Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Rant No. 25: Speaking German.

It’s hard to speak German in Berlin.

Not just because German is a difficult language, but because most people automatically speak in English to you.

Even if you order at the bar in German, they answer in English.

The only way to counter this is to continue speaking in German. This makes for a stupid situation where you keep persevering in German, and they keep replying in English.

Then there’s the switch. Even when you do strike up a conversation with people in German, when they realise that you’re English native, then there is the inevitable switch to English.

When I asked a German friend why this is they told me that seeing you struggle with the language makes German people uncomfortable, as they would feel very embarrassed themselves to be making those mistake in English. Another friend replied that English was just “cooler”.

Ok, the intentions are good then, but it’s completely frustrating when you don’t get the practice to improve your German. The amount of time I patiently try to understand broken English, I wish that this were reciprocated. Sometimes if the pronunciation is off, people act like they have no idea what you said, and give you a blank expression. In English, however, I always try and read between the lines what the person was trying to say.

Some colleagues used to be really good, and we’d go out to lunch and speak German. But in the office everyone speaks English to me, because they are used to it. And when I speak in German they are surprised and say it’s “sweet”.

Fair enough, a lot of people are quite happy speaking in English. But what if you actually want to learn German? I took myself off to evening classes every night after work, but the most practice I’ve had speaking German has randomly been in Brazil! My husband’s parents have German heritage, and are both fluent in German.

As I can only really tell someone my name and where I come from in Portuguese, it seems weird to say it, but actually German has actually been my saving grace. At least in Brazil!

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