For the next two hours, I concentrated very, very hard. I found that, by doing this, I could usually catch every fifth word or so, and inspired guesswork did the rest in making sense of the verbal onslaught. Occasionally, I got lucky and would catch an entire phrase.
After two hours, I was tired. It was so much easier to just let the language flow overhead without making any conscious effort and that way only about one word in two hundred would make any impact on the poor, sodden mind.
It’s bad enough that, having spent eight months of weekends attending German class, I took a break of eight months, thus throwing down the drain about 80 % of what I’d spent the first eight months struggling to learn. Language, like any motor skill, once acquired does not really ever go away, though it might get rusty with neglect. But first, you must acquire it, and in eight months of weekend classes, I had only just begun to acquire it.
By the end of class on Saturday, my brain was reeling, spinning, and doing somersaults, all at once.
Sleep helped, as did the fact that Sunday classes are in the morning, as opposed to Saturday classes, which are in the afternoon. On Sunday, I relaxed the concentration effort a little and managed to catch a little more of the flood that assaulted me for four hours. That was good as far as it went, but it really didn’t go very far.
The trouble with language is, it is not enough to understand it – one must be able to speak it as well. This is where I always have the greater difficulty. Inspired guesswork just doesn’t help in stringing a meaningful sentence together. What usually happens is that both inspiration and guesswork fly out the window, leaving you blank and silent and thoroughly embarrassed. That’s what happened to me when I tried to say: “she drinks a cup of coffee and reads the newspaper, as I do every morning.” Perhaps the word for newspaper stuck in my throat because this was such a blatant lie – I never read the newspaper, least of all in the morning, except on a Sunday if I have time, and this Sunday I hadn’t.
There was some small consolation in the fact that most of the others in the class struggled almost as much as I did. But it was small consolation indeed – I rate myself by where I want to be, not by where others are.
The good thing about a class is, it doesn’t really matter how many mistakes you make, because after all you are there to learn. Of course, people will laugh – for instance, we were supposed to be speaking about our partners (I mean life partners, spouses) in class and two guys who were supposed to exchange views on their respective partners ended up inadvertently speaking about themselves as partners (actually a very understandable slip-up), which led to raised eyebrows, pointed questions, and – as the newspapers love to say – uproarious scenes.
So, it’s ok to make mistakes in class, but it’s more difficult when you’re in an actual conversation and you want to say something and you don’t know how. For instance, the teacher was telling me how the woman at the cafeteria was so rude to her and refused to serve her, and I wanted to look sympathetic and say: “ohhhhh – that’s too bad,” but I didn’t, right at that moment, know how to express even this simple sentiment in German.
Oh well, if I keep at it, I might learn, eventually. That’s assuming that I can withstand the continued onslaught of German over the coming weekends. Wish me luck. (In German, if you please!)