Thursday, 13 October 2011

Trying (And Failing) To Speak German

When I was at high school I spent two and a half years trying to learn German. It certainly wasn't my best subject and I eventually scrapped through with a D at GCSE level. Now that I travel quite a lot with work I get plenty of opportunities to make use of my limited German ability. Unfortunately although I try hard there is hardly ever a great success story. For some reason I seem to always struggle to buy lunch.

I'm in Vienna all this week and so I've had plenty of opportunity to hear, read, and try to speak German. Usually I limit myself to please and thank you, but yesterday I made the mistake of trying something a little more complex. I went into a sandwich shop, decided what I wanted, and ordered it along with a bottle of coke all in German. My sandwich and coke arrived and then I was hit with a long stream of German, of which I understood exactly zero words. So I had to switch back to English. Fortunately the guy serving spoke English and so there wasn't a problem. He even said that my German accent was quite good.

I wouldn't mind if this was the first time that this had happened, but in fact the first time I visited German (Bonn back in 2005), I also ordered a sandwich but couldn't understand the questions I was asked. On that occasion the woman behind the counter didn't speak English so I had to be saved by some helpful German students.

So from now on I think I'm going to stick to just reading small amounts of German and give up on the idea of ever being able to hold, an even simple, conversation.
13 October 2011 at 12:42 , ADRIAN said...

Keep going with it......I was hopeless at school and am far from fluent now. I used to shop almost exclusively in Mercado Centrales in Spain. Like the Pied Piper I was.......locals following me round just for the laughs. After three months I knew what I wanted and had a much smaller following.
Just make a fool of yourself and folk will help.

13 October 2011 at 23:25 , GB said...

I've always been poor at languages even though I love them and used to manage in my tourist German with a proviso. The proviso being that I had control of the conversation. And therein lies the problem. It's not always possible. I did, however, equip myself with a number of phrases aimed in that direction. Nowadays with French I follow Adrian's point and just carry on. Where I stay few speak any English (apart from the Brits oddly enough) but I've discovered that if they want you to play a particular boules shot they soon make themselves understood!

14 October 2011 at 05:22 , Scriptor Senex said...

I agree with Adrian - never give up. And when you are hit with a stream of German after ordering your sandwich just say 'Thanks' (in German, of course,). That way you'll get all the axtra's in like lettuce, mayonnaise etc... either that or a blank look but at least with Thanks you can't offend anyone.

17 October 2011 at 15:28 , Mark said...

Thanks for the encouragement! I guess I'll carry on looking stupid for a little while longer.

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