Like many Baby Boomers, I have a strong attachment to the music of my youth. I don’t suppose many people under sixty remember folk singer Tom Rush, but his song “No Regrets” has been a favorite since I first heard it. Unfortunately, unlike Mr. Rush, I have plenty of regrets.
One of them is never having really learned to speak another language. I marvel at people who can seamlessly move from one language to another. My family apparently stopped speaking German when The Great War broke out. Prior to that conflict, Milwaukee had fourteen German newspapers. By the time it was over, only one survived. So intense was the anti-German campaign that even bakeries renamed their products.
I attempted to learn German while in middle school and college — to no avail. Sure, I can recite most of the first lesson, but once I’ve asked Louisa if she wants to go to the library I am completely lost. It doesn’t help that my hereditary tongue is so complicated. No less of an authority than Mark Twain noted:
“My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years.”
Still, it was embarrassing — the first time I visited Germany — for the passport clerk to consider my name and appearance and to begin instructing me in German. She displayed a mixture of horror and amusement when I replied, “Meine Deutsch is nicht seir gute.”
I mention this subject here as a continuation to previous posts on “failure.” All told, I am nowhere near 10,000 hours into my study of the German language, so perhaps I will lobby for a grade of “Incomplete.” Certain German words — such as schadenfreude and backpfeifengesicht — have a special appeal to me and I hope to visit the country again.
Until I gain a bit more fluency, however, I’ll share another of Mark Twain’s comments on the complicated language:
“How charmed I am when I overhear a German word which I understand!”
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