Perfectly Speaking

I accept that I may never fully understand the dative and accusative cases in German and will continue to mix up the der/die/das of nouns. I’m ok with this because it is not my native tongue. I’m envious of my children growing up bilingual German and English and how they switch effortlessly between the two. I even quiz them randomly to test if they know the der/die/das of certain nouns.

“Fledermaus?” I asked my seven year old.

“Die, Mama, die Fledermaus,” he answered in a bored tone.

Of course I woudn’t know the answer anyway, I’d have to ask Siri.

I’m fascinated how the children learn vocabulary I’ve never heard of in the German language, words that I’ve also never used in English to them because they never came up in discussions. Which makes me feel like maybe I’m not carrying on stimulating enough conversations with my seven and nine-year old.

My son asked me recently if people still work as Mundschenke.

I paused. Normally I can figure German words by breaking them down into the noun parts. Mund is mouth, Geschenk is gift, schenken is to give in German. A mouth gift? A mouth giver? A gift given with the mouth?

Seeing my face frozen in bewilderment, my son clarified, “Mama, it’s the person who tasted the wine for the Pharaoh to make sure it wasn’t poisoned. If the Mundschenk died then the Pharaoh wouldn’t drink it.”

“I’m not sure there’s a market for that kind of work today. That’s why you should always open drinks yourself when you are in public.”

“Mama, you are like my Mundschenk. You give me my drinks and I trust you.”

Just add that to my curriculum vitae.

I console myself with the fact that they are fluent in two languages at an early age. Of course there are the nonbelievers who think speaking English in The Village is unnecessary. The butcher I fired once commented that I should be speaking German with my daughter, that a baby can’t learn English. My daughter was one month old at the time, sleeping in her pram as I purchased lunch meats at the counter.

“First,” I said, “I am a native English speaker. She needs to learn perfect English to speak with my family in America. Second, I make a lot of mistakes in German, so to learn proper German they need to learn from a native speaker, their father. Third, all babies absorb the languages spoken to them. You learned German from your mama speaking German to you. Had she spoken Chinese, you’d have learned Chinese.”

“Why would my mama have spoken Chinese to me? She’s Bavarian.”

My point exactly.


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