Du Machst Quatsch

 In Living in Germany, Personal Stories

“Du Machst Quatsch,” Karly said to a new friend who speaks fluent German and English.

Catharine laughed as I glanced back and forth between them, trying to share their little secret.

“What did she say?” I asked Catharine.

“You don’t know?”

Now I’m embarrassed. “Uh…no.”

“She said, ‘You’re being silly’.”

Well, there you go. I thought my two-year-old was speaking gibberish. Apparently, she knows more German than her mom.

Where does she pick it up? The playground? Church? From all the people who stop me on the street to chat with the girls—talking a mile a minute even when I say, “Ich verste’hen kein Deutsch” (I understand no German)?

I’m reminded daily that the entire world doesn’t speak English. And I’m humbled every day by the people I meet in Berlin:

My neighbor speaks two Indian languages, English, and a little German.

One of our babysitters is from Georgia (the country, not the state). She speaks two Russian languages and English—she’s getting her master’s degree in British Economics.

An 18-year-old Mexican at church speaks fluent Spanish and English and he just taught himself German.

Another friend from Nigeria jumps from French to German to English without a thought.

How do they do it?

As I struggle to say simple things in German like “do you have?” “how much?” and “good night,” the people around me speak two, three, and sometimes four languages. I’m amazed by their abilities. They’re amazed with me as well—stunned that I only speak one language (high school Spanish doesn’t count since all I remember is “Como estas?”).

My hope is that my girls will grow up learning multiple languages. Karly’s already on a roll, and even Kinzel (my almost eighteen-month-old) says “nein!” instead of “no!”

As for me, I’m trying really, REALLY hard to learn a few new German words every day. When I speak them, people laugh, but I’m going to keep trying. Even if I do feel a little quatsch.

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