I’ve lived in English speaking countries for approximately nine years of my life and during that time my German has deterioated immensly.
I still remember the first time I noticed myself thinking in English; I was 14 years old, walking down Friar St in Reading having just left WH Smith and my English pen pal, her friends and me were walking towards McDonalds as someone had passed us and I caught myself thinking about his dress sense. That happened after visiting England only a handful of times and receiving substandard English lessons at school.
When I was 15 I visited some of my distant family in America for just over a month which gave me a very strong American accent and, also due to jetlag, left me unable to speak German upon my return to Germany. As for fixing my pronounciation, well, that took a lot of effort and just over a year.
I lived in the UK for ten months when I was 16 and during that time went to an English school. Despite several other German students attending that school I found myself spending more time with the English students. This time is what I consider the first time I fully integrated not just with people, but also the all important popculture references.
Even though I had a moderately bad time I found myself getting more and more homesick during the following years and found myself visiting London and Reading a couple more times between 2000 and 2003 before finally moving back in June 2003. Initially I struggled enough with English and work and studying that keeping up my German became not only a minor thing, but mostly something I didn’t care about at all.
I still remember the first time I struggled with my German. It was in late 2007 and caused me to purchase a print subscription to a large German weekly magazine which I pretty much just ignored and flicked through each week promising to myself I’d read it ‘later’. I do to this date read three online publications though.
In both 2008 and 2009 I spent some time in Germany completely surrounded by German people. The only way to carry on using English was on the internet and I carried on thinking in English the entire time, despite having a job in a customer facing job!
Since moving back to the UK last year my German has taken a turn for the worse. Having had to deal with banks and other official channels is a nightmare and more than once I was completely lost for words during phone conversations, especially at one point when I encountered one of the rudest call centre agents of my life and was unable to argue back leaving me with nothing but hanging up passively aggressively..
Writing any German text is a challenge, even if it’s just a tweet of 140 characters which, the other day, took me over a minute as I was convinced the grammar was atrociously wrong. I also found myself automatically replying to two German emails in English and only realised my faux pax over a day later..
None of that is the real problem though. The real problem is that I find myself increasingly unable to read German. I wasn’t aware of this until this week when I read a text in German that uses a large number of idioms and I realised I didn’t know the meaning of many of them and had to translate them first.
Yes, I’ve complained about my problems with English before, but this is nothing compared to the sheer frustration I have with my German. It’s something I should be able to do, but despite still reading German on a daily basis it is getting worse.
What should I have done differently? Is there anything I could have done differently? Would I be able to reverse time I still don’t think I’d change anything as I do believe that the only reason my English is at the stage it is at now, because I fully concentrated on it versus trying to keep up with German at the same time. I have made an effort ever since I’ve first realised I was facing problems, but it doesn’t seem to be enough and failing to even remember the most basic things is the most frustrating thing I’ve ever experienced and I’m currently experiencing it on a daily basis.
I just feel so powerless.