There are only three English words that I distinctively remember hearing for the first time and learning:
- ludicrous; and,
However, in German I can distinctly remember learning a much larger number of words. Langweilig (boring) will forever be associated with the first conversation I had about school on my second day here. Egal (roughly: “all the same”, but almost like a noun version of “who cares”) is associated with whether one should have a shower in the morning or the evening; it came up when I asked the question. Gefährlich (dangerous) appeared in my vocabulary when I went bike riding here for the first time.
Is this the most efficient way to learn words – to associate them with places, conversations, times, experiences?
(“Negotiation” was explained to us in Class Two in connection a classmate who had been shown negotiation as a means to sort out his behaviour management. The example sentence at the time was, “The vehicle failed to negotiate a corner.”
“Ludicrous” was a word I came across in a dictionary one day – it was the same day that everything was described as such.
The first time I head “reputation” used was in the sentence, “I have a reputation to uphold.” The thing was that it was said by a fellow Class Two classmate. In hindsight I’m not sure he knew it meant – I certainly didn’t.)
* * *
Today at school we heard a Holocaust survivor speak. She was a small lady with dyed hair who now lives in Queens, New York. She is 79.
Sure, I didn’t understand every word she said (she might live in America, but her German is top notch to my untrained ears), but the way she talked was entrancing. It wasn’t a talk instilled with plain hatred and loathing for what happened, it was infused with emotion.
There isn’t really a whole lot to say. Anything, if I were to write it, would have to be countered with the disclaimer, “You had to be there.” You had to be there to see her eyes and her smile and the way she moved her arms and lent in and made everyone in the room fill like she was talking to them and only them.
It was very special in a gentle, worldly, “Yes, it happened – that was then, this is now”, sort of way.