So, Are You Fluent In German?

It is our last day here in Marburg, my language class has adjourned, my bags are (almost) packed, and I’m strangely not excited to leave tomorrow morning. I have been so lucky to have spent the last few weeks surrounded by some of the most intelligent, driven, and frankly hilarious people I’ve met. To any of the Marburg Leute reading this: it’s been a blast, you inspire me on a daily basis, and I’ll see you at Oktoberfest?

Since the whole point of coming to Marburg was to take a class to improve my German, I think the success–or lack thereof–of that effort is a fair topic to address. Has my German gotten better? The lady who sells peaches at the Wednesday morning market thinks so, and more officially, I passed the language test, so I can now slap down the term “B2” when asked to comment on my German capabilities.

Roughly speaking, B2 translates in normal-person-speak to mean that my German is two levels below that of a native speaker. On one hand, it’s kind of cool that only one level stand between me and near-native fluency. On the other, how long have I been studying German? Oh, that’s right. A long freaking time.

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I can’t believe I’m putting this picture on the internet. Herr Cook und ich, circa 2007.

I started taking German classes in seventh grade. In eighth grade, I took German classes so that I could get high school credit, and in high school, I took German classes because I thought (and still do, no worries) that learning a second language was a worthy investment of time.

When I got to Luther, I minored in German because I wanted to study abroad, and I knew that learning German would only help me to study history. Learning this language has never been easy for me, and I’ve thrown my fair share of fits about frustrating grammatical concepts, dense literature, and in one particularly difficult course, the evolution of the German language. I know that living in Germany helped my German, but I think my understanding of grammar went downhill when I became a big fan of the idea that language is first and foremost a means of communication; if I could understand and be understood, what was the big deal if I couldn’t make a nominaliserung out of a relativesatz that made perfect sense as it was?

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Linguistics is making me rip my hair out, circa 2010.

As much of a headache as learning this language has been, it has given me many incredible opportunities. I know that if Herr Cook hadn’t talked our ears off about going to Germany in high school, I probably wouldn’t have been so excited to do People to People, which was really the catalyst for all of my future ventures abroad. If I hadn’t done People to People, I don’t think I would have continued to study German, nor would I have majored in history.

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This post is quickly turning to an embarrassing tour of my high school career. Madrid, 2005.

Haters gonna hate, but I’m not willing to call my history degree useless quite yet. Studying history has led me all over and now back to Western Europe. Quite honestly, the idea of being able to travel and to live in other countries to do research is one very attractive aspect of a career in academia.

So, if German has been such a driving force in my “professional” life, why am I not fluent yet? Is German too hard for me? Am I lazy? (Don’t answer that.) At what point is the idea that learning a language is HARD not enough? If there’s a point in language instruction that I should be able to claim a language as my own, I feel like I passed it a long time ago. How many more classes and immersion experiences do I put myself through before admitting that maybe German is simply something I’ll never grasp? Understand, yes, converse, of course, appreciate, sure, but will I ever really take ownership of my own mastery (or lack thereof) of the language?

I do know that I beyond excited for the coming year, and German will (obviously) be a huge component of that time. One of my college professors once told me that my German would never get any better until I wanted it to. At the time, I took that criticism with all of the grace inherent to a ballet-dancing Sasquatch with its shoes on the wrong feet. However, now that I’m headed away from formal language instruction, it really will be up to me to make sure that my German improves. Game on, Munich: we’ve got ten months, and I fully intend on claiming MY German by the time we’re through.

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2 thoughts on “So, Are You Fluent In German?

  1. If it makes you feel any better, I’m pretty sure I can only speak, read and write English at a B2 level….but I’m fairly fluent in Math…..

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