A mental switch clicked on the moment I realized I was thinking in German. It happened after I had completed studying for a quiz for the high school German language class. It was a sophomore level elective course that I chose after I had befriended Bruce. His family had recently moved to Nebraska after his father was transfered from Heidelberg, Germany as a result of work related reasons.
Because Bruce had spent most of his childhood in Heidelberg, he grew up multi-lingual. He was fluent in English, French, German, and Polish. His language skills completely fascinated me. He was my inspiration to study German. The decision eventually changed the way I looked at life.
The afternoon I first consciously thought in German was otherwise not unusual. I was simply getting the day’s homework assignments for various classes out of the way. I hadn’t even started the routine share of German homework yet. I had been daydreaming random thoughts. Suddenly I realized that those thoughts were not in English. The main take away was that a milestone had been reached.
The next time I saw Bruce, I asked to borrow any German language magazines or books he might be willing to loan out. He shared a couple of comic books, his father contributed a past issue of “Der Spiegel” that he no longer wanted.
What happened next was a deepening of our friendship. We began conversing in German. Although my comprehension level was that of a toddler, Bruce’s patience enabled my learning ability. He had fun shifting my brain into German mode and observing the corresponding changes in my behavior.
The overall lesson I learned was that using different languages gives different visions of life. The paradigm shift is humbling, yet empowering at the same time. It’s as if a hibernating part of the brain awakens and takes a look around.
Although we parted ways after high school graduation, we did send letters to each other for a few years. I didn’t have many other opportunities to communicate in German with anyone, so that part of my brain went back into hibernation.
I reawaken the “German brain” whenever I stumble across newspapers or articles written in German, because I still enjoy experiencing the mental shift as I read. Listening to spoken German is a skill that I no longer do well due to the lack of conversation. Whenever I choose to listen to German broadcasts or Internet video I can only pick out certain words. My comprehension is way off.
Learning a different language is a skill like learning to drive a car. If a person is willing to work at it, the quality of communication sharpens. It blends into other aspects of life and changes how you think. I believe this is a good way to improve one’s life.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes playwright and short-story writer, Anton Chekhov. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”