Stages of Relearning…

I’m in the process of regaining fluency in German. I’ve been reading it intermittently, but now I’m getting serious about bringing everything back to where it needs to be for this summer. And my brain hurts, as it always does. The refreshing, or relearning, or dragging my little grey cells back from vacation, always moves through three stages.

  1. Oh my gosh, did I ever study this, what are those strange letters anyway? I stare at the page and wonder how I ever managed to read anything this complicated, let alone speak it. I recognize a few words, but not many of the long ones, and verb tenses make no sense at all. I need two dictionaries and divine assistance to read more than a few pages at a time without getting a nasty headache. Aieeeeee!!!
  2. Half of this seems familiar but sheepdip, did I ever read this before? I don’t think so. More of the nouns make sense, and I’m recognizing some of the verbs, but erk, how on earth will I get my vocabulary and pacing back before I leave town? And how will I read things without pictures to help me parse what is going on? I hate standing on the sidewalk with a dictionary in hand. It makes me look like a tourist and attracts pick-pockets. But at least my head is not aching so much, and I’m down to two dictionary trips per page instead of eight or ten.
  3. OK, I’m back close to where I need to be, and the flight over will finish kicking my brain into proper gear for spoken as well as written communications. (Or it usually would, because I usually fly Lufthansa, but not this time, alas.) I start feeling more confident, and venture into more difficult technical writings and literature. I’m not completely ready to be turned loose with a group of people to try to get from A to B, and museum display captions will still be a challenge, but the U-bahn in Vienna, or FraPort (Frankfurt Intl. Airport) no longer seems as impossible as climbing Mt. Everest. Especially since I’m not changing planes in FraPort this year, at least at the moment. *taps wood*

After this many runs through the pattern, I know the stages and can anticipate the frustration, headaches, and general mental misery that comes when you kick-restart a language after a few months away. Starting relatively early is better, but that’s not been possible this year, so I’m feeling a bit more as if I’m cramming. I’ve begun reading archaeology guides again, something that always stretches my brain. Archaeology and geology have enough terms that I can parse from the original languages to make them easy for me to read without dictionary interruptions, but enough new-to-me or otherwise unfamiliar terms that I have to work, not skim. The combo seems to help the transition back into thinking in two languages.

It is still work. Work I enjoy, but work nonetheless.

I am a little concerned about the future. I’ve toyed with the idea of trying to find a way to learn Polish, Czech, or Hungarian in order to do tours in those countries if things in Germany get any more, hmm, let’s say “interesting vis-a-vis cultural challenges.” the grammar and vocabularies of Slavic and Hungarian languages are quite different from English and German, although I’ve been told that learning Czech through German is far easier than learning Czech straight from English.

But that is for the future. For now, I have to regain fluency in German and re-train my ear to different German dialects, since I will be in Germany and not Austria.


5 thoughts on “Stages of Relearning…

  1. Czech is definitely a germanized slavic language. It’s a little weird that way, and rather distinct from the other slavic tongues. But, with your German fluency and area if interest, it would probably be a good fit.

    All the other slavic languages are about as different as the romance languages are from each other. They are distinct, but if you know one, the others are easy to pick up. They are almost mutually readable, but the accents and variations make speech just dissimilar enough to be maddening.

    Of the slavic languages, I’d say Yugoslav (now pretending to be three or five separate languages) is the easiest. It’s ridiculously regular (3 irregular verbs, consistent stress, spelled as pronounced).

    Hungarian is just weird. Uses cases instead of prepositions, like Finnish (related). Much more agglutinative than German. Neat to hear, though, with vowel matching. Harder to learn than the Slavics, maybe easier than Irish Gaelic. At least it has regular spelling.

    • Yep. When a student comes in and I look up and say, “Wie kann ich Ihnen helfen?” it’s time to put the books down for a while.

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