Saturday, July 11, 2009

Multilingual Mayhem

I've never been a great student of languages. Out a hundred or so language students at my school doing O level in either German or French, I had the lowest mark of all of them, managing to get a U grade (unclassifiable - that's lower than F for fail!) in both the written and oral exams.
It's a same really as when I started out at "big" school I was really keen to learn German, but a couple of years in an the teacher switched and I lost interest.
Now however, I'm still crap at learning languages but they do fascinate me. So even after 10 or 20 years of trying to learn Greek, I can compare the grammar to Modern Greek to Old Anglo Saxon, trace pronunciation shifts of Greek alphabets from ancient to Modern, and decipher the weird and wonderful world of the effect of noun cases on articles, but am still only just capable of ordering a meal in Greek and asking for the bill afterwards.
German I haven't really spoken since those disastrous exams at school, yet I now suddenly find I'm trying to use German in anger far more than I've ever had to use Greek. I'm in Hamburg and working on my own at a customer site. Each time I arrive I have to collect a "dead-man" telephone from the Shift Manager, and return it to him when I leave. Basically if I fall over and stop moving for any length of time the phone sets off an alarm. Anyway, most of the Shift Manager's have about as much grasp of English as I have of German, so the onus is on me to make myself understood. It's come as quite a surprise how much I've been able to communicate and how much of it I haven't had to look up on BabelFish. So if Mr Clokes (or Cloakes - can't remember how it was spelt) is still alive and by chance reading this, I may have been your worst pupil ever, but it wasn't all for nothing. And by the way, sorry, I cheated in every vocab test you ever set.
The real problem I'm having is the inevitable slip from German into Greek so I'll be on the phone to "der Schiftmeister" and start the sentence in German and end with Efkharisto, the Greek for Thank You. It's as if my brain just decides that if it's not English, any other foreign language will do!

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