March 8, 2013
Tomorrow morning I will be going with a German friend on a hike in the nearby Alps. I must confess, I’m just as excited about getting to hike as I am about getting to speak German the entire day. We have quite the trip planned: departure at 6:30, 1 hour train ride, begin hike at 8:00, hike for 8 hours (a total of 18.5 Kilometers), over a 1700 meter mountain. We still have 3 spots left on our train ticket, if you would like to join us. Here’s a picture of our route:
February 13, 2013
Recently, as I was reading Kleine Deutsche Geschichte, by Hagen Schulze, I was particularly struck by this piece of artwork in the book, pictured above. The painting by Adolf Reich entitled “Das größere Opfer” depicts Munich’s Siegestor. This artwork was notable to me because I see the architecture each time I’m at the University, since the Tor stands right outside the school. I’ve often read the inscription on the Tor: SIEG GEWEIHT VOM KRIEG ZERSTÖRT ZUM FRIEDEN MAHNEND (“dedicated to victory, destroyed by war, urging towards peace”). To me, this is just one of many examples of the complex history surrounding Munich. As I walk through the echoing halls of the University, I can’t help but think back to the student resistance movement led by the Scholl siblings, depicted in the movie “Weiße Rose” and filmed “on set”–right at LMU, where the actual events took place.
Having finished my book on German History, I hope now to read one on Bavaria, as well as to read some works by D. Bonhoeffer and Barth, both of whom I greatly respect (I was recently reprimanded in a conversation with a cleaning lady for not knowing enough German history, specifically for not knowing the reason why many Germans emigrated to Romania. I am trying to fix my deficiency!).
Improving my German is a personal, daily goal of mine. Having now spent the past 5 months in Munich, I thought I would share some observations about the language learning process with you. In particular, let me explain why I think that it is harder for a native English speaker to learn German, than, say, a native speaker of Portugese, or most other languages for that matter.
One of the primary reasons it is harder is because you can be “Englished.” Being “Englished,” a term coined by some American friends here in Munich, means simply this: you are trying your best to communicate to the locals in German, and they switch to English. This can happen for numerous reasons and in various situations. Often being “Englished” implies “Sorry, your German is just not cutting it right now.” But other times one is “Englished” because the locals are eager to improve their ability to speak English. Quite often one is “Englished” when the German’s English is better than your German.
Now it’s time for a personal confession: I find myself drawn to Germans who are slow to “English” me. Why? Because the only way I can improve in German is by speaking it. I have a handful of German friends who never “English” me; instead we carry on conversations, and when it is needed, they offer corrections or suggestions. Their patience is always greatly appreciated, and at the same time humbling. How nice to know that the moment I stumble upon a word or make a mistake, they are not going to flip into English.
But for this very reason, it can be harder for an English speaker to learn another language. Here’s why. As an English speaker, you happen to speak the global language. You can travel just about anywhere and expect to find locals who can communicate quite easily with you in English. Why take the time, then, to learn their language? Think about it, who gets “Portugesed”? Who gets “Russianed” or “Chinesed”? I sometimes envy my friends here in Munich who speak these other languages, since they are forced to speak German the entire day. Sink or swim. But the fact that you are a native English speaker and are trying to learn a new language puts you in a disadvantageous position: people will want to practice their English with you; people can speak English better than you can their language; people will make exceptions for you to speak English where they would not have made exceptions for other nationalities. For example, as an English speaker, I could choose to speak in University seminars and colloquiums in English, and it would be perfectly acceptable. This, however, is not possible for other international students.
Being “Englished” can be quite discouraging. I choose to see it, however, as personal challenge to continue to improve my language skills, and to recognize just how much room for improvement I have. Ultimately, recognize that if you want to avoid being “Englished,” you must speak excellent German. The only way to avoid this “Englishment” is to ensure that your German is always better than the other person’s English. But of course, as one learning the language, you are not at this point yet, so the vicious cycle continues.
In conclusion, allow me to share a few insights on how to avoid being “Englished”:
- Arriving in the country with a basic grasp of the language is extremely beneficial. It allows you to immediately begin practicing and using the language, rather than wasting valuable months learning the rudimentaries of the language–something you could’ve done before your arrival. Furthermore, if you arrive not speaking the language, you will likely be categorized as a non-speaker. Then, even after you have learned the language, people still have in their minds that you are a novice.
- Never make the same mistake twice. This seems like it would be common-sense, but it is often ignored. What I mean here is this: when you can’t think of a word in a conversation, make sure you nail it when you get home. Practice it. When you make a grammatical mistake, go home and practice and review that section. When you encounter a new word in your reading, look it up, write it down, and then try to incorporate it in your next conversation.
- As an English speaker, don’t cut corners. Master the grammar, speak the local language in every situation. Then, if you do get “Englished,” at least it wasn’t your own doing.
- One of the first things you should practice is the pronunciation of a language. This is important, because if you try to speak German but immediately sound like an American, you have really shot yourself in the foot. People will either assume, “Oh an American, he probably speaks a total of 3 phrases in my language,” or they will perhaps use your presence as a chance to better their English.
December 12, 2012
We continue to get lots of snow here in Munich. I snapped this picture yesterday from my window in the library. I’m going to take a minute and share a lesson I learned recently about German culture.
My wife and I kept marveling at how obsessive the Germans are about leaving the windows open. For example, on our first snow day in October, when there were 8 inches of snow on the ground, someone had opened all the windows in the hallways and bathrooms on our hall. Over the next month, this kept happening; almost any time we enter the bathroom or shower, the windows are wide open, letting in the frigid winter air, and allowing the warmth from the heaters to escape. I kept thinking how contrary this was to the German nature, since it did not seem like they would want to waste the heat.
While we were trying to figure out this odd window phenomenon, we noticed that water droplets were forming on the ceiling of our apartment in several of the corners of the rooms. This started happening regularly, so we became convinced that the roof must have a leak. I went and reported the problem to those in charge. They came and inspected the roof, and I assumed made some repairs, and then went on their way. But soon the water droplets were forming again. When I went and reported the problem again, it was graciously explained to me that this was simply condensation. Fighting back smiles, a German friend explained that one must air out the house every day by leaving windows open. One can either completely open all of the windows for a few minutes each day, or one can leave windows cracked in the house. She explained that since Germans do not use heat and air units, condensation will form if the windows are not open.
The light bulb went off in my mind: that’s why we have droplets on the ceiling, that’s why they so obsessively keep windows open. So, we have aired out the apartment each day, and what do you know, we don’t have anymore water droplets on the ceiling.
This practice runs against everything in my nature as an American. Back home–paying for ridiculously expensive propane–we would never dream of opening windows in the winter. In fact, each winter, we winterized every window by putting plastic, air tight layers over them.
I have had several discussions with my German friends about this interesting cultural difference. Their typical response is, “You mean you never opened the windows in the winter? How did you get air?” Unthinkable in their minds!
Well, I guess it’s time to air out my room here in the library:
November 3, 2012
We visited Schloss Nymphenburg a few weekends ago. This palace, built in the 1600′s, was the main summer residence for the rulers of Bavaria.
Inside this main building there is a huge hall with vaulted ceilings, chandliers, and frescoes. Melody kept looking up and saying WWWOOOwwww. So cute!
Around the palace are miles of hiking trails, woods, gardens, and botanical gardens.
we grabbed brunch at this beautiful cafe, located in the botanical gardens.
November 3, 2012
In this post I want to catch you up with what we’ve been up to in the past few weeks. First, IT SNOWED!!! In fact, it snowed off-and-on for three days last weekend, and totalled to about 6 inches.
This picture was taken from the top floor of the Collegium where we live. The corner of the building you see there is our apartment. We love it here–such a beautiful location and the people in the Collegium are very nice. It’s a great little community; in fact, living here has made all the difference for us. Many days my wife and I say to each other, “How would we have done this without the welcoming support we’ve received here? Can you imagine how different our experience would be?”
Most of the snow came on Sunday morning. Things in Germany do not slow down in the snow, so I took this picture as we biked to church. We visited a new church this past Sunday. When people saw that we had biked in the snow, they all said, “Wow, you really wanted to be here!” (only in German, of course). We decided to visit this new church, a freie evangelische Gemeinde, because it is very close to our neighborhood. Hopefully HJ will be able to connect with some other mothers, and Melody will be able to meet some kiddos.
This is on our road, right before arriving home after church. Notice how the fall colors are peeking out from under the snow.
October 23, 2012
October 18, 2012
Well, my semester has officially started. My goal this first week has been to learn my way around the library, which is a priority if I am going to accomplish any meaningful research. Learning the German University library system is a somewhat daunting task and I have felt daily nostalgia for Southeastern’s wonderful library back home, with which I was quite comfortable. Here one does not just learn a library, but rather librarIES, that is, the specific library of one’s department (in my case theological, philosophical), the main University library, and finally the State library, located right down the street from the school.
Today in the library I decided to hunker down at a table that was located near the New Testament section and that was near a window with a great view. I successfully checked my first books out of the library (N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the victory of God; D. du Toit’s Theos Anthropos; and Bauckham’s book on 2nd Temple Judaism), learned how to do a library loan, found where the journals are located, etc.
When it was time for a study break, I explored the school’s main building. Everything is so old and immaculate here, and very picture worthy. That means that for now I’m not only carrying around my books, but also my camera.
A long hallway inside the university. So picturesque! If one looks out the left here, one sees the mains street and fountains, and to the right of these pillars is the statue pictured above, and then the huge courtyard featured in the movie about the White Rose resistance movement.
And to top it all off, a student was playing the grand piano at the front of the room. Enjoy the video!
October 11, 2012
Last Sunday my girls were sick with a stomach bug. Since I was on my own, I attended a free-church German service here in München. It turns out that Erntedank (“thanksgiving for the harvest”) was being celebrated, as it always is on the first Sunday in October in Germany. Throughout the service prayers of thanksgivings were offered for God’s faithful provision. Then communion was held, but this was unlike any communion service I’ve ever been in. First, the communion was held after the morning service was finished. Believers were invited to stay but by no means expected to. I would estimated that maybe a third stayed, all of whom were moved to the first three rows of seats. As the communion service began, the theme of thanksgiving continued. The congregation was encouraged to participate by sharing what they were thankful for. Then the congregation had a time of prayer, where various members offered thanks to God. Finally, communion was served.
I found this communion to be a very joyous time. Too often it seems that communion is laden with guilt, as everyone is told to examine themselves for sin. Don’t get me wrong, such examination should regularly occur, but I wonder if we are accurately understanding the thrust of 1 Cor 11. Communion can even be a time of fear for many, as Paul’s words about taking the elements in an unworthry manner are misunderstood. How refreshing it was to participate in communion with believers in a new culture, who used it as a time of thanksgiving–most importantly thanking Christ for his sacrifice!
Last evening we celebrated Erntedank here at the Collegium, where we live. What an experience to be in a service with the other 50 or so students from the Collegium, who come from all over the world, but also to have the disabled residents who live in the Collegium present. One of my fellow students has written an excellent blog post describing last night’s festivities (you can read it HERE). During this service we passed around bushels of grapes and each ate a piece, and then a short sermon with John 15 as the text was given.
Jesus exhorts his disciples in this passage to remain in him. He says that those who remain in him bear much fruit, but that those who do not bear fruit will be “outgrafted.” Therefore Jesus challenges, “Remain in me and let my word remain in you.” That is my prayer, that as I abide in him and in his word, he will make me fruitful for him!
October 3, 2012
Today was a national holiday in Germany. The country was celebrating its reunification, which occurred on October 3, 1990. The main streets in Munich were closed to allow for parades, concerts, and, of course, beer tents. In fact, right in front of the university there were thousands of benches installed this week to make room for the festivities and drinking. And, not only was today a national holiday, but it happened to also coincide with Oktoberfest. Needless to say, the city was BUSY. We celebrated by biking into the city and having some fun.
We enjoyed some of the food at the celebration. Melody also got a couple of balloons and got to jump around on the kid play structures.
To get to and from the celebration, we biked through the English Gardens and stopped by the famous Monopteros–Greek for single wing
It was a very neat experience to be in another country and celebrating that country’s national holiday. As I said before, this was a very big day in Germany. Not only was it fun to learn more about this national holiday, it was also neat to observe how a holiday is celebrated in another culture. If you are curious to learn more about this important German holiday you can watch this clip or read my wife’s blog HERE: