Monday, November 26, 2012

Speaking Like a Child

Last Friday marked the end of our first level of German classes. Here they call it the A1 level (here is an explanation of the language levels we plan to go through). We were really happy to hit this milestone. It is amazing how much you absorb in the beginning. It feels like you learn so much each day. Every night we go to bed very tired.  

I am sure I sound like my nephew. The last time we visited, he was learning how to use the phrase "of course." He said that phrase every few moments as he learned when how it fit into normal speech. From directly translated English expressions to odd word combinations, I am walking a child-like path of language learning.

We talked a lot in our training about a loss of competency. It is not as though I am mentally back on the same plane as a little child, but in terms of words, expressions, and nuances of meaning, I am on the level of a first or second grader.

I have felt this most acutely in our language classes. It is our teacher's job to take us into new territory. I feel often that we wander back and forth across the imaginary line of my personal competency in German. This "fish out of water" experience is a source of stress for living here. Even when I was in college, I rarely felt as though I needed to intensely concentrate on the class to track along with the professor. Some of this is my slightly ADD personality, but also we rarely covered ideas that we hadn't read about the night before. Even when the ideas were new, there was a familiar framework to work through and a common language in which things could be explained. It is an interesting paradox; our brains are designed to absorb language, but it also is such an emotionally resource-intensive experience.

It is a humbling feeling to be on the end of competency. Our whole class is feeling it in one way or another. We have many professionals and educated people in our class, and we are talking about the simplest things and forming the simplest sentences imaginable. It is a huge test of humility and one I hope I am able to meet head on. It gives me so much respect for the foreigners I have encountered in my own country and those that have earned degrees in a second language.

Question: When have you felt a loss of competency in your life? Birth of a child? New job? Moving to a new area?

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