Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Smile and Nod

I would have to say that not speaking German has probably been the biggest challenge of our transition to Switzerland thus far. (Having to move three times is a close second!) In this part of Switzerland,  Swiss German is the official language. French, Italian, and Romansh are the other official languages of Switzerland and are spoken in other parts of Switzerland. (Note that English is not an official language of Switzerland.)

Swiss German is a nuanced dialect of German, but it is not a written language. In written form, the Swiss use High German, but spoken, there are specific words, phrases, and pronunciations that are uniquely Swiss German.

Joe, Mo, and I are trying to assimilate to our new home by taking German classes. Mo is doing well in her German class at the International School, plus she is taking French for the first time. Joe is lucky to be immersed in German at work, hearing the language spoken all around him day in and day out, plus he takes one-on-one classes two days a week. And I am enrolled in two classes - one small group class (three of us) and a one-on-one class for a total of four 90/minute sessions of German instruction per week. You'd think with that much instruction I'd be getting the hang of German. At least a little, right?

Me working on my homework.
 Well, I don't know if it is my age, my brain, my mouth or a combination of the three, but I am having the darnedest time trying to learn German. OK, granted I've only had a few weeks instruction, but I get brain-freeze when someone speaks Swiss German directly to me - whether it is a stressful situation or not. Part of it is I am honestly not sure my throat/mouth is capable of making some of the sounds necessary to speak Swiss German and part of it is I don't have the confidence to butcher the language to try...YET.

For now, I've been using the coping method of "Smile and Nod". It is amazing how much you can figure out from context and body language. I begin whatever interaction with the customary Swiss German greeting, "Grütze", then I pause and smile. The other person returns the greeting and usually adds something more to it while taking care of whatever transaction we are engaged in. If they continue speaking, I simply nod, wide eyed and attentive. When done, I say, "Danke". I'd say 80% of the time I get away with them not knowing I don't totally understand what they are saying. If they ask me a question I don't recognize, I simply say, "Ich verstehe dich nicht." (I don't understand you.) From my extremely bad pronunciation/American accent they recognize immediately that I am a non-native speaker and switch to English if they are able. If they are not able, we gesticulate until the point gets across. I feel like this is a good way to learn the nuance and cadence of the language while building my vocabulary and confidence, but not forcing people to speak English right off the bat just to accommodate me.

Slowly my German skills are improving, and slowly my confidence is growing. Heck, before long I will be having conversations longer than two to six words...hopefully. My poem below demonstrates my rudimentary German skills:

rosen sind rot
veilchen sind blau
beim lernen Deutsche,
ich bin eine langsam Frau 
©2017, Bridget Magee. All Rights Reserved.



4 comments:

  1. I can sort of translate, & tried it with Google, which did not translate! "Roses are red. . ." You're trying your best. Keep listening and learning. Then give it a rest! Ha! I admire you all. I was a French major, had the most trouble "hearing" it. Die besten Wünsche, Bridget!

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    1. Thanks for even trying, Linda! It is: roses are red
      violets are blue
      while learning German
      I'm a slow Mrs. (woman)
      It rhymes in German...sort of.
      Die besten Wünsche auch! =)

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  2. FWIW - my approach in French is to be very fluent in saying "I'm sorry I only speak a little French. But I try because it is important to speak the language of your host." The sentence includes apology, effort and respect. I've found this will usually result in similar effort on the French speakers part to do all the things that help you to understand - slow, simple speech, gesticulation and some English alternative if they have any.

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    1. Thanks, Dave, good advice. I have the apology down, but I haven't mastered the phraseology of "I'm learning". Will work on that...now if I could only get over my brain freeze. I think it has something to do with confidence.

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