Learning German at a "Certain" Age

by Mary Kathryn Victor

I have never felt that I was capable of learning a language beyond English – and I am known as the Grammar Police in that one. My first experience with foreign language was in high school where we were broken up into “recruits” and “veterans.” Not a good start. Half the class had been studying French for two years, and the rest of us had no experience whatsoever.

I struggled from the beginning to the end of the class each day for two years. The school was using this “great” new method whereby we would not see the words in print until after the test. We were supposed to learn the language like babies do, by ear. Obviously, that just did not work for me. I spent many years believing that I would never be able to learn a language because I just wasn’t good enough in foreign languages.

I decided to give it a try again at the local community college. It was fun, and I ended up with a great Wassail Punch recipe while learning much about the customs of my ancestors.

Several years later, while at a St Louis Stuttgart Sister Cities meeting, I heard about the St. Louis German School. Eventually, I gave it a try. The first teacher I had was a charming woman who didn’t expect us to have to learn difficult concepts overnight. She had the patience of a saint!

In all, I have taken about 5 years of German at the German School, and I almost always enjoy it. I say almost because it is challenging which, like medicine, is good for me, but I don’t always like it.

My teachers have always been eager to assist us, and a few of us have formed a study group which meets weekly to discuss our homework. Occasionally, our group will disagree (amongst the members) on a certain answer in our homework. This is good for us, and we often take sides, but we really don’t find out who is correct until class. It feels like victory when we are on the winning correct side, and defeat when we aren’t. However, after our dependable German teacher explains to us the reasoning, we have the opportunity to learn something that we didn’t already know.

I realized that I was making progress when I received a letter from a cousin in Germany. The first few letters that I received from German relatives found me looking up almost every word but one – their name. Finally, this past year, I received a German letter and only had to look up one word. One! I actually was reading and thinking in German. I was so excited! (an aside to my teacher – Yes, you really are in some ways getting through to me!)

Anyway, it was very encouraging to me. I still don’t remember word meanings all the time, and many times, I forget the gender of a word, but I haven’t quit yet. I have met some wonderful people, and my teachers have all been very good. I even have to say that homework has been good for me. (What else is there to do during Covid anyway?) I don’t know how many more years I will be studying German, but as for now, I am just plugging along because it is so much fun. Thank you to my great and patient teachers, and the wonderful friends that I have made along the way!