My First German Lesson

So, for those of you who have been living under a rock (or away from the internet), the hubby, baby, and I have been living in the German-speaking area of Switzerland since July 2008. Our visas expire at the beginning of July 2009, but it is highly likely that they will be extended for another few years and we’ll continue to live in the small city of Winterthur.

For various reasons (mainly money and timing), we couldn’t get signed up for German classes until now. And even then, it is only me taking the class. If we stay in Switzerland for a few years, we plan to take classes every other semester with my husband studying one semester and me another. Partly it is because we’d have to find a reliable babysitter for one (or more) nights a week, and also my lovely husband says he can’t be in the same class with me because apparently I’d drive him insane. 😉

I’ve signed up to take German (high German, not Swiss German, for those in the know – I’ll provide an explanation at some point later*). My class is once a week for about two hours. I was nervous. My learning wasn’t via a private tutor, and it certainly isn’t “German for native English speakers.” I learned French in my American high school and college classrooms, so if you got stuck, you could always say something like, “Comment dit-on <insert English word> en Français?” I was pretty close guessing about the class structure – lots of pointing and pictures.

Also, when I studied French, it was from the ground up, learning the basics, verb conjugations, etc. French made sense to me. I understand that German sentence and verb structure is completely different. How on earth was this going to work? Also, for me, French is easy for me to pronounce. The few German phrases I’ve learned from my local friend and fellow expat, Stacy, I always seem to flub up and/or the locals look at me weird when I speak them (no fault of hers – it really is just me). German pronunciation is so incredibly foreign to my mouth (no pun intended).

The other thing I was curious about is how many other English speakers might be in the class. I figured that there would be quite a few, and I might be able to make some new friends. Zurich and Geneva are well-known for having tons of expats from the UK and the US, but it is a bit of a hassle for me to get in to Zurich and join the expat groups there sometimes (Geneva is over three hours away by train). And while there are a handful of English-speaking expats in our town of Winterthur, they rarely meet, and usually at a pub (and we still haven’t bothered to find a babysitter).

Ok, enough background. So, the class! There are a little more than a dozen people in the class – nice and small. The teacher is a native Swiss woman, and seems nice enough. She started the class by taking roll and doing a casual survey of what languages we all already spoke. She was talking to each person individually, though, so I didn’t get a clear estimate of the nationalities that were represented. We started the actual class part by learning how to offer our names – “Ich bin Frau Westfield!”

Next up was my shocker – “Woher kommen sie?” – where are you from? Since I didn’t have my German/English dictionary with me, I couldn’t even figure out one of the nationalities until I got home, but we have one Italian, two rather noisy gals from Slovakia, a Polish lady (who I think the Slovakian girls were teasing but I’m not sure), two Brazilians, one guy from London, a guy from LATVIA (that’s the one I had to look up – “Lettland”), two from Macedonia, one from the Dominican Republic, one from Lebanon (the teacher accidentally said Iraq at a later point in the class *wince* and the guy sternly corrected him), a nice Japanese girl… and get this… one person from the US – me. And I was the only person who had trouble pronouncing my country’s name in German, but only because I don’t really know the German alphabet – “aus den USA.”

I know that last statement made me come off as a big-headed American, but that’s not exactly true. I just thought that there might be a few more of us in Winterthur. Although, in retrospect, Winterthur only recently reached city-status by getting to the population level of 100,000, and as I mentioned before, far more expats live in the bigger cites. Plus, I was just amazed at how many people from so many far-flung places in the world were here! Living in the same town as me! Very cool! Moving on.

Next we did some basics that will help us in class, naming the different workbook and classbooks, CDs, paper, pens, dictionary, etc. All of the above took about an hour, so we had a “10 minuten pause.” During the break, I chatted with the guy from London, and the girl from Japan.

After the break things went downhill slightly. There were a few words written on the overhead that I didn’t understand, and couldn’t figure out on my own until I got home and looked them up in my dictionary. One of them I still don’t understand. The teacher had written the class style out: Read, Speak, “Reklamieren”, Listen, and Write. Both my favorite online dictionary and my paper dictionary say the same thing: to protest or to reclaim. I can’t figure that out at all, unless I copied it down wrong, and the teacher meant “rezensieren,” which means to review (any help, here is appreciated).

We moved on to polite conversation (how are you), and I got a bit stuck, both on pronunciation and translation. The Slovakian girl next to me seemed to be pronouncing everything really well and I asked her what one of the phrases meant. She didn’t understand, but we struck up a small quiet conversation comparing English with what little we both knew of German. Her perspective was that German was going to be harder to learn for her than German. The whole class was chatting and/or stuttering through the verbal exercise, and the teacher was wandering around the classroom.

Next thing I know, she’s writing on her overhead projector:

slowakisch / englisch
sprechen verboten

Oopsy… Never mind that other folks were chatting. Oh well. But the class ended well, and I still got a smile with my “Auf Wiedersehen” from the teacher on my way out.

Luckily for the past few weeks the baby has been going down to sleep at night without a peep, so my husband had no trouble putting him down, even without the breast. We’re working on weaning right now, anyway, as we are approaching Edward’s first birthday (please don’t hassle me about it in either direction – that I should have weaned sooner, or that I should follow child-led weaning practises. This was a long-thought decision). Sorry. Tangent ended.

I won’t go into this much detail on future posts about the class, don’t worry. 😉

* In Switzerland, there are four official languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh (a decendent of an ancient Roman dialect). Swiss German and High or Standard German (hochdeutsch) have a number of differences, namely pronunciation. Why am I learning high German and not Swiss German? Well, because the Swiss German dialect varies greatly across the country, and supposedly everyone who speaks Swiss German can speak high german. Plus, while Swiss German is only spoken inSwitzerland, all other German-speaking countries and books, and signs are printed in high German. Lastly, I  am a sheep. All the other expats told me to take high German and not Swiss German. hehehe. To learn more about Swiss German, Wikipedia, as always, has a good article on the subject.


One thought on “My First German Lesson

  1. Also, Swiss German only has 2500 words…so once you get past the greeting, the direction asking, and the menu ordering…you have to switch to something!


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