Thursday, May 19, 2016

German Genes; or, I am a Banana

Finally, some exciting news.

No, we did not win the ever-elusive Golden Ticket/transfer out of GTMO.

We did, however, purchase tickets for a summer in Germany. We get to pretend like we're living somewhere else, but then come back to year-round summer (and cheap living) once that's over. And I guess that's not too bad a deal, either.

When you are going to travel overseas for almost a month, why not learn a little of the language, right?

A couple of years ago I wrote about my experience of taking a DNA test to find out my family background. I am 14% German & French, although people who actually immigrated from those countries came several generations ago.

The point is this: genetically I may be part German, but dear god, my tongue doesn't know it. I would think that somewhere, deeply embedded in my DNA, I have an ability to formulate the guttural sounds required to speak German properly. My genetic makeup should include the aptitude to pick up bits and pieces of conversation (or even written discourse) and flawlessly and quickly translate it. Or more realistically, understand maybe 1/4 of it.

But that's not how genes work. And while some people pick up new languages like other people pick out new shoes, I've had to work hard to maintain my ability to speak, write, and think in my second language, Spanish. 

My sister and brother in law visited France before they married. He told me a story about how my sister, when approached by someone speaking French, would just start talking in Spanish because she really doesn't speak French. It's like she expected the French speaker to understand because it was a language other than English. 

And I totally get that, too; I find myself pronouncing everything like Spanish because that's what my brain is telling me to do. Don't know a word in German? Just say it in Spanish. I mean, it's not English, so certainly someone will understand, right? (Never mind most Germans speak fluent or near-fluent English, not Spanish. . .)

I mean, isn't "perdóname" or "con permiso" a hell of a lot easier to say than "Entschuldigen?"

All four of us are trying to learn a little German via Duolingo. The kids are fast learners, and they absorb it like a sponge. The husband lived in Germany and took German as a kid, so he can make those elusive sounds. His brain turned on a switch at five years old that allows him to hear subtleties I will probably never hear, and to read and get the gist of something I will probably never comprehend. But that's okay, too.  The fact I see and understand patterns and remember a few words here and there makes me feel, at least, like I'm making a valiant effort to immerse myself into my summer home-away-from-home. 

The best part of Duolingo is the amazing (and amazingly ridiculous) illustrations. I mean, who wouldn't want meet mullet headed, sleeveless tee-shirt wearing Germans and say, "Ich spreche kein Deutsch?" I will be very disappointed if I don't run into these guys while we are there. 

Plus there is always a chance I may need to say useful phrases in German, such as "Ich bin eine Banane" (I am a banana)---with much effort and in a really, really bad accent, of course!