I have signed up for an intensive introduction to the German Language when I first arrived in Cottbus. We are now through with the second week of three weeks of training. We have daily lessons which, by the beginning of the semester will be done twice a week for an hour, more like an extensive lesson. I am enjoying the lessons, although I must admit that at a certain point of the lecture of every day, around 2 hours in the class proper, I find myself really just dumb struck with what we are talking about. I make it a point to do my assignments and improve my vocabulary on a daily basis. I am proud to say that I have ordered beers for myself and two friends , figured out how much the cashier says in the grocery, went to the museum and asked the for discounted rates for students to get a special tour package, spoke to the city hall personnel to clear my residency permit and I have also discussed with the local insurance on how I can get additional travel insurance – this has been done with more or less half German, a quarter English and a quarter of patience and guesswork.
Let me share some of the stories I have had with my basic German knowledge. My teacher asked me today what languages we speak at home and I told her in German, “Wir sprechen Englisch und Philippinisch.” explaining that we both speak the two languages at home. She was puzzled by the answer and she asked, “Is that normal?” I said the language we speak is mostly a combination but we are comfortable to speak in either Filipino or English. She found this an interesting response. Generally, Germans would prefer to speak German at home and not combine the two languages together because it will be a bit confusing. There are already some words that are similarly expressed so creating a Gerlish (my own term for German-English talk) isn’t really a fad here.
Another day, we were also asked to show the country we came from and she wittily said, “The country is far far away!” I never really saw it as that far in my mind – its only 6 hours difference as compared to the US which is 12 hour difference to Manila / Singapore but when I reflected on it, maps usually show that New Zealand is in the right most side of the map and the US is is in the left side and of course, Europe is in the middle. We are like on the right hand side of the map covered with so much water. Most people would here have not met any Filipino, even the woman in Stadtbüro (City Office) was surprised most Filipinos are Roman Catholics.
Like in Singapore, I have also encountered many questions mostly from International students, why my English is good, and they ask where I studied my bachelor’s degree. I can’t seem to find the right words for this yet and my usual response is that, “We have good education back home.” That conversation usually just ends there.
I have also been asked a couple of times by the Spanish students if I speak Spanish and I say, “I can count in Spanish. I don’t know if that’s the same thing.” I would usually throw some bente dos, bente quatro, lamesa, eskaparate, and ola in the word list and they nod affirmatively. I am still slightly part of the family.
Lastly, as part of our lessons, we were asked us to convert a German expressions to our native tongue. Here was the trick conversion that got me. “Was sind Ihr Hobbys? Ich sammle Briefmarken” (What are your Hobbies? I collect stamps.) I actually had a hard time translating hobbies and stamps to Filipino. Finally I got it. “Ano po ang iyong kinalilibangan? Ako any mahilig mangolekta ng selyo.” After writing that, I pondered when I last used the word selyo. It was probably in primary school.
There is a German – English -Filipino conundrum in my mind. I feel that German is my first foreign language. English has been so engrained in our daily conversations as Filipinos because it has been taught in schools from kinder garten to high school so much so that I have associated it with normal conversations. We can’t escape a day not seeing an English phrase or saying something in English. I won’t dare to say it is my mother tongue because I know that I speak Filipino easily too but at some point, English has only become a tool for me to communicate. I no longer differentiate the medium of communication from my own native tongue. When I speak German, I am like a toddler, jumbling the words together to find the most appropriate way of saying things. I process the words in English, translate it to German and check if it is correct. We have never really learned or possibly created a German -Filipino educational tool, or at least none that I know of. I rely on my grasp of the English language to help me learn this foreign language.
When we heavily rely on one language to learn another, do we consider it a foreign language? Are we a bilingual nation?