“I’ve got the words in my heart, but not in my brain”; living in a second language.

One of the most awesome but most inconvenient things about travelling is that we don’t all speak the same, in fact some people speak kinda funny. Today I’m going to discuss some of the difficulties encountered in living in a language that isn’t your own, as recently I have made a temporary move to Germany where, believe it or not, they speak German instead of English.

For starters, I have travelled to all sorts of different countries, and everywhere I go I try to learn the niceties; “please”, “thank you”, “hello”, “sorry I don’t understand, can you speak English?”, “that’s not my angry prostitute”… you know, all the important things for day to day life (I can order a beer in Czech. Czech me out). I have lived in other languages besides German as well; I spent some time in Sweden, I taught English in Italy, I travelled in South America (although largely in English thanks to my super intelligent host family who did all the Spanishing for me) and what’s more, the language I learned in school was Frog- French even. Needless to say, I get a little confused… for example, the word “zehn” which is German for “ten” just does not compute with me, at all, and somewhere my annoying brain has substituted it with “diez”, which is Spanish. Furthermore, I was in an Italian restaurant in Germany, and when the waiter asked me how my meal was I automatically replied “está muy bien grazie” which is a grammatically nightmarish version of Spatalian (needless to say, I looked like a twat and confused a few people all at the same time – nothing unusual really). I always want to say “Danke so micke” which is Swerman, because I can’t get “Danke schön” to stick, although let’s be honest, “Danke so micke” sounds about twenty times more adorable. I should make my own language…

There are obviously many grammatical minefields to look out for. We all know the difference in Spanish between “años” and “anos” (although a lot of people write it correctly and speak it wrong, much to my amusement), however in Spanish and other Latin languages you “have twenty four years” whereas in German and English you “are you twenty four years old”. You must also know that “lo siento Claudia” means “I’m sorry Claudia”, and that “siento Claudia” is “I’m touching up Claudia” (the second is probably more applicable). The more languages you (pretend to) know, the harder it gets to remember how to say everything, to remember what you can and can’t shorten, and exactly where to put in your accents to avoid talking about how many assholes your potato has – I think fifty two.

That Latin sign is not as innocent as you may think.


I’m now past the point of “oh that’s cute, you know a little German. Sehr gut mein freund! Wie geht’s es dir?” and now it’s more like “hallo, fliuysenfmitdeinewurstgfesiudfsekjyfvw und brot bitte?”, and although I sound like an Ausländer when I speak, I often sound like I’m going to understand you hahahaha please help me. Gone are the good old days of Germans patronising me and treating me like a dumb child, for now they speak very very quickly and in local dialects and expect me understand EVERYTHING as I sit across the table looking much like a rabbit looks at the lights of an oncoming truck filled with hungry foxes and dinner bibs around their necks. Once people start talking to you like this, you find that you slip from understanding 80% of everything you hear to understanding maybe 25% which is very disheartening, and I am able to respond when somebody asks me a question but not understand exactly what they’re telling me, and often I get hilariously (for them) caught out.  It’s a miracle I haven’t offended anybody yet (that I know of).The thing is, I’ve become so stubborn and proud that I don’t want to ask people to slow down or to simplify their language because then I feel I will look like even more of an idiot.

I try, I do.

What’s more, I study German for at least an hour every day. I can stumble through almost anything I need to say (although the order of words is usually all wrong and what not) but I still have very little knowledge of how to use the future and past tenses. This is because my language apps don’t deem it important enough to teach me (live in the moment Tom! Yesterday is old news and tomorrow doesn’t matter! I think I shall have… A BIRTHDAY CAKE!), and without a proper teacher nobody will tell you the rules, the exceptions or the methods. Even when I do learn through the apps, it will just teach me a few phrases and expect me to put two and two together, and sometimes I just need somebody else to think like that for me. Let’s face it, I’m a personified grammatical error at best sometimes. And because I don’t know the proper way of saying things, I find myself describing everything very awkwardly, a bit like a drunk describing a school as “an educational house for learning” or my brother as “you know, the son of that older man who put the metal ring on the older lady who is my relative”. And when I do learn it, it does vaguely stick, but when put on the spot I find I will always directly translate which IS NEVER THE RIGHT THING TO DO because it’s just wrong. The more you learn about another language, the more you realise just how fucking awkward English must be. We use so many idioms and we don’t even realise it. Das Leben ist kein Ponyhof….

Speaking about the order of words and directly translating; it took a long time to realise I had to ask “can I please a table for two have?” instead of “can I please have a table for two?” When I speak in English now, I definitely sound retarded, if not for my unordered phrasing, then definitely my funny accent.

So, needless to say I become very confused. I feel like I have lost an identity besides “the foreigner” and all my confidence is out the window (idiom) because half the time (idiom) I don’t know if I am ordering my beer correctly, so to say anything to anybody makes me nervous.

There are actually now words I know in German but not in English. This, to me, is very weird. I use this stuff at work every day called “saftbender”. I have no idea what the fuck (idiom) it is. “Saft” means juice and it goes on things with fruit. It looks a bit like cocaine. Maybe that’s why the cake is so fucking delicious.

I can’t imagine what all of this would have been like before the internet existed. We are privileged to have applications on our phones that teach and translate whereas before it would have all been using a dictionary and your brain. Maybe it’s too easy to use google translate, which augments the problem as we just don’t think for ourselves.

Alright, let’s have some fun now. Let’s see how shit I am at speaking funny without any translation apps in a few languages. Feel free to criticise, tell me to re-order and correct any of this.

🇩🇪 Hallo, ich heiße Tom, und ich komme aus Neuseeland. Ich bin vierundzwanzig jähre alt, ich habe blaue Augen und ich bin blonde. Ich arbeite im ein Bäckerei mit der Bruder mein Freundin. Kaffee ist mein Lieblingsgetränk… Moment mal, das ist nicht Deutsche genug… Mein Bier ist zu klein! Das ist besser. Das Bier in Deutschland ist sehr lecker, und ich bin ein Alkoholiker, aber kein Bier vor vier! Was? Nein, ich weiß nicht wie die Leide dort hin gekommen ist… Oh je…

🇪🇸 Hola, me llamo Tom, y soy da Neuve Zelanda. Tengo veinticuatro anos- jaja disculpe, tengo veinticuatro años y tengo ojos azules y todos el mundo en Ecuador dice soy muy grande, porque todos el mundo en Ecuador es muy corto. Tengo solo uno ano, pero necesito solo uno. Trabajo en una panadería en Alemania y tomo demasiado cafe todos los días. ¿Donde esta uno baño? Lo siento, hablamos solo un poco español… ¿Lo entiendes Inglesa? No, eso no es mi oso. De puta madre. Claudia me enseñó esa última frase, porque es una persona horrible.

🇫🇷 Bon soir, je m’appelle Tom, et je suis de Nouvelle-Zelande. Désolé, je n’ai pas parlé français depuis l’école, umm, err, baguette? Oú est la bibliothèque? Paris? VOULEZ VOUS COUCHEZ AVEC MOIS ÇE SOIR????

🇸🇪 Hej! Jag heter Tom och jag är från Nya Zeeland. Jag talar lite Svenska, men inte så mycket. Vårtor den danska har bröd i munnen?

🇮🇹 Ciao bella! Come sta? Chiamo Tommaso da Nuevo Zelanda. O occhi blu e NON GUARDARE CARA, C’È UNO BAMBINO MORTO!!! Oh Jesus Cristo…

🇫🇯 Bula bula bula bula bula maleya BULA BULA BULA BULA. Bula, bula bula.

🇬🇧 You’re still here? It’s over! Go home! Go!

– Tom @ indieroad.

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