Friday, February 1, 2013

Learning Deutsch at my age !!

My desire to learn German language (Deutsch) dates back ever since I have been visiting Altlandsburg  (Germany) since 2002. Over the years, I have got a good set of Deutsch friends and the fact that the meaning of a sentence, especially jokes, gets lost while translating from Deutsch to English, kept reinforcing my resolve to learn the language. I had been postponing it partly ostensibly due to my work pressures but actually because of my sheer laziness. I finally decided to take the plunge in July 2012 and got myself enrolled in a six months, once a week (every Sunday from 8am till 12.30 pm) course at Goethe Institute Delhi.

I wasn’t exactly surprised when I went for the first class on 22nd July, 2012 that I am a clear outlier as I realised that out of a class size of about 23 students, I was clearly the oldest and by a very clear margin of alteast 13 years from the next senior most student. Most of those enrolled were fresh pass-outs from class XII or at various levels in colleges. The average age of the class was around 22 and was 20 if I was excluded from the calculations!

I was a bit surprised when one of the girls did address me as “uncle” during the tea break in the second session! Well, even if I do look like an Uncle, she should have the decency not to label me as one! The introduction sessions went on for couple of weeks and I could boss around the class with my apparently heavily impressive qualifications and job profile.  Well, some advantages of being an uncle! I became “sir” since then thankfully. After we had picked up basics of Deutsch, it was finally " Herr Kumar" ( Mr Kumar). It's Herr (Mr) and Frau (Ms) which is put before the last name if somebody has to be addressed formally and with respect

It was an interesting and motley crowd of students from various walks of life. Almost all of them are exceptionally bright and I was very impressed with the kind of focus most of them have regarding their career and what sort of value addition can learning Deutsch bring to them. There were students from engineering, English and psychology honours courses. Almost one third of the class were working and it was heartening to see their self-motivation for coming to a class on Sundays despite having a heavy five days or even six days schedule. There were very interesting inter-personal dynamics in the class. There were budding romances and the related open gossip ! A situation came when the couple, out of sheer decency or frustration started to sit separately in the class. Then, there was a peculiar case of a budding hatred relation...the guy, a rustic haryanvi simpleton, who would otherwise just refuse to pick up even the very basic of the language and would just go on saying "fertig" (finished) for everything and the girl, a very nice, suave, self made, fun loving ostensibly but otherwise a very mature girl and she would just hate this guy and make it more then obvious. Last heard,the guy couldn't clear the exam ( I really feel bad for him)and the girl, with her grit is in A2! All the kids in the class were just amazing. There's this friend who did her graduation from Meerut (!) but otherwise a wonderful soul and a very dedicated person and someone with great sense of humour. Another friend from Faridabad is a sheer simpleton and a very nice soul. I was in fact very pleasantly surprised interacting closely with the generation next and realising they are far better than my generation. The guys in the class were very focussed and clear headed. An ostensible careless guy, a budding engineer had the most wonderful style of spoken German. He might actually have been speaking hindi which could easily pass off as Deutsch. Another guy, a very nice boy again had a simple name, nobody could correctly pronounce ( what's so difficult with " Vamsi" guys) and it was laughter all the way whenever he was called out loudly.

Almost none had any exposure to the language. The language learning in Goethe Institut, unlike how we first picked up our languages, didn’t start by learning the alphabets or numbers. It started with learning few sentences what we need to speak as a starter – wishing a person, telling our names and where we come from and other such communication required for self introduction.  The alphabets and numbers came in later. Our teacher is a very sincere and dedicated lady and she tried her best that we pick up language in the best possible manner. She used to make all of us speak in Deutsch in the class and it was very hilarious at times. Not only the incorrect pronunciations but some of the words and the way we used to construct sentences by transliterating from English that had us in splits in most of the classes and it ensured that nobody slept in classes. The word “English” has to be pronounced as “Aanglish”,  “young” in Deutsch is “jung” and “thick” in Deutsch is “dick”!  Imagine the sheer laughter when somebody would try and make a sentence in Deutsch for “he is thick and she is thin”! My immediate neighbour in the class (he unfortunately left in the middle of the course as he was going overseas on a posting) would burst into laughter loudly every time some such thing happened and that ensured each of us who were otherwise trying to look serious out of sheer decency and decorum too would smile.

Deutsch, to me, comes across as a very systematic and scientific language and in many ways, very similar to Sanskrit.  The verb in a sentence will always be at the second position.  There are three genders – masculine, feminine and neutral and the sentence formation depends upon whether the sentence has an object in addition to the subject and the verb.  Numbers are very easy to remember and pronounce.  Four is “feur” and forty is “feurzig” and forty-four is feurundfeurzig (four and forty). I used to watch some easy to learn basic Deutsch lessons on youtube and found couple of blogs very useful. Likewise, Vor (pronounced as ‘for’) is for before and “nach” is for after. Thus vormittag is before noon and nachmittag is afternoon.

Even though we had classes only on Sundays, we used to have twice a week web-chat, since it was a blended course. The web-chat timings were 9 & 10 pm on Tuesdays and Saturdays and would last for 45 mns and an hour and a half respectively.  This was also a fun place and there were some very clear trends in these web-chats. About one-fifth would not join the chat. About half of those who would join won’t participate and would perhaps be eating/singing/watching movie etc during that time. It was only about one-third who would actively participate. And some of these sentence formations at times were insanely crazy!

Then came the exam time. The exam consisted of (i) hearing (hören), (ii) reading (lesen)(iii) writing (schreriben) and (iv) an interactive oral session, each having one-fourth weightage of the total. The instructor conducted couple of mock test and I was surprised the way about one- third of the class dropped out even before the course could be completed. I am not sure whether it was the examination fever (“prufung fieber” ) or shortage of attendance but I felt a bit bad for those kids.  I wasn’t sure myself regarding my performance as I hadn’t done well in the mock tests. A stage came when the instructor started telling students to just learn things up if somebody is not able to understand! After all, she also had to ensure that a respectable number clear the exam! 

The exam is conducted both for internal students (like us who attend classes) and external students ( those who study on their own and take up the exam). On exam day, I was surprised to see a large number of girls (most probably from Punjab) along with their parents who were at the centre as external students. This also shows that Germany is the next big thing for Punjab!

I could, thankfully, clear the exam and would have liked to continue for A2 which commenced in January 2013. Most of my classmates were requesting, reminding, cajoling and selling me the idea of continuing with A2. I would have loved to but I realise that spending half of Sunday esp when I might be going to office on Saturdays was becoming a bit of constraint on my recharge. I have full intentions of learning the course content however and may appear for A2 as an external student!