If you ever want to feel bad about your foreign language skills, I suggest you play a game of Taboo in your third language (German) with your German friends, while slowly & painfully realizing that you don't actually speak any German at all & certainly can't describe ridiculous compound German words using other smaller German words under a very strict time constraint (aka the tiny, stupid plastic hourglass ticking away at your time and your soul and ruining your life).
In related news, my team lost, and if I succeed at NOTHING else this year, I will win a game of Taboo. It's important to have goals, people, and making it out of my masters program (A. Alive and B. With a passing grade) is aiming a little too high for my taste.
To my credit, languages are not an easy thing to learn, and playing word games based on your mastery of a language is even less easy. In fact, they're pretty damn hard to wrap your mind around (languages, not board games... though sometimes those too). When you first start learning a new language, you basically sound like a neanderthal just trying to put a jumble of foreign sounds together that your mouth can't figure out how to pronounce. Give it a little while and put in some solid effort, and you finally sound like a toddler trying to communicate that you're hungry or you love your dog or it's raining outside. Then there's the "I'm basically fluent" stage (my personal favorite), the category under which most high schoolers with three years of Spanish under their belts seem to fall. You know, the ones who throw "pero" into random English sentences and call their moms "madre" and claim to speak the language brilliantly but couldn't hold an actual conversation if they tried. I did it, you did it, shut up we are all embarrassing, it's fine, just repress it and move on. And most people stop after this stage bc A. You're already clearly fluent, why learn more? and B. You filled out the high school requirement to graduate so seriously why go above the bare minimum necessary to get the hell out of high school? I get it.
But if you're like me, and you hate yourself enough to keep working on a language, or languages, past that point, that's where the real fun begins. I mean if you're into instant gratification (I am - though it could be argued that I like gratification whenever it happens), languages will do that for you. Literally just existing on a daily basis in Germany means that at least half my day is spent thinking and existing in German, and every time I successfully communicate with someone in a language that is not native to me, I'm pretty proud of myself. I mean realistically the pride thing may also be due in part to an inflated sense of self worth and the fact that I am very easily impressed (esp. with myself), but that's not the point. And you would think that after the first few months, talking to waiters and colleagues and friends in German would lose its novelty bc it became the new norm. You would be wrong. I am in a perpetual state of excitement when I'm using German. Bc I am a freaking nerd. I learn new words and phrases and colloquialisms on a daily basis and I've reverted back to the strategy I relied on the very first time I was in Germany (like 7 years ago) of carrying a notebook around with me and writing down new words. I look like an idiot, but I usually look like one anyway and this way at least I'll be a better-German-speaking idiot. Granted, my Spanish is going to shit bc I never use it so I need to resurrect it and get my life together, but I'm focusing on the positives.
Now not to get all philosophical and nerdy on you, but if you really think about it, immersing yourself in another language changes your whole perspective. If you ask a Spanish speaker what they think of a bridge they walk across, they might describe it as strong or sturdy, or other male-associated adjectives, because the grammatical gender of the word "bridge" in Spanish is masculine. If you ask a German, however, they might describe the bridge as beautiful or elegant, words that are associated with feminine connotations, because the grammatical gender of the word "bridge" in German is feminine. In Spanish, if someone drops a cup on accident, you wouldn't say "she dropped the cup" but rather something more along the lines of "the cup fell." So the language you speak can literally change the way you might place blame or lack thereof. Learning other languages has made me so much more conscious of the manner in which I say what I say. Now there is the minor drawback that my mouth tends to move faster than my brain and I say dumb things anyway, but I like to think I've improved a little over the years and learning other languages has helped me do that. Haruki Maurakamian said that "Learning another language is like becoming another person." This is true for me in so many ways. For example, I am a more attentive listener in German, and less of a talker (hard to believe, I know) mostly probably due to the fact that my grasp of the German language is - logically - less extensive than my handle on English (which is still often questionable at best, might I add). I would also venture to guess that I am more direct when I speak German, bc the vocabulary I have developed has been based in a very honest and blunt society (sometimes the stereotypes are true). My American enthusiasm, however, does translate pretty amusingly for my German friends who laugh at me when I say "I love this sandwich" or "This is the best coffee I've ever had" bc Germans just don't say stuff like that, but whatever, I'm hoping it's an endearing quality.
Learning a new language is not just the process of learning different words for the same things, but acquiring a whole new way to think about those things. When you learn someone else's language, you create a bridge between your culture and theirs that will better equip you to understand the cultural nuances and subtleties that can only be expressed in the language of the culture in question. Languages teach you patience, which is something particularly valuable for me personally bc I am one of the least patient people I know. I cannot speed up my mastery of German any more than I can make the sun come up faster in the morning, so it's all I can do to try my best to improve every day. They teach you creativity, because every time you lack the word you need to complete your sentence, you have to find a way to work around it using other (probably less impressive) smaller words. They teach you confidence and social aptitude, bc goodness knows it takes guts to walk up to someone you don't know and do your best to carry on a conversation in a language you may not quite be comfortable with, even if it's just to ask for directions. The confidence aspect is dual in nature, as once you reach a certain level of fluency in a new language, your self-esteem gets a serious boost. In that same vein, they even teach you empathy. How? Well it's one thing for you to say that visitors or immigrants or refugees to your country should learn to speak your native language bc they came to your home to live, but unless you've learned a new language yourself, you will never understand the feeling of being completely overwhelmed, stressed, or even ashamed of your ability to speak someone else's language. They also teach humility, bc you have to accept that you will mess up, even if you're basically fluent, and there will always be something you don't know how to say or don't quite understand, and the best way to handle it is to laugh it off and take in everything you can in the way of new information.
I guess my point is that languages are cool and we should all learn them?? I'm not sure where I was going with this but I sure had fun writing it. Who knew I loved words so much? Everyone?? K.
Anyway, here are some relevant notes and anecdotes for this week that I felt worth mentioning but that didn't fit in with the flow of this post:
I live in one of the most advanced countries in the freaking world, where the unprecedented technological advances and desire for efficiency are trumped by an annoying (yet admirable and very necessary) desire to save energy. As such, we don't use clothes dryers, thus rendering any and all clothes hung up to dry in the cold/wet winter air completely unwearable for 5 to 7 business days. It's fab. I love it.
Substituting your dinner with wine is a real calorie saver, but drunk-you eating a massive bowl of pasta at 4am bc your dumbass hasn't eaten in 14h will indeed make up for (and then some) any and all calories you saved by (accidentally, I swear) skipping dinner.
My gym is a 2 minute walk from my apartment but it's been pouring rain every other day and on those days I spend the hours leading up to my gym time trying to talk myself out of feeling like the inclement weather is a valid reason not to go despite the myriad of raincoats and umbrellas I have at my disposal (and again, the fact that the gym is a whole two minute stroll from my door to its entrance).
Coffee is the reason I wake up in the morning. It is the light of my life and if it weren't an inanimate, consumable commodity, I would take a bullet for it. You see what happens when you've been single for awhile? Coffee fills the holes in your soul. Very healthy. In related news, I should probably get mental help.
PS. The title of this post is "Arschbombe" which, while the literal translation would be "ass bomb" actually would be the equivalent of "cannonball" (like, into the pool) in English. I figured this title was fitting for several reasons:
1. We came across it in our game of Taboo the other day and I had no idea what in the world it could mean bc the literal definition was relatively concerning so I had to break it down into "ass" and "bomb" for game purposes, which was hilarious in the moment.
2. I promised some of my post titles would be new German words I learned during my time here.
3. Uh, it's funny? And life is about having fun. And not taking yourself too seriously. So why just jump when you could cannonball?
PPS. All the photos for this post are super irrelevant to the words in the post itself but I was back in California for a few weeks over Christmas break and it was fab and I got to snowboard and beach and see family and friends and was sick for two weeks bc that's how my life works and (aside from the sickness) it was sooooo good to be back, even if just for a little while so pls enjoy the visual representation of the trip bc I was too busy and lazy to write a whole thing about it :))))
About the Author
Mouth like a sailor, great lacker of empathy, paper cut survivor, avid arguer, harsh critic of people who put clothes on their pets, easily distracte
USA, Mexico, Iceland, Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Morocco, Malta, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Hungary, England, Poland, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Scotland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Croatia, Greece
The Baltic countries,
if Covid allows for it (Latvia, Estonia, maybe a stop in Finland)
(in August in the US)