On First and Second Languages – II

In my first post in this series, I wrote of my relationship with English and Hindi/Urdu/Hindustani – my first and second languages. I claimed partial fluency in three other languages: German, Spanish and Punjabi.  I aspire to mastery of all three and have varying levels of optimism about the plausibility of my success in this endeavor.

Of those three languages listed above, I’ve only been educated formally in German: a semester’s worth of instruction through the Indian version of the Goethe Institute – the Max Mueller Bhavan in New Delhi. I was then in my final year of undergraduate studies and had dimly entertained thoughts of studying in a German university for a post-graduate program. A quick look at the admission requirements made it clear three semesters of German language proficiency was required. The grundstufe eins was the first installment of the program; I enrolled for a class that met three times a week for two hours at a time.

My education in German was excellent; the teachers for the course–both postgraduate Indian students of German literature–were dedicated, enthusiastic, hard-working, thorough and personable; my fellow students were mostly highly motivated; we faithfully followed our teachers’ demands that we use German exclusively as the language of conversation with each other. I enjoyed my classes, scored well in the tests and was encouraged to continue with the program.

But I didn’t.  I had applied to the US for graduate school as well; an alternative destination now presented itself; a student visa had been procured; and I was off. My progress in German came to a halt.

Over the years, I would practice my German on the odd tourist, a German friend or two, or at the movies, all the while checking subtitles to gauge my facility in the spoken version of German. I planned endlessly to register for a formal course and resume my language studies, but never did.  I remembered most of my verb conjugations and my articles; the drills had been extensive and I retained their details easily.

When I began graduate work in philosophy, I intended to take the German language proficiency exam–a simple translation task of a passage in Nietzsche or Schopenhauer into English–but that  requirement was waived for my cohort. A friend of mine read Wittgenstein in a facing-page translation; I envied his talent but still made no effort study German formally. A German friend taught Nietzsche in the original German (at Regensburg) and talked glowingly of the thrill of reading his literary, flowing prose. My envy knew no bounds.

On trips to Germany and Switzerland, I practiced my German, sometimes receiving compliments for it. Each appreciative remark inspired further resolve to seek out the nearest Goethe Institute but I never, ever acted on it. My endless procastination, thus, has been a source of some bafflement to me;  I have always managed to find some excuse or the other to not bite the bullet and take on the grundstufe zwei. Mostly, I don’t seem to have the time; a rather lame evasion at best.

Hopefully, sometime next year, I’ll end this twenty-seven year long procastination and finally sign up at the nearest Goethe Institute/

2 comments on “On First and Second Languages – II

  1. […] the first post of this series, I described my relationship with English and Hindi/Urdu/Hindustani; in the second, that with German. The story in today’s post–that of Spanish in my life–is similar to the German […]

  2. […] partially mastered languages and my frustrating relationships with them, I’ve written about German and Spanish. Today, I come to the most vexed alliance of all, the one with […]

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