Learning a Foreign Lanuage

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Reden Sie Schwyzertüütsch?

oder sprechen Sie Deutsch?

Grüezi mitenand, (hello everybody) thanks for dropping in again.

Having spent 7 years living and working near Zürich, Switzerland, I was kinda forced to learn to speak German. Not that many people speak it daily in that part of the world.

Swiss-German was what I mainly heard and that made my job twice as hard to learn the official language of Switzerland - High-German. Watching television was the only way I could see and hear real German being spoken by Germans.

Believe it or not, when I was there, in darkest Schweiz, 20 years ago I rarely met anyone who admitted to speaking English or even spoke it. You see, children growing up in Switzerland, have to learn German as well as French and Italian just so they can communicate with their compatriots in other parts of Switzerland. There was apparently no time left to learn English as well.

Swiss German is not a written language but a tongue, learned only from mothers. That was my problem since I had left my mum in Oz and besides she only spoke Strine. (Aussie English).

So there I was trying out my best Hoch Deutsch on people who had learned German in school and they had at least a good 10 years or more head start on me. As soon as they heard my foreign accent, they condescended to speak a sort of pidgin-German that is popular with many Italian immigrants.

Consequently I was not getting enough practice to hear real Hoch Deutsch. Naturally, after a few years I had a pretty good command of pidgin-German, which has plenty of Swiss-German thrown in at random.

When someone asks if I speak German and I say yes, I'm hoping they won't put me to the test. Most Germans don't really understand my personal brand of Deutsch which for some reason, is like Swiss cheese.

A common problem in any country is that local rednecks always seem to find it quite amusing that someone does not speak or understand the local lingo. They treat you like a moron and make fun of you, or at least treat you with a measure of disdain. Believe me, it can be very a humbling experience for the foreigner. I've been there, done that.

The important lesson that I learned was to be much more tolerant towards foreigners who don't have a command of English. In fact it teaches you to be more tolerant in every respect, when you realize the sort of hardships these people face, when arriving in a strange land.

In many cases you find out later that those apparently dumb foreigners that you met, speak three or four other languages fluently! And you only speak one (sort of). That can be a pretty humbling experience too.

Especially tormenting and enough to make you grind your molars to dust, is when you meet an Aussie who has picked up fluent Swiss-German in 6 months without ever having opened a book! Grrrr..

And by the way, this month's featured country if you hadn't already guessed is Switzerland.

Tschüss .. or was that auf Wiedersehen?

Dr John Flynn publishes a monthly HTML ezine called: "The Xerostar Times" and his motto is: "caring for creative people" You can subscribe at: http://www.xerotron.com/cgi-bin/mail/mail.cgi His free eBook "The Xerotron Story" is available at: http://midi-ebooks.com mailto: xerostar@iinet.net.au

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