My mom was born in Germany and moved to the states in the late 1970s. She raised my sister and me with every effort to interest us in the German language. Cultural tradition and history were less important to her, though we did take folk dancing lessons (mostly, I think, because my Grandma, originally from Austria, had handmade us dirndls!). Up until about seventh grade, my mom sent us to German-language school on the weekends and in the summers.

I remember few things about the school itself, except for some surrounding details. First, mom would pretty much always bribe us into going with either homemade chocolate chip pancakes or the promise of a big sweet breakfast at the diner around the corner from our house. Second, my sister and I got to take a school bus to the language summer camp, which I always thought was pretty fun. My sister studied a lot more than I did. I found it really frustrating that the language didn't just stick with me like English did.

Of course, as an adult I realized how much had actually stayed with me...words, of course, but also manners of speech and expressions, as well as pronunciations, like the rather inscrutable "ch" sound in a word like "Milch" (Milk), or the difference between the "u" and "ü."

A big part of my resistance was that it was always hard to square my ability (lacking) with my affection or interest (unbounded!) in the idea of a different kind of cultural landscape, especially when we visited our family in Germany. What I mean is that, I always thought it was really special to be able to travel abroad and to be really taken in by a country without necessarily understanding all of its linguistic codes. In other words, Germany felt different than the US. It smelled different. The soda had a different flavor. The trees were different. I loved being there! But, I hated speaking German. It was frustrating and felt like an impossible task.

Now, as an adult, I understand that speaking another language is another way of experiencing the world...or at least of representing that experience. And, that is something I value a great deal, especially as a conduit to getting to know other people.

I wish I had taken that more seriously as a kid and I am sorry for my mom for all those pancakes she had to make us. I guess she does have a whole lot of pictures of us in cute outfits, though.

Pancakes for umlauts

BY SB
theme family
language German
country USA
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