School Days

school daysWEB
A little sketch I did two years ago for a friend's children's book manuscript

I am the kind of person who likes to go to school. I grew up "playing school" with my stuffed animals and with anyone else who would consent to sit and let me read to them or help them write their ABCs. I went to college straight out of high school and then to grad school after that. Spent two years in grad school and then immediately began teaching high school English. Then I finally realized . . . I needed a break after spending 20 consecutive years in school!

But you know what? I think during those 20 years I was only learning how to learn.  I think when I finally took my nose out of the books is when I really started opening my eyes to the world around me and to the world inside of me. And yet, I still know nothing compared to all there still remains to be learned.

I knew it would happen someday . . . yes, I'm back in school! Only just language school, this time. Only just. Yeah right. If only it were just that simple. In class, we women from about 12 different countries learn German by hearing only German and speaking only German. It's learning through immersion, really, but not really because we all go home everyday after 3 hours of only German and resume speaking our native languages with our families.  There are several women in my class who have lived in Germany nearly ten years or longer but still struggle with the language because as housewives and mothers, learning German could never be a priority for them. Privileged and a bit spoiled by my American opportunities and education, I was also shocked to learn that some of my classmates had never been to school before in their lives. They were "late" in learning German because first they had to learn to read and write. Many of them still can't add and subtract. Talk about feeling humbled and, like I said, a bit spoiled . . .

Learning a new language is so interesting--the whole process of the thing. One week you look at a sentence written in German and you don't understand a single word. A few days or weeks later you look at the same sentence and you understand every word. And I just can't wrap my head around the fact that never ever will I be able to go back to not understanding the sentence. I don't have to translate the words anymore--I just know them. But I have already begun to learn (even after only 5 months) how easy it is to get rusty in your native language. We speak "Denglish" (German, or "Deutsch," mixed with English) around here more often than I am prepared to admit. Like today, I said to a friend: "I probably won't make it on Sunday because I think we have plans mit meinen Schwiegereltern" (or, "with my in-laws"). Sometimes the German words just come faster than the English words! And almost everyday, my girls say German words or phrases that I know I didn't teach them. Watching their language develop is a gift--and a gift twice-over now that they truly are growing up with two native languages.

To the end of my days, I will be grateful for this time in Germany, no matter how little or long it may be, even if only for the amazing language-learning experience. And for the experience of gradually learning about and appreciating the varied cultural backgrounds and life experiences of the other beautiful women in my class . . . one German word at a time!


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