In 2021, just like in 2020, I will have three language learning priorities. The first two were easy to set: improving my English, a never-ending task, and learning Estonian, which I started chaotically in 2019 and continued systematically in 2020.
It took me a while to decide on the third language priority.
Finally, it is going to be German.
I spoke decent German in the late 1990s and read German books occasionally afterwards, but I did not put any deliberate efforts to improve it. My grammar is rusty, my vocabulary is primitive, and my listening skills are poor.
My interest for German language spiked with the corona crisis, as Germany was handling the crisis better compared to its European neighbors. I consulted German epidemiologists’ articles as a source of reliable information about the virus, and much admired the corona speeches of Angela Merkel for their clarity, pragmatism, and scientific approach.
Given that we are not out of the woods yet, I thought it would be useful to have better, finer understanding of spoken and written German.
It would be useful for me professionally as well: at work, Germany is one of the countries we collaborate most.
But the moment I really said to myself ‘yes, German’, was in early December, when I read the beginning of this poem.
Das Jahr ward alt. Hat dünnes Haar.
Ist gar nicht sehr gesund.
Kennt seinen letzten Tag, das Jahr.
Kennt gar die letzte Stund.
Ist viel geschehn. Ward viel versäumt.
Ruht beides unterm Schnee.
Weiß liegt die Welt, wie hingeträumt.
Und Wehmut tut halt weh.
Noch wächst der Mond. Noch schmilzt er hin.
Nichts bleibt. Und nichts vergeht.
Ist alles Wahn. Hat alles Sinn.
Nützt nichts, dass man’s versteht.
It is called Dezember (‘December’), is by Erich Kästner, and you can read it fully in German and in English translation here.
The comparison of the old year to an elderly gentleman with thinning hair, in poor health, who knows his last day and even his last hour, resonated with me. I found this image endearing and apt for the moment, and on the spot decided that I had to improve my German.
I will take stock of my German level after the celebrations and will set up a learning plan, but off the cuff, I need to learn the grammar properly, to enrich my vocabulary, and to work on my audio comprehension.
Meanwhile, happy new year! Guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr!