Saturday, July 10, 2010

Yo kann ein bisschen Español hablar...

Upon learning that I spent a year in Germany and how hard I worked to learn German, a lot of people ask innocently, "What's the value in speaking German? Don't they all speak English anyway?" I give them the usual line about the economic and political importance of the US-Germany relationship, how German is the most spoken native language and second most spoken foreign language in the EU, why being multilingual just makes intercultural communication easier, etc.

But during our long transition back to normality this summer, I quickly realized the limits of German language proficiency and a potential disadvantage of being quasi-multilingual. You see, I've been working every day this summer since returning for my father-in-law's landscaping business. Which means neither my native tongue nor the second one I poured my heart and soul into over the last 18 months helps at all. My mental instinct is still to speak German when stuck in a foreign-language environment, because that has been my reality for the last year. Instead, I have to reach back into the dusty recesses of my brain and dig out the grade school Spanish files because my Mexican coworkers certainly don't speak German and almost no English. This all means that I feel even more inept at work than I did last year and speak the most embarrassingly broken Spanish ever (below in green) accidentally intermixed with German constructions (below in red) and English (in black) when all else fails. And this has some rather hilarious effects:

"Hoy esta das Wetter mucho caliente. " (The weather is hot today.)
"Wir haben already dos shovels. Necesitamos noch zwei más." (We already have two shovels. We need two more.)
"Yo creo that we should start mit digging aquí, oder?" (I think that we should start with digging here, right?)
"A dónde soll ich these tools poner? Aquí oder allí?" (Where should I take these tools? Here or over there?)
"Ja, let's trabajo zusammen!" (Yes, let's work together!)
"Yo kann ein bisschen Español hablar, aber not so bueno." (I can speak a little Spanish, but not so good.)

They just look at me even more confused than my German colleagues ever did. Oh the adventures with languages. At least it all makes sense in my head.

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