The 10 steps of learning German in Switzerland

The 10 steps of learning German in Switzerland

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Writer and blogger Chantal Panozzo shares some of her thoughts on the struggle to communicate in German.

The 10 steps of learning German in Switzerland

There is a clear progression of how English-speaking foreigners deal with learning German in Switzerland. It goes kind of like this:

  1. Grüezi. Sprechen Sie Englisch?
  2. I'm so excited to learn a new language!
  3. I'll be fluent in no time!
  4. Hallo, Schweiz! Der, Die, Das, ich kenne etwas!
  5. Was? There is also a Den, Dem, Denen, and Des? Echt?
  6. Now I'm too scared to talk. I'll get it all wrong.
  7. Fine I'll talk. I'll just turn every der, die, das, den, dem, denen, and des into a 'duh'.
  8. I can talk now! I'll go to the flea market and show off! Was kostet das? Was? What is this 'foyf' you're saying? I know my numbers, dang it!
  9. Crap. I took three years of German and still understand nothing on the streets in Switzerland.
  10. Grüezi. Sprechen Sie Englisch?


Why I Spoke Bad German for 3.5 Hours

Yesterday I spoke non-stop German for the longest time in my life. Three and a half hours. It was bad.

I heard myself using the wrong forms of the verb "to have", starting a past-tense sentence with "ich habe" only to realize the verb at the end required an "ich bin" (but by then it was too late to go back and start over), and also partaking in my very favorite habit of leaving off the verb entirely since having to place it at the end of a sentence after words like "because" makes me forget I even need to use a verb in the first place.

Throughout my butcherings of the German language, my German friend spoke to me like I hadn't just said things like "My husband, her have today lunch with girlfriend".

Instead, she kept the conversation going, translating my bad German to good.

I don't know how she did it.

But then again, what's a few wrong verbs combined with a hundred misplaced articles when you've perfected more important words like "Super" and "Genau"? Communication always comes down to filling in the blanks anyway.

So while I imagined what my friend was saying, she imagined what I was trying to say. It was really a win-win.

That is why I was able to speak bad German for 3.5 hours. Because I finally found someone patient enough to listen for more than two minutes before switching to English.

And for that, all I can say is a grateful danke vielmal. Maybe I'll actually get better someday. Because I think all that's between me speaking bad German and me speaking good German is that one person who will actually listen.


Chantal Panozzo (otherwise known as 'The Hausfrau') is a writer in Switzerland who has written for a variety of publications on two continents. She’s the author of One Big Yodel, a blog about life in Switzerland and moving abroad, and also discusses living abroad as a freelancer at Writer Abroad.

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