Hoffnungsschimmer – the German word for ray of hope. After living here in Marburg for more than a month, I am starting to see little rays of hope. I see it when someone compliments me on my German accent, when I recognize a word I learned from Harry Potter in everyday conversation, or when I catch the gist of a person’s question the first time it’s asked.
I am slowly setting down some roots. I’ve paid for the first of my month-to-month health insurance. I have a temporary Bahncard, a grocery rewards card, and my name on a mailbox – albeit scrawled on a piece of paper and taped to the box. I have a go-to bar for Happy Hour drinks and a growing list of restaurants to try. If I want a burrito, I can find one. And I know that vanilla extract as I know it does not exist in Germany. I’ve bought new, fancy face wash, shampoo, and nail polish remover; all things I find absolutely essential to have, but impractical for someone just visiting. I am in for the long haul.
One could definitely call this progress.
But I still don’t always feel this progress, and glimmers of hope seem few and far between. I don’t feel any closer to being able to tell someone a joke, or to not feeling terrified that someone might try to talk to me in the street – I still feel bad for just staring blankly at a woman, realizing seconds too late that all she wanted to know was the time. I feel crippled by not knowing the language – forever stuck in the role of observer of conversations, and not contributor. I tell myself that just listening can be beneficial, too, and the Germans I know swear by this method. We’re only going to speak German with you. You’ll have to pick it up fast this way. It’s for your own good. I can see the logic behind this, but I don’t feel ready. How am I to understand words that I just don’t know?
At the moment, German feels like my biggest hurdle. So big in fact, it feels like the only hurdle.
In less than a week I take my German placement exam to determine which class I start in the fall. I’m looking forward to having a German class again. I miss the accountability of a class and a teacher. I miss the structure of learning. I am finding it increasingly difficult to teach myself anything other than vocabulary. I miss talking with people who don’t have perfect, mistake-free German.
Class doesn’t begin until September, so until then I’ll keep plugging away at Harry Potter and observing conversations in German.