This past semester has been my first without a foreign language class. My interest and desire led me to pursue a minor in German, but my steady focus means I finished all those requirements last year. While I appreciate the opportunity to focus on math and prepare for my future after graduation, I miss the constant challenge, the neverending pile of vocabulary and grammatical structure to master, and the feeling of success that accompanies each milestone.
Language contains nuances that you simply do not see until you’re looking in from the outside. It shifts and changes according to the needs of the people who speak it. As a result, it contains clues about the population’s values and offers an intimate cultural perspective that is difficult to achieve any other way. As obvious as it may sound, I did not realize until I immersed myself in German that English has these same properties. New words are introduced at a breathtaking rate, spread and accepted by the general population through the Internet. Misunderstood words and phrases are used incorrectly by a large enough percentage that the new understanding becomes an acceptable informal term.
In the midst of studying for a language test or grappling with a difficult written analysis in your target language, it can feel as though one will never achieve fluency. Although this is a personal goal of mine, I still have a long, long way to go. One of the difficulties is that fluency, as I define it, is a moving target. I could speak and understand formal German perfectly, but I would feel lost the first time I stepped into Germany, or even listened to a German pop song. Contractions, informal phrasing, and slang are just a few of the difficulties and they change almost constantly.
One of the current issues with German is that words are gendered, making it difficult to refer to a group of mixed genders. Although one could use the plural form for both genders, similar to saying “ladies and gentlemen” in English, the length and inconvenience has lead many to drop the feminine and just using the masculine plural. The issue, of course, is that women’s presence and experiences are already being overlooked, with negative consequences, and this language doesn’t help. Many are advocating for a standardized neutral form, but it is difficult to push linguistic change.
While I may take one more German class at OU, any future language learning I choose to undertake will most likely be self-guided. While there are a plethora of resources available through libraries and the Internet, I will need to exercise care to ensure that they are accurate. Without a fluent instructor at my disposal, I plan to rely on examples of native speakers, particularly through entertainment, in order to guide my understanding of informal structures as I progress.