(Servus is an informal way of greeting people in Austria)
When I first entered middle school, it was expected of me to take up a foreign language. I don’t know if most kids were like me, but I struggled to comprehend why. “What good will this do?” I said. “Doesn’t everyone in the world know English?” My immaturity led me to believe the world is smaller that it actually is.
Ah, to be that young and naïve.
I remember the night I was signing up for classes. I was at the kitchen table with my mother and we were pouring over the countless sheets of paper spread out in front of us. I had the option to choose between Spanish, French, or German and my mom was quick to point out that Spanish would be the most practical. My 13-year old brain could grasp that Mexico wasn’t all that far away, so I was quick to agree, but it wasn’t because of its practicality. My reasoning was right up there with what you’d expect from an immature adolescent.
The French teacher smelled funny and got too close to you when she talked – that’s not a good combination.
The German teacher was a large, intimidating man who yelled at innocent students that were just walking down the hallway – in terrifying and deafening German.
So Spanish it was.
I’m not writing this to tell you I regret choosing Spanish. From that point on I studied the language for four years. What I regret is not giving it my all. I had an opportunity to become totally fluent in another language; instead I did just enough to get by. I had all resources I needed. I had excellent teachers. But I squandered them away, all because I couldn’t see the point.
Learning German is hard. Damnit, it’s really hard. It’s such an unattractive language; some of the sounds and pronunciations hurt my throat. But I’m trying. And I’m not going to take it lightly this time.
I’m in a situation where I get to learn a language that is all around me. I never run out of people to practice with! Yes, you can get by with just English, it’s required curriculum for kids at the age of six, but I told myself before I arrived that one of the main reasons I’m over here is to experience a different culture to the fullest.
The surprise on people’s faces when I say something unexpectedly in German makes it all worthwhile. Through the handful of people I encounter on a given day that have figured out I only speak English, a simple thank you in their native tongue (Danke Schön) puts a smile on their faces.
This is why I try to study the language daily. I want to broaden the range of people I can communicate with. I’m only beginning to grasp how big the world actually is.
Just the other day, a teammate of mine invited me out for a drink with a couple of friends. There were four of us together and as we sat down and ordered our drinks, I couldn’t help but notice the varying demographics of the people at our table. All four of us were of a different nationality. Germany, Serbia, Turkey, and America were all represented in this dingy, hole-in-the-wall bar in the middle of Austria. Can you imagine the linguistics lesson I got that night? My head is still spinning.
Maybe more so from the beer…but still.
**If you guys want to just take a gander at how hard it is to learn German, click this link