Photo courtesy of Gratisography

Learning German: my zillionth attempt

I used to tell myself that if I lived in Spain, Italy, or even France as long as I’ve been living in Germany, I’d be flawless in the country’s language by now. Romance languages are my jam because I’m a native Portuguese speaker. But then again, if I’m being honest with myself, I remember how lazy I was as a kid learning English in Brazil, when it was much easier to pick up languages than as an adult. You practically had to drag me to the language course. And I find English easy in comparison to my current language situation; learning German is not something you can just do casually.

Photo courtesy of Gratisography

I’m still that lazy kid, although my brain is not nearly as spongy.

I’ve been hiding in my English bubble, watching American movies and YouTube channels and speaking English with my German husband and friends in Leipzig.

A decade has passed since I arrived in Germany, wide-eyed and hopeful and making childish jokes about the word sechs. It’s been a whirlwind of course-hopping, osmosis and Google Translate, and I’m clocking in at B2 level. At least that’s what my language placement test said. When my boss stops me in the hallway asking me something in German, I freeze like a deer in headlights.

What has changed is that German is now required for my main job. I have to try to speak to people who don’t speak English and not only should I make sense, but also sound credible. I need to write in German on a daily basis. The embarrassment of not understanding and fudging die der das stings now more than ever. It’s no longer cute to run back to “Danglish.”

In other words, the stakes for learning German are higher for me now.

Photo courtesy of Gratisography

Eventually, I want to be a professor in Germany. More urgently, I need to interview subjects in rural Mitteldeutschland for a research project. While my body feels attuned to the rhythm of trams and bikes and seasons in Leipzig, my brain still lives in Anglo-Saxony rather than Saxony, Germany. So yes, I did learn English eventually, when I was forced to after moving to the US as a teenager, and now it trumps my native Portuguese in my daily life and dreams. Maybe that could happen with German, too?

Highly unlikely.

See, besides my advanced years, German pop culture is not my favorite and I have zero ambition to be considered German at any point in my life, although I do want citizenship. You probably know the drill – there’s still a lot of discrimination and usually to be considered Deutsche(r) you have to look and sound a certain way (which I accept I never will). I was a fan of American pop culture as a teenager and I wanted to be considered American so that kids would stop making fun of me at school (they didn’t, really, by the way). The whole 13 years I lived in the US, I was trying to prove myself in mainstream society so people would see me as a multifaceted being rather than reducing me to the label of “that Brazilian girl.”

With German here I just want to get through a sentence without feeling like I’ve assassinated it.

I suppose I should give myself some credit for trying. My journey of learning German has taken me to many a school, with my most memorable teacher having been from Volkshochschule Leipzig, although it can be a mixed bag there in terms of quality. The teacher’s name was Karl Kirsch, who was not only a highly effective instructor but also a very socially engaged person we could tell really cared about us. I just wasn’t in class enough. (If you’re reading this, Karl, I’m sorry I was traveling so much at the time and was absent from half of our sessions. It had nothing to do with you and I wish I’d given it 100%.)

Photo courtesy of Gratisography

Due to my restlessness and failure to learn the language systematically so far, I feel like I’m stuck with glaring gaps in my vocab. This is hella confusing to a person who hears me use academic German while forgetting the word for “clouds” when switching to talking about the weather (it’s Wolken, by the way). I need to get past this stubborn plateau and Duolingo and its tyranny just aren’t cutting it. Plus, I’m too entrenched in my routine and jokes with my husband to be able to speak German to him with a straight face at this point, although he’s a legit German teacher (!).

So I’ve taken the plunge and enrolled in a semi-intensive course, three times a week, three hours, three months.

I plan to be learning German at Learn and Speak Leipzig; and this is not a sponsored post and I’m not getting a discount for writing this.

It’s true that they’ve been a LeipGlo client in the past for ads. That’s how I know them and partly why I chose their course over others in Leipzig. But I’m mentioning their name in this article simply because I want enough students to enroll in the C1 course I’m jumping into without a parachute. If there aren’t enough students, it will have to be postponed and I can’t wait any longer.

Here goes. Hopefully you’ll join me in class!

The offline C1 course (Gruppenunterricht Deutsch – C1 Abendblatt) is supposed to start on Monday, February 20th, and run until May 22nd. It’s from 4:50pm until 8:10pm and costs €1,100, which makes it wallet-friendly if you break it down by the hour, and you can pay in two installments. Groups are between five and 14 students.

If you’re interested in enrolling in the C1 course, write an email to Natalie Konopka at, as the school’s new website is still under construction.

You can browse other levels here and write to Natalie asking about them, as well.

A Global Studies doctoral degree holder and former newspaper reporter, avid eater, pseudo-philosopher and poet, occasion-propelled singer, semi-professional socializer, movie addict, Brazilian-American nomad. In this space, she will share some of her experiences and (mis)adventures regarding various topics, with special attention to social issues.

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