Effects of Four Months

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It’s getting hard to write in English. The problem isn’t that I’m forgetting words, but rather that the flow of the language seems strange, like getting behind the wheel of a car after you haven’t driven for a while. I’m so used to everything being in German that I even prefer it in some cases.

This is funny to me, seeing as I had a completely different mentality before I got to Bonn. Back then, I was expecting to take all-English classes in my first semester, maybe at most one in German, if I felt particularly confident. But now it turns out that all my classes are in German, and they’re not only ones from the International Office, but also regular ones from the university, where the professors don’t know you’re an international student and expect you to keep up with everything they’re saying and writing. Back in August, this would have been completely unthinkable to me. But now, I see that it’s not nearly as bad as I had pictured it. It definitely takes time to get used to the professors speaking only in German, and perhaps even more time to be able to decipher the rapid, often mumbled questions and responses of the other students, but by now I can say that the thing that helped me the most with the language was having all verbal information delivered in it, having to read my textbooks in it, and generally having to depend on it in order to understand the material. In February I will be taking my exams for this semester, and I’m confident that the language won’t be a problem.

Of course, it probably helped that I had already studied linguistics at UF, so nearly all of the concepts that were brought up in my German Linguistics classes were familiar to me. But I’m no longer tied to an English-language understanding of those concepts, and can now explain them in German.

That’s the ‘second level’ of fluency, of sorts, that I mentioned in my earlier post. You can know the grammar of a language and have good pronunciation, but language itself is a tool to express concepts. Being able to grasp the concepts behind someone else’s words when they’re talking to you (or when you’re reading a text) and being able to reason with those concepts within that same framework (within the same language) takes just as much training as understanding the meanings of the individual words and grammar. It’s something that I think can only be achieved through practice, namely a very frequent and intense kind of practice, after which you get the distinct feeling of being ‘in the zone’ for your particular language and will feel like it actually takes some effort to switch to a different one.

That’s the kind of practice that the Orientation Course in my opinion provides. And in my case, that practice continued when I became lucky enough to be able to sign up for my classes this semester.

In short: If the International Office recommends you take regular university classes in German, do it!

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