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“Sprichst du Englisch?”

February 26, 2019

Every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday morning, my alarm goes off at 7 a.m. The reason for this early wakeup is my 9 a.m. German class. I am notoriously not a morning person, and I am historically awful at learning new languages (ask any of my former French professors), so German class at 9 a.m. three days a week should come as surprise to everyone. However, I knew no German before moving to Berlin. I figured it would be a wasted opportunity to not start to learn German while living in a city surrounded by the language. I also wanted to be able to order a cup of coffee without giving away that I’m American.

The first few weeks of German class went surprising well. My professor is friendly and funny, which makes the learning atmosphere less intimidating. My initial setbacks included keeping straight that the letter w sounds like the letter v, while the letter v sounds like the letter f. After only a few classes, I started to understand the announcements on the loudspeaker of the train, and I started ordering food in German. Alongside learning German, I was learning how to navigate the public transportation system in the city, and I no longer needed to look up directions for every trip I took. These small accomplishments made me feel less like a tourist, and more like an authentic Berliner…

…and then I missed my train. I was coming home over the weekend from a friend’s neighborhood across the city, and since it was late, my train had been rerouted because of construction. I didn’t realize until I was at the station, one stop from my house, that my regular train was cancelled. It was late, I was tired, and my problem-solving skills were lacking. I went outside the station to see if there was a bus or tram stop nearby, and after seeing there were not, I went back in the station. As I walked back in, I watched as my train—which I thought was cancelled—pulled out of the station. Watching the train leave made me feel so foolish. All I could think was how ridiculous it was that I’d convinced myself that I totally knew Berlin like the back of my hand after only living there a few short weeks.

Missing my train wasn’t the end of the world, since another was arriving in 15 minutes. As I waited on the platform and continued to mentally beat myself up, a guy standing near me turned towards me.

“Sprichst du Englisch?” he asked me.

I responded that I did speak English, but that I was skeptical that I could successfully give him directions. He asked me if the train we were waiting for was going to a specific station, and I actually knew the answer. I assured him he was waiting for the right train, and as we continued to talk, I learned he was a Chilean student studying in Romania.

I realized after our interaction that I was too quick to aggressively critique myself. Yeah, I misread a sign and missed my train. But because of my mistakes, I was able to help someone else out because I spoke English and knew the train route. The whole ordeal reminded me that I can’t rush being a Berliner. The best I can do is go to German class and doublecheck the map.

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