28 February 2014

German Language Learning and the Stupidity Threshold

So I think I have a new personal project. And this one will cost me a little bit of money. Though not a lot, it is still something that I can afford. I have had several personal projects in the past. Previously, for example, I have made it a goal to walk the entire length of the Berlin Wall. And since October, I have been taking one picture a day with the intention of finding beauty (or eccentricity, or anything that catches my eye) amongst the ordinary. And now, I think I want to go back to language school and learn German. Or rather, improve my German.

See, I learned German for 2 years, when I was in college. Back in 2001, I was doing a BA in Linguistics, and part of the curriculum was taking courses in a foreign language. I selected German (which was a good coincidence, as I didn't plan to live in Germany back then), and took 24 credit hours of it. I didn't use that knowledge until now. So because of that, I can get by with my life here.

However, every now and then, I need more German than what I currently have. It's usually those times when I need to deal with technical terms, when I need to sign up for something and there's legalese in German involved. When I first moved here in September 2012, I had to sign up for plenty of things. I needed to register at the local citizen's office. I needed to apply for a tax card. I needed to get health insurance. I needed to fill some many forms, and yes, there are plenty of legalese and technical terms involved. And every time I needed to do it, I opened Google Translate to help me out.

That being said, it was not a happy moment. I felt stupid. Here I was, a PhD holder, and yet I feel handicapped, because I was indeed for all intents and purposes, handicapped, linguistically. Whenever there was something in which I wasn't sure of, I either had to resort to Google Translate, or I had to ask a native German speaker to double check things for me.

Now I think I have had enough of that. I hate feeling stupid, and I want to change it.

Funny, back in September 2012, when I first started my current job, my boss mentioned that I should consider taking German classes, because she thought that my German was weak. Well, there was another issue back then, I only was in Berlin for one week at that time, and my knowledge of conversational German was still dormant at that time. It gradually improved, and she never told me that my German was weak, again. That being said, when she first mentioned that to me, I already shopped around for German lessons, but I never got to sign up, simply because my German knowledge gradually improved, and there weren't enough data points of personal stupidity. So it took me more than a year to make this resolution.

But now, I think I have had enough data points and therefore it crossed the threshold. I don't want to feel stupid anymore. If this were in English, I could handle it easily. But I have had enough of feeling like a handicap whenever I need to deal with legalese, which is pretty much any time in which I have to use German outside the conversational context.

So, for the next few months, I will probably be sitting in a classroom again, in the evening, perhaps twice a week, learning German. As I am already getting sick of being frustrated with the current German abilities I have, I need to change things a little bit. Ask me again in a few months how it's going. Hopefully there will be improvement.


  1. You are most definitely NOT stupid but I understand your frustration. I'm a language person too and I can't imagine traveling in a country (or living in one) without speaking the language, at least the basics. I was stunned to see how many Americans live i Central American and can't speak Spanish at all. It makes life so difficult!

    Good decision, I think. Plus you are a fast learner!

    1. Zhu,

      Yes, I think that living in a foreign country definitely becomes a better experience if one knows how to speak the local language. So it's the least I can do. I think I have a personal problem, and I think it is within my means to improve it and find a solution. :)