Why I’m Learning French and German

Last summer, I came up against a wall. A wall I could see through and touch through, but could hear nothing on the other side. This wall was between me, and the old friends of my flatmate Alec. It was between me and his world. The Francosphere.

We sat around a garden table in the hot sun, eating barbecued meat and drinking beer. They were laughing and joking among themselves and with Alec. But I couldn’t get a word in or out. I sat there smiling, and laughing when they laughed. Occasionally, Alec would look through the wall and render some of the sounds from the other side into English, but not often enough to get me in.

And oh how I wanted to be in it to be among them. Here were the characters from the countless stories he told of his life in France. Here was a history of friendship at least as rich or richer as the four years I’ve known Alec, which I could not participate, which I was simply locked out of.

It’s the fall now. I’ve moved to France for Grad school, and I see an opportunity. This is my shot to make myself a set of keys to another planet, and to step cleanly out of the Anglosphere for a while.

“I want to meet them on their own turf one day”

My relationship to German is a little different. If French is a world to be explored, then German is a world into which I feel invited I lived in Zurich this summer and I felt as if I was being pulled into saying a few more words each time.

I’m lucky to have some amazing friends there. Friends who had no problem stepping out of their comfortable mother tongue to talk to me in my English. I want to meet them on their own turf one day and speak their language. To make things as comfortable for them as they made it for me.

I also feel that learning German also allows me to step outside of the Anglophone world into another domain, different to the one I’ve lived in, and feel a little trapped in sometimes.