Friday, November 14, 2008

The Language Problem

The other day, I ordered an apple juice in German and the waitress answered in English, "small or large?"

Then the German guy I was with said with slight annoyance, "That doesn't happen to me in America. I don't say something in English and they answer me back in German."

True. But this is part of the problem for English speakers living abroad. No one gives us a chance. Upon hearing an accent or a mistake, or just because others want to practice their English, people speak English back to us even though we're trying to speak something else. Despite this phenomenon, I'll usually try to continue in German. But they'll just continue in English. Until it just gets weird and eventually I give up and switch back.

Yesterday I went out to lunch with a bunch of co-workers. On the one hand, it was great because they all spoke in Swiss German the entire time. On the other hand it was terrible. Because they all spoke Swiss German entire time. And I understood about 15% so I had to either resort to looking at my cell phone or smiling and nodding.

While smiling and nodding is useful, it is one of the most tiring things one can do for an hour. Biking up a Swiss hill is less exhausting than smiling and nodding. Try it sometime and compare. You won't be let down. On the way home after that lunch, I literally felt like going to sleep even though it was 2 pm.

Yes, sometimes two years of German language class do me absolutely no good. Despite being a country of linguists, Switzerland is not a great place for an English speaker to start learning a language themselves. I'm really reached a new frustration after two and a half years. I could be wrong, but I feel like if I had been living in Germany I would be much better at German than I am now. C'est la vie.


cam said...

I honestly believe people are nicer and more accommodating in the French area of Switzerland... (which isn't what I expected, to be honest)

Only once has someone refused to speak French with me. I refused to speak English with her.

I completely understand your woes.

Chantal said...

That's interesting. Great that people there are more into letting you speak French. I think the whole Swiss German, German thing is part of the problem. From what I've heard, many Swiss German speakers feel more comfortable speaking English than high German.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin