27 July 2010

Brain working

4-13 July 2010 in Lyon, France
Although I had French class from the 3rd through the 10th grades, I'd never say I could speak French. When I lived with a French person (in Germany, who was also German) and I took conversation lessons on the side, I started to feel comfortable saying I could speak French, trés peu. But I was never fluent, fluent meaning you feel just comfortable enough to engage in a simple conversation. It helps when your conversation partner is willing to speak a bit slower and rephrase; it helps too when s/he doesn't want to practice your native language. In Lyon, living with my friends and their two young children, I had fun trying out different phrases mixed with English. And I could shop, order coffee, ask if WiFi was available. Verbs (conjugated and not) came back little by little. When I taught English I'd call them the motors of your sentences. You really need to master verbs to be able to speak half-way comprehensibly. French pronunciation isn't that difficult (as L, my French friend wanted me to think), but it's got a lot of exceptions, you just have to memorize. Speaking is simply more difficult than reading, listening and even writing. Your brain has to have handy pronunciation, as well as syntatic and semantic knowledge to converse.
16 -23 July in Bielefeld, Germany
I stayed with K, a good friend, graphic designer/illustrator. She understands me in English, but we have a relationship solely in German as it is with most of my friends in Bielefeld. I like that. The 1st few days, my mouth didn't work right. My lips, tongue and teeth just couldn't coordinate to push out the sounds correctly. Sure everyone said I spoke great--polite they were--but I felt crippled. I'd been really fluent in German. I had had a fairly large vocabulary and a good accent. I'd worked at it. So getting that back to some extent was emotionally painful those first days. When the apparatus started to feel oiled, I began noticing how many of K's regional idioms and colloquilisms, I just couldn't understand. I think she'd always used more colloquialisms than my other friends, but I was stumbling now, when before, I could translate to standard German. 
23 July - 2 August in Berlin, Germany
Brain is working. I'm staying with O and E. O is that French/German friend I'd lived with, who's not only a writer, translator, but very talented with languages. She speaks 4 fluently, probably 6 in total. E has a real Berliner accent, having grown up here. Both O and E speak quickly, but they speak in standard German. No problem. I speak German almost as quickly as English. The phrases spit out in a jagged tempo. In English, I often start a sentence, (i.e. subject and predicate), and then lose my way in a rhizome of related thoughts. It's a problem I've come to preface in conversations with the warning "I'm thinking outloud." I haven't encountered the problem in German yet, because I'm not doing so much thinking aloud yet. Although, German syntax is very different and if I were to start thinking aloud in German, I might scare people away. Or perhaps it'd work out ok since parts of verbs come at the end of clauses and dependent and adjective clauses can interrupt a main thought. The slow-moving, red, blue-upolstered car, whose driver seemed to be lost stopped at the corner. 
Ach ja, the brain is working. I think differently and think different thoughts in German. I don't translate well at all either. It's a completely other thought process. In conversations my brain flips back and forth between the languages. English starts to become Gerlish. I've missed the challenge of everyday learning that comes when you live in a foreign language.