Love is a pretty awesome feeling, let’s admit it: not only to be loved, but to really love. I’m not talking in the romance sense, either. Just straight lovin’: friends, family, places, things, food, you name it.
I met my first German friend here at Oktoberfest. True story. Who knew you could walk out of one of the biggest drunk fests in the world with a new best friend, but it happened. Simon and I got along spectacularly at the Wiesn (did you know that’s what Germans actually call Oktoberfest?) and decided to keep in touch. The first time we spoke after our day at the beer tent was over the phone on my train ride home. I remember the two of us laughing at ourselves because the communication barrier was steel reinforced. Didn’t we understand each other yesterday? Oh, liquid language courage, you trickster! So, during the initial stages of our friendship we had our fair share of communication challenges. We understood each other, sure, but it became a personal challenge to completely express ourselves in more elementary terms. Then, one day Simon said something that really hit me:
“You’ll never really know me because I cannot be myself in English.”
It’s true. Despite considering him a best friend, I did not know him like I knew my friends at home in the USA. How can you truly know someone when they cannot express themselves the way they would in their mother tongue? Sure, maybe they can learn yours, but what about the sort of love that can’t reciprocate? You know, the loves that cannot learn your language? You don’t have to want to marry it (like that woman did the Eiffel Tower) – just that love you feel when you care, crave to know more, and want dig deeper.
I love Germany. It can’t love me back, I get that. But in order to truly love Germany, to truly know this lush green land of pretzels and punctuality, I have to speak its language. Translations are no substitute; words and phrases exist with no translation. In German, the word “doch” comes to mind. This simple word is wildly common in Deutsch, yet there are no words like it in the English language. I can’t even explain it to you now.
How can you understand a country if you cannot understand the people that make it what it is?
One year later, I can effectively say the language barrier between Simon, my other German friends, and myself is gone. I still cannot be myself in German, but my German friends can be themselves in English and it’s A-W-E-Awesome. When one person does not know the word, the other does and seeing others and your own improvement is a rad feeling. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud of myself as when I realized I actually understand so much and when I put pride aside, I can even speak it! So here, language learning has provided me with another important love: love for thyself.
To sum it up: If you want to know someone or somewhere, and I mean really know, learn the language. Without really knowing, you cannot really love. When learning a language, you can fall in love with more, and who doesn’t like that lovin’ feeling?
My advice: Don’t wait six months to start learning, start today. Start before you get there. I took Spanish for seven years in school and made straight As but could not speak it. I’ve been in Germany for one year and am worlds ahead. Give it a try. You might surprise yourself, be proud of yourself, or even love yourself more, too.
Lastly, I find it kind of cool that I wrote this on the train to Munich to visit Simon for Oktoberfest. I’ve really come full circle in this country, yet my true experience here is just beginning.