Deutsch in Düsseldorf: Week One

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I’ve made it one full week in Düsseldorf! It’s definitely been an adventure.

Monday: Grocery shopping and the first day of classes

I only had travel-sized containers of shampoo and other necessities, so I decided to go to the store to pick up more. I glanced at my city map, then headed out in the general direction of the nearest Aldi. Once I sensed I was getting close, I asked a passerby for directions in German.

“Straight that way, and then right, and then…” I didn’t understand the rest, but the stranger had already moved on. Oh, well. If I needed to, I could always ask someone else and get more practice in. I started walking in the direction she’d indicated, and soon found the Aldi.

Inside, I quickly located everything I’d needed except a razor. Another opportunity for speaking practice! “Entschuldigung, ich brauche ein Rasiermesser. Wo kann man das finden?” I inquired of a lady nearby. “Ganz hinter,” she replied, indicating the very back of the store. I found the razors and headed to the checkout. Only then did I remember that I was supposed to bring a bag to carry my purchases home in. My purse wasn’t big enough to carry everything, so I walked home carrying the shampoo under my arm.

In the afternoon I had my first German class at the IIK. When everyone introduced themselves, I found that the ten people in my class all come from ten different countries. I don’t remember all of them, but they include Switzerland, Italy, Uzbekistan, China, India, and South Korea. One of the cool things about everyone coming from different lands is the fact that it makes German the language we all have in common, although of course most of us also have some command of English.

The class itself was completely conducted in German, including explanations of grammar and vocabulary. The teacher was very skilled at getting ideas across using a combination of simple German and the occasional pantomime. It was encouraging to find that I could understand everything, but by the end of the four-hour lesson I was exhausted. It didn’t help that I still wasn’t used to the time zone. I walked back to my accommodation and quickly fell asleep.

Tuesday: Getting a German phone number

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On Tuesday I got lost a few times trying to find a cell phone store, but I found a cool park and took some pictures. Eventually I found the store and successfully got myself on a phone plan, using only German!

Wednesday: Fails at Immermannstraße

On Wednesday, I went down to Immermannstraße to look for bilingual reading materials at the Japanese bookstore. I didn’t see any bilingual books, but I did find a Japanese grammar book that I’d been wanting, so I went up to the counter to buy it. The cashier had been speaking with her coworker in Japanese, so I automatically addressed her in the same language.

「これお願いします。」(This, please.)

「はい、22€ になります。ありがとうございます。」(That will be 22 Euros. Thank you very much.)

She replied in Japanese. Then, perhaps noticing that the book was for non-native language learners, she suddenly switched to fluent German, asking something about a points card.

I was speechless for a moment, trying to choose (a) which language I wanted her to repeat herself in, and (b) which language I should pose my request in. Seeing my confusion, the cashier repeated herself in Japanese before I could say anything. ポイントカード (point card). I declined and made my exit.

Hmm… Here was another problem with my German and Japanese, one that I’d often noticed when going straight from Japanese class to German club this spring semester. Since the sentence structures of the two languages are almost opposite, it’s difficult for me to switch rapidly from one language to the other. New goal: become more comfortable with switching between the two languages. I have plenty of places to practice on Immermannstraße.

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I could have walked back in about forty minutes or so, but instead I spent up the rest of my free time taking the wrong trolley, getting off, taking the right trolley and mistakenly getting off too early, then finally taking the right bus all the way back just in time for German class. Fail. But hey, it taught me how to use the trolley maps.

Thursday: New classmates

On Thursday our class size almost doubled when we had seven or eight students arrive from Japan, all from the same university. I was happy to meet them, but I didn’t quite know what to think of this from the perspective of my language goals. Was this going to make my language interference problems better or worse?

Friday: Reflections

After Friday’s class ended, I walked back to my accommodation as usual and turned on some German television. As I watched the German-dubbed version of Poirot, I realized something. German doesn’t sound so foreign anymore. Even when I hear German that’s fast or more difficult to understand, my brain doesn’t immediately tune it out as unintelligible noise. When listening to dialogue on TV, I often understand enough that I can follow along while looking up a few words per line. And I’ve even caught myself spontaneously thinking in German.

It was gratifying to realize I’ve made progress in so short a time. I think it’s due to the amount of German I’ve had to produce in class. We don’t spend much class time passively listening to lectures. Instead, we are constantly writing personal reactions, creating spontaneous dialogues, and conveying all communications in German. Just one week of practicing this has already brought big returns.

Saturday: A day out with Yuri

 

On Saturday afternoon I spent the day with my classmate Yuri from Japan. We tried some German street food, visited two funky museums, walked through an outdoor book fair, and chatted over cold drinks at a local cafe.

Most of the day, we chatted and reacted to the art we saw in Japanese. Since Yuri is Japanese and I am much more fluent in Japanese than German, it was easier for both of us to communicate fully and spontaneously that way. It also felt uncomfortable to speak in German with museum staff always hovering behind us.

At first, this felt a bit like cheating to me, but having to frequently switch between speaking Japanese with Yuri and speaking German with museum staff was actually very good practice. Overall, it was a fun and productive day out.

Takeaways!

Goals Achieved/Accomplishments:

  • rode both the bus and the U-Bahn several times
  • asked for directions in German
  • used German to ask for a cell phone plan
  • had spontaneous thoughts in German
  • practiced switching between German and Japanese
  • became able to use the correct forms of definite articles and adjectives almost automatically

What I learned:

  • bring bags to Aldi
  • how to read a trolley map

New goal:

  • find more opportunities for extended conversation in German with native speakers
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