than MTV could ever be.
Currently I’m watching a table tennis tournament on Eurosport with German commentary. I’m not sure which component – the visual or the auditory – is more offputting.
My German friends tell me, soothingly, it will all fall into place before I know it. They also tell me, not so soothingly, they’ll stop speaking English after I’ve been here a month. This gives me three weeks. Oh mein Gott.