“You must be fluent by now, right?”
I keep getting asked these questions all the time and my answer is simple, no I am not fluent in German yet. According to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages fluency is classed as a C2 level, which is described as:
- Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read.
- Can summarize information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation.
- Can express themselves spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations.
I am nowhere near there yet and there are times when I think that I never will be.
Even if we went with a less academic explanation I still wouldn’t class myself as fluent. To me, fluency means that I have very little to no difficulties using the language. I still struggle with German even though I work in a German speaking office. People think that because of this fact that I must be fluent, but I am not. My German is good enough that I can work in this environment with minimal problems but there are still problems. I don’t always understand 100% of what is said to me. Yes, I can gather the meaning, but do I understand every single word? No. Also, my grammar can best be described as a hot mess. I am lucky that I have colleagues that ignore my constant grammatical fuck-ups, although I am pretty sure that some of my emails provide people with a good laugh.
Truth be told, my German would be a lot better if I put more effort into it. Since starting at my German speaking job a year ago, I have ceased going to German classes and consuming German media like TV & books. Initially, this made sense as my brain was fried not only from trying to deal with the language, but also because I had to learn a whole new job. Yeah, I’m the idiot that switches careers and languages at the same damn time. I still work in the same industry as I did before, but I’m now doing a completely different job (I went from doing Tech Support to Ad Operations). I’m still thanking my lucky stars that all the programs I use are in English (thanks Google!).
However, now things are different. I’m kicking ass in my new job, but I still feel entirely unmotivated to work on my German. It’s like my apartment is an English only zone, an escape and reprieve from my outside life being almost completely in German. I’m wondering if anyone else actually feels this way. It’s almost like I’m guarding this English speaking part of myself. Realistically, it makes no sense, but that’s the way it stands at the moment.
I do find the longer I speak German at one time, the more comfortable I feel. When I went to the Dyke March I spoke pretty much exclusively German and by the end of the night, it felt strangely comfortable, almost normal, which is a very rare feeling for me.
However, I still can not express all I want to in German. I don’t feel like the true me when I am speaking it. I guess this is what it boils down to. I am not fluent in German as I can’t be me in German. I can’t say what I want to say in German. I need to dumb it down. I am nowhere near as expressive or sarcastic or even as intelligent in German as I am in English. I will consider myself fluent in German when I can be the authentic me in the language. Maybe that day will never come.