|Original image source http://sxc.hu • photographer |
This is what I discovered, amazed and flattered and hrm, rather embarrassed, this morning underneath the conclusion of my Etampes-tale. My friend Heddi from New Zealand asking these questions. Of course, it’s not her questions that make my cheeks turn a crimson shade, but her extremely nice compliments. I’m not used to that; I haven’t blushed for, oh my, I don’t even remember how long!
Well, for a starter, to explain my ‘amazing English’ (it really makes me uneasy to repeat Heddi’s phrasing), I will have to go far back to my school years. It will be a long, long explanation, I reckon. It’ll need more than the few sentences I could use to beef up my profile text, see. I’m not even sure I can cram it all into one single episode. You’ll have to be patient, Heddi. First part today, second part tomorrow, if it’s alright with you.
I don’t have any secret. There, it is said. Most of the time, I use such handy devices as ‘Google translation’ when I’m looking desperately for a word that won’t pop up in my mind otherwise. There’s an online ‘Conjugator’ where I check if ‘lay’ really is the past tense of ‘lie’, for instance. Another useful online help is the synonym-dictionary I stumbled upon. I didn’t know that German was the second most used language on the internet, by the way, to start with something simple. Can it be true? I would have guessed Spanish. I wanted to learn Russian, you know, when I started my university studies. But a conscious look on a world map made me change my mind. I counted the Spanish-speaking countries and decided that Spanish would be so much more useful. I enjoyed my Spanish lessons. And never used my knowledge, my Spanish vocabulary being buried under tons of other, much less interesting stuff since I’ve started to work as a graphic designer. All I managed to do was to make my Spanish friend C. laugh out loud each time I said a thing in Spanish. ‘It’s so weird,’ he’d always giggle, ‘to listen to a tío austríaco pronounce Spanish words without an accent!’
Anyway. I really don’t have any secret. I’ve never thought my writing to be so amazing, either. It just comes from my heart, is typed hurriedly on an empty word processor page, corrected and checked and double-checked (with several mistakes slipping through the double-check, alas) and then published.
Maybe I should thank the Austrian National Education? I’ve started to study the English language at the age of six. I remember us kids sitting in a circle, each one holding a card with an English name the teacher had distributed. We had to say simple sentences like ‘My name is David’ (this was my name because the teacher hadn’t found a proper English first name into which Dieter could be transformed) or ‘How do you do?’ or ‘My mother is in the kitchen.’ Funny, isn’t it, that our real-life mothers have fought to bring about a change of attitudes towards women, and quite successfully so, but that in almost all foreign language teaching, the mother will still be in the kitchen, and the father come home from work.
Drifting off course, boy; concentrate. So, from the age of six to eighteen, I had English lessons. Only the last years were spoiled by the writing of dull essays on Pinter plays or lengthy discussions of Caulfield’s character in ‘The Catcher In the Rye’ or the weighing of arguments on topics like alcoholism, environment, drug abuse. During the first years, it was playful learning. We were asked to invent stories. I remember that Scottish assistant teacher we had one year. Our main English teacher asked us to form small groups and to invent the assistant’s life-story. Many a haunted castle was thrown into those tales; kilt-wearing, fierce-looking bearded men braving the howling winds of the Highlands to pay a farewell-visit to the ‘gal who’s sent abroad’. Single-malt flew in streams throughout the stories. My group, I recall, invented a mystery pregnancy because our assistant teacher was a heavy-set, radiant girl. Except that she wasn’t pregnant; imagine the stony silence setting in on an innocent class when we had read out loud our invention. Fortunately, the assistant teacher had a healthy sense of humour, she laughed away our teacher’s deep confusion and said with her strange accent, ‘It’s not with your Austrian sausages and Knödel that I will lose weight, I guess. As for my pregnancy,’ there she winked at us, ‘well, it’s not done yet. That’ll come maybe. I’ve seen more than one handsome Austrian guy since I’ve arrived…’