I’ve already mentioned the English bookstore that I went to a few days ago, and how everybody was speaking English there, and that was a little foreign, and a little weird, and a little fun. Later that day I found myself saying to my English ex-flatmates, “I’m so tired of German. I’m so tired of not being able to communicate perfectly or having communication be such a job. I just want to be easily understood! And to be able to convey my personality through what I say!”
I should mention this: my German is good. I’ve been taking German since sixth grade, with my previous 2 years of college off. My German is good and I’ve never really had to work at it because my learning has been spread out over such a long period of time. But no matter how many times I correctly put the verb at the end of the sentence (probably the hardest thing to do when you are speaking spontaneously), I cannot convey my personality through what I say. And I think everybody feels like this.
When I’m speaking in German, I use facial expressions, tone of voice, and hand gestures much more than I do in English. This is to try to make up for my linguistic shortcomings, because, while my German is quite good, I make plenty of mistakes. I wonder how long it takes to actually become fluent, truly fluent. I’ve already been here for about seven months, and while I could speak more German, I speak a decent amount. And any time I’m tired, mentally or physically, my German starts to go down the tubes.
Mastering a language is an interesting thing. Unfortunately, to become fluent, you must live in a country where it is spoken. I could take every single German class in Toronto and still not have as good spoken German as I do now. Fluency really depends on what the definition being used is. A teacher asked us in the first week, “is everyone fluent in German?” When no one said anything, she followed up with, “is everyone comfortable with German?”
I must have made a face, because she singled me out and asked me the two questions. While she seemed to use the two terms almost interchangeably, I think there is a world of difference between the two. My understanding of German is near-perfect. You reach a point where you can glean so much from context that knowing actual words doesn’t matter-- just as we all do with English. Because of that, I can understand and read almost anything. But I am still far from being fluent when speaking. So I am definitely, auf jeden Fall, comfortable with the language, but not fluent.