The summer after my junior year of college, I spent a couple months in Berlin learning German at an intensive language-immersion program. When I arrived, I got myself into the intermediate class by faking my way through the placement test. Unfortunately, since I had done so by relying on the German I knew from Bach and Schumann songs, whenever I opened my mouth I sounded like a raving lunatic.
“Kind sir,” I’d ask the teacher, “hast thou a pencil? For, woe betide me, I have left mine own in the apartment of my landlord.”
“Faustus,” he would say, looking at me as if I might at any moment sprout a third arm, “it’s ‘in my landlord’s apartment,’ not ‘in the apartment of my landlord.’”
“But why should it not be as I spoke it?” I would insist. “One says rightfully ‘in the kingdom of my Father,’ does one not?”
The teacher would sigh. “Faustus, when are you going to start speaking normal German?”
I honestly wasn’t trying to sound like I’d just stepped out of Werther; this was simply the only vocabulary I knew. In the end, my prediction turned out not to be completely accurate, as eventually I began to understand that patterns of twentieth century speech and of eighteenth century religious poetry were different. I also learned how to say things like like “cock” and “fuck,” and by the time I left my German actually wasn’t half bad.
Then I took a terrific German class fall semester of senior year, with a professor who gave us handouts like this.
Then I took another German class spring semester, with a professor who hated my guts. Unfortunately, I didn’t find this out until I got my first paper back with his scathing comments on it. That night I had dinner with my friend A.N., who told me that this man had been in the Hitler Youth as a child. She also told me that he had been on former President Bush’s committee to determine what to do when the flying saucers came.
Unfortunately, by this time it was too late to drop the class.