I know that learning a new language is not easy. I knew this before I landed in Berlin and began classes in nearby Wittenberg. But my knowledge of this struggle was limited to middle- and high-school Spanish. All of my language teachers were smiley women. The first recited her husband’s jokes daily. The second adored cats. The third was constantly brewing and drinking hazelnut coffee.
My German teacher here in Wittenberg is also a smiley woman. She seems to be fond of cardigans, and likes to play her daughter’s music during class activities (she’s in a band). But Frau Hünsch, unlike my previous language teachers, speaks very little English. And she speaks no English during class.
My classmates and I have never taken German before arriving in Germany. When Hünsch told us that we’d be learning German without any English (as she only knows “ein bisschen”), our faces dropped. She laughed and carried on with our first lesson.
That first day was stressful. The nervousness was palpable. When Hünsch said almost anything, the class began to communicate with our eyes: what the hell is she saying?
It is common knowledge that the younger you are, the easier it is to learn a language. As we age, it becomes harder and harder for our brain to create new synapses. When learning an additional language as an adult, your brain is forced to create new synapses — to rewire itself, in a sense. This is a process that I swear I can feel. My head quietly burns during German class every morning.
After class, I crave a nap.
In the midst of this brain-burning is a lot of laughing. I have learned that people love to laugh at sounds, especially when they’re nervous about the new and unfamiliar. When you think about it, it’s a little ridiculous that the mere sounds of words (and I mean very basic words, like “cat” and “goodbye”) could be laugh-out-loud funny. Lucky for our class, Hünsch loves to laugh, too.