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Paying it Backwards

22 Mar Posted by in Language | Comments
Paying it Backwards
 
I can’t stress enough how much I love the neighborhood in which I live. Maybe the relationships aren’t always perfect between everyone, but the people I’ve encountered consist of individuals always willing to lend a helping hand.

When I was pregnant and we had officially “moved” into our house (we were renting from the owner prior), the neighbors helped us to finally get everything in order as well as make updates to the house (laying flooring and tile, painting, removing large furniture, cleaning, etc.).

Because I was pregnant, I couldn’t lift anything and Kay and I don’t possess any talents working with our hands… or gardening… or well, we’re pretty much technology people and that’s about it.

Kay is more technologically advanced than me, so he’s the designated neighborhood computer go-to guy.

And that leaves me sometimes feeling like I don’t really have a talent to offer the neighborhood in return. Plus, I don’t understand what everyone is asking all the time anyway, right?

The one distinguishing factor about me is obviously that I speak English. The last few days I have been trying to figure out how I can turn what feels like a negative into a positive.

And then today, as a bunch of us were gathered at the neighborhood square (an everyday evening occurrence when the weather is nice), I heard one of the teenagers mention she has an English test tomorrow. I didn’t catch the entire sentence and was wondering if I should offer to practice speaking English with her.

A few minutes later, I mustered up the courage and asked her if I had heard her correctly. Yes, she had said she has a test tomorrow.

When I made the offer, I hoped she would accept I have to admit, not just for her sake, but also for my own; I just have to make myself useful and do my fair share of community service to the neighborhood. (You will accept my help, d@mnit!… Kidding. Kidding.)

She gladly took me up on the offer and I asked her what the English topic was. She mentioned she has a difficult time with past tense sentences in English. It isn’t any wonder that it is difficult, and I told her that I have the same difficulty with past tense in German.

Tonight, after I put Fynn to bed, I frantically searched the internet to brush up on the English grammatical past tense terminology. Yikes! I quickly discovered that 15 to 20 minutes wasn’t enough time for a cram session so I grabbed what I could and then figured it was sink or swim time.

I first tried using some of my German lessons with the answer sections to supplement, but the vocabulary was a bit difficult for both of us. I haven’t gotten to this point yet in my personal studying time and some of the vocabulary was completely different for her.

I decided to use her book and then things started to flow a little more easily.

Uhm, how did I not know that there are so many different types of past tense terms?! I had so much sympathy as she was going through trying to classify the term before she could decide what word to use.

I have similar problems when trying to speak German, but with the nominative, accusative, and dative cases.

That’s why I finally gave up methodically thinking before I speak German; now I just try without caring if something is correct. This is the reason I speak better after a beer or two, or three or… vodka helps too. Ok, back on topic since I obviously can’t be suggesting such methods to a 13-year-old.

After intense concentration we took a few minutes to just converse about different pictures in her book; she was speaking in German and I was answering and speaking in English. But the more excited she got, the faster she started to speak.

She then asked me if I had a mobile phone when I was her age, which I figured was still on the past tense topic.

I was trying not to laugh and also how to politely explain that mobile phones weren’t really in mainstream America when I was thirteen. I told her that when I was 18 or 19 I had a pager for work and she said, “Oh, I know what those are… like in Scrubs.” And then I told her about how big my first mobile phone was. She thought that was funny.

I also learned the hard way that the word “gotten” is not used in British English. I was wondering why she wasn’t sure how to spell it. She looked it up in her book and at first I thought it was a mistake. We did a quick search on the internet and sure enough, the past perfect tense of “to get” in British English is “got” not “gotten” as it is used in American English.

We went back to practicing past tense sentences and then we looked at the clock and holy cow… two hours had gone by!

Before she left, I told her to come back if she wanted to practice again, but next time either she should speak more English or slower German. And no more Denglisch, for goodness sakes. As soon as Kay gets home from work tonight he has some serious translating to do for me.

I can’t say for sure how well she will do on her test tomorrow; I hope I haven’t confused her with my “American” English. But it felt great to learn more German as well as to do my part in giving back to the neighborhood.


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