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Black in Berlin: Don’t Take It Personal, German Hates Everyone

I have resigned myself to the fact that my command of the German language will never be better than the English of most Germans. I arrived in Berlin anxious to tackle the German language, I purchased Rosetta Stone, I enrolled in night classes, and even enlisted the support of a private tutor. I was full system’s go towards being fluent until I had an epiphany, German is friggin’ difficult.

The final deathblow to my fluency aspirations came a few months ago during one of my lessons. It was grammar intensive, my tutor gave me one new piece of information too many and my brain reached full capacity. Most English speakers assume that pronunciation would be the hardest part due to the guttural throat noises. The truth is pronunciation is easy, German grammar is the evil beast with no soul. German nouns have genders and their gender determines which article you use, masculine nouns have the article der, feminine nouns have the article die and neuter nouns have the article das. The gender of the nouns rarely follow any rhyme or reason and you just have to force yourself to memorize the appropriate article for each noun. Once you accept this and memorize each noun and its article, German grammar throws a wrench into that system and changes the article depending on different cases.

On this day, my tutor and I were going through a number of cases and he was explaining how each case affected the article. An hour into the lesson, I absorbed the latest piece of information, attempted to process it and I could smell my brain smoking. Then the tears came and I had a full-blown meltdown with one of those ugly cries with snot, shaking and stuttering. I was a mess and my patient 69-year-old German tutor had no recourse but to watch me, mouth agape in utter terror. The one sentence I said that he was able to make out was “German hates me!” He looked at me with sympathy in his eyes and replied, “You can’t take it personal, German hates everyone.” He reassured me that my progress was normal as well as my frustration and the road to fluency is filled with many setbacks.

The emotional experience with my tutor put a lot of things into perspective and mastering German in a short time seemed like an unrealistic goal. Studying German moved farther down my priority list, not only because it’s difficult but also because in Berlin, I really don’t need the native language to flourish. My international work environment uses English as its primary language and my social circle consists of other internationals and Germans who are fluent in English. If I ask someone ‘Entschuldigung, sprechen Sie Englisch,’ the common reply is ‘Oh of course, I love to practice my English!’ Sure there are times when I get in a tight spot but usually there is someone nearby who can translate.

I can’t describe what I currently do with German as “speaking.” I speak English with German words, making one to one translations that often hold no significance in German. I haven’t given up. I am still taking lessons, waiting for it all to click in my head but considering the difficulties that I have had with learning and how commonplace English is, becoming fluent in German is no longer on my bucket list.

– Nicole

Get to know our newest international Parlourista Nicole a little better over at NicoleisTheNewBlack!

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