Wednesday, July 04, 2012

An Update from Austria

I am now immersed in the first week of a six-week course in intensive German here in Innsbruck, Austria. I've taken courses in reading German but have never tried to speak it. Much of my vocabulary is rusty - which I anticipated - but I will admit that trying to eat dinner with a bunch of German-speaking Jesuits is frustrating. An extrovert, I find myself totally unable to enter into dinner conversation.

I guess learning a language is like weaving an ever-growing web that 'catches' more and more of what is said around you. It's humbling to go from being a native English speaker with a rather wide 'web' to being a student of German where my operative vocabulary is easily less than that held by toddler.

Not being readily able to say anything makes me really self-conscious when people ask me simple questions. Invariably I bungle the words, or don't answer right, and I get angry at myself for not having a command of the language. Mary, the cook at the U of D Jesuit Residence, often says, "It's better to be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt." I'm hewing close to this adage these days, trying my best to listen to those around me, nod when appropriate, and hope that the words are sinking into my head somehow!

On a consoling note, I did get to visit the crypt of my hero Father Karl Rahner, SJ. As I prayed in the chapel after dinner (in English!), I prayed for his intercession. Not, to be sure, that he put German verbs into my head. Instead, I asked him to pray with me for the grace of patience, of knowing the limitations of my vocabulary and allowing the words to come to me as they will, not as I'd have them. So often we force our words about God, trying to make them beautiful, rather than allowing them to well up from our hearts and speak of the God we're coming to know and love. I get this with God...I I need to get it with German!!


Nan said...

Love your description of the web! And am glad that you are still sharing your experiences and insights with us! PAX

Barbara said...

My sympathies. It is a struggle being immersed in a language we cannot follow as well as we would like. I live in a sea of French. At least in German, every syllable is pronounced deutlich!

When I lived in Japan, I used to attend Sunday Mass at the Chapel of Our Lady of the Way, near the Jesuit high school in Hiroshima. A few Sundays of the month, there was an English Mass, otherwise it was in Japanese. I recall one very friendly Japanese Jesuit brother asking me if I would like to read one of the Scriptural passages during Mass. I guess he thought I was fluent because I could make some of the responses in Japanese. I smiled and told him Sumimasen ga, yomemasen. Or, I am so sorry, but I cannot read.

Keep in mind that German-speakers admire anyone who attempts to speak their language, perfect or not. They themselves find it fiendishly difficult to speak it well.