Linguistically retarded – it’s a phrase I read on an expat site and it really sums up how the language barrier makes me feel. I know using the R-word is very un-PC, but linguistically challenged really doesn’t go far enough to explain how I feel here in Germany – it requires the R-word.
I’m an intelligent woman and very used to not only being able to communicate verbally with people but having in depth conversations about abstract notions such as science and philosophy. Here in Germany, however, I consider it a major achievement of my day if I can order my lunch properly and make a one sentence comment about the weather.
Part of the problem is that I blend in. I look like everyone else until I open my mouth. If I was in an Asian or African country it would be immediately noticeable that I was a foreigner and unlikely to speak the language. Here it is assumed I speak German until I look at them blankly and then reply, “Ich spreche kein Deutsch”. It’s an awesome phrase to get rid of people begging for money, but I hate using it in shops or on the street. I desperately want to be able to communicate. I want to walk into a shop and know how to ask for exactly what I’m looking for and have a conversation about the particulars of that item. I want to be able to go out and meet new people who aren’t part of the expat community (even though this community is full of wonderful people). And yes, there is that ego thing where you want people to think you are intelligent because you can express yourself well rather than barely being able to put a sentence together.
I was well aware of what I was getting myself into when I moved here to Germany. But knowing and expecting it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. I know if I work hard my German will improve. That one day I will be able to express myself clearly. However, until that day comes, I remain linguistically retarded and that is a tough thing to deal with.