Linguistically Retarded

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.

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About Meg

A thirty something queer Aussie geek girl who now lives in Germany.
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9 Responses to Linguistically Retarded

  1. Klaus says:

    Living in Asia, I think I know what you mean. Can be tough. After more than two years of learning Chinese, I feel like I have mastered about 50% of my goal (which would be having meaningful interviews with Taiwanese). And it feels like I am not making real progress. But in fact, learning a language living in another country, you always do. You only notice later, looking back, how much you have actually improved.

    Do you really have to rely on the expat community? Hard to believe young Germans are afraid of using English?

    I will be in Hamburg early December, care for a Kaffee and Franzbrötchen?

    • Riayn says:

      We definitely have to meet up for a Kaffee and Franzbrötchen when you are in town. :)

      Young Germans aren’t afraid of speaking in English, if they speak it and I have met quite a few English speaking Germans, but mainly through expat related channels. However, I lack the German to even start a conversation and then ask if they speak English to continue it. Also received a few comments about when I’m going to bother to learn German from those not associated with the expat community. Kinda puts you off a little bit and makes you more self conscious.

      • Klaus says:

        I’ll get in touch!

        I think it should be no problem to just start a conversation in English in the first place. Especially in places like Eimsbüttel, Schanzenviertel, Karoviertel, Grindel (Uni), Ottensen etc.

  2. outoutout says:

    What you’ve described is more-or-less how I felt during my first few years living in Australia. Even though I could speak English fluently, there was still the matter of having an accent that came out every time I opened my mouth. I never really had the desire to strike up conversations with strangers, but all I wanted to do was shop for groceries or get my hair cut without getting comments like, “Oh, you’re a Yank! Did you vote for George Bush? Do you own a gun?” or hearing a rant about how Americans are all fat and stupid. Ahem…
    (it still happens sometimes, but I’ve become a fixture in the community so at least people see me coming..)

    I just want to say I think you’ve done so many AMAZING things so far – moving to another culture and really jumping in to life there, joining clubs and taking language lessons. Not many people are that brave. And I suspect that at least attempting to speak German gains instant respect. :)

  3. Jen says:

    I know completely what you mean, moving from your own culture where you know the rules, the language, and you have confidence about how things should get done, etc. I think living in Germany (or any other culture) is difficult at first because you feel so helpless or so stupid, and those aren’t easy feelings to swallow. It frustrates me when I can’t just…communicate…over simple things or over complex things that I’m dying to say but can’t. It will get better – it really will. Soon you will start picking up the language and some day you will look back and see how far you’ve come. I remember the first time I had an entire conversation with the bakery frau near our house and how proud I was! It’s when you get those small glimpses of “normalcy” that you feel so good about yourself. :-)

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