Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mein letzter Deutschkurs

The German course I am taking this semester, GMAN 168: Aktuelles im Spiegel der deutschen Medien (Current Events in Germany), met for the last time this morning, ending a wunderbares semester of lively discussions, a thick stack of articles from Der Spiegel, Die Zeit and other publications, and weekly 2-page essays on topics ranging from the global recession to German immigration policies.

The end of a course is always somewhat bittersweet, and this is particularly true for GMAN 168 because it has likely been the last German class I will ever take. I hope that this suspicion will be proven false, but there are several reasons it will be difficult for me to continue my German language education after this semester.
  1. Completing the requisite courses for my double major (Cognitive Science and International Studies) and writing my senior thesis will dominate nearly all of my schedule for my last three semesters at Yale.
  2. Even if I had room in my schedule, there are not very many advanced German language courses beyond GMAN 168. 
  3. In the majority of the German department's upper-level courses, readings and discussion are in English, giving little opportunity to improve and retain German language skills.
  4. Most of these courses—Hölderlin, Kafka, Benjamin; The Poetry of Walther von der Vogelweide; Nietzsche and His Reader—are specifically geared toward advanced literature or philosophy students.
    Despite my passion for the language and a series of rigorous courses, five years is not nearly enough to master any language, let alone one of the most intricately structured, expressive and richest in the world. Compounding my sense of loss is the fact that Professor Anthony Niesz, whom I had for both L5 German freshman year and GMAN 168 this year, will be retiring this spring.

    I'm trying to convince myself of the possibility that a combination of academic motivation and the handsome collection of German textbooks, novels and other readings I have accumulated over the past few years will be enough not just to prevent my language skills from deteriorating but even to continue improving them in the future.

    Another source of consolation are the words of Mark Twain, who famously stated, "My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years. It seems manifest, then, that the latter tongue ought to be trimmed down and repaired. If it is to remain as it is, it ought to be gently and reverently set aside among the dead languages, for only the dead have time to learn it."