What I Learned In German Class

You might believe this post is a little self-evident. After all, what I learned in German class should be, um, German.

And yes, it’s true. I did learn some helpful German phrases, such as Wo ist die Toilette? (where is the toilet?) But I also learned a lesson which has served me well over the years. So gather around Granny Betsy and I’ll share it with you.

I took four years of German in Junior High and High School. In the beginning, I didn’t really need to study all that much. That’s because I’d discovered a lot of German words sounded a lot like their English counterparts. And what I didn’t know, I could guess. It’s the same way we learn to read English. We know certain words and guess the ones we don’t based on the context of the sentence.

The difference is, many of us are surrounded by English speakers and signage every day here in this great land of ours. I was not surrounded by German speakers in my home.

But I went merrily on my non-studying way, and because I was a pretty smart cookie who read a lot, I had a good deal of success in guessing what was actually being said in the passages we were supposed to be learning. And that was fine for the first two years. German III was a bit more challenging, but still. I was good.

Then I hit German IV. And I had absolutely no idea what those people were talking about.

See, I hadn’t built up my vocabulary, so I didn’t have the basic structure that everybody else was using to understand the more complicated passages. Not only that, but I didn’t really know the rudimentary grammar rules. In other words, I didn’t have a foundation.

I…did not excel.

When I got to college, I took German again (nobody puts Betsy in a corner!) but this time I knew I needed to learn the basics first. I lived and breathed German vocabulary and grammar. I called my mother Mutti. I said “Was?” instead of “What?” I ROYALLY screwed the curve for the other people in the class (heh heh heh). And this time I did excel. Not because I was any smarter, but because I had the basics down.

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve though about this as I’ve gone through my life. Because the lesson I learned from German class was not German (although it’s comforting to know I can ask where the toilet is if I should visit Munich). The lesson I learned is that it is vital to have the basic structure down first. You have to lay the foundation before you try to build the building, or the building will crash down upon you.

So now I try not to neglect the first steps. Because the first steps are the ones that point you in the direction the rest of the journey will take you.

Auf Wiedersehen!




  1. das good…nine?

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