I took two years of German in college, made As, learned to read and write grammatically, and was on the very cusp of a permanent grasp of the language -- but then I stopped. Six years passed, then I moved to Germany as a new bride. We checked into a hotel and the next day my husband went off to work. I went downstairs, opened my mouth to say something to the desk clerk, and was paralyzed. I remembered enough of my college German to know that the words I was about to utter were ungrammatical, but not enough to make them grammatical. The paralysis continued for two or three days, after which I said to myself, "you're going to either talk or starve."
Thus I embarked on Plan B -- forget about grammar, concentrate on communication. In the next three years I became fluent in bad German, heavy on nouns (but never worrying whether they were masculine, feminine or neuter), adequate in verbs (but never worrying about the tense or the word order), liberally greased with "bitte" and "danke." Since the bulk of our life was spent in the American military ghetto, the crudeness of my German didn't hamper my social, intellectual or economic endeavors, and I had no major incentive to raise the level of my language skills.
Many more than six years passed, with only one visit to German-speaking lands, in which I was pleased that my ability to order dinner, get a hotel room and buy a train ticket was miraculously unimpaired. The linguistic highlight of that trip was my arrival at the airport in Vienna, when I plonked my bags down at the emigration checkpoint, said "Guten Morgen," and was greeted by a response in German. "Können wir Englisch sprechen?" I asked helplessly. The official switched to perfect English and said "Sorry, I thought from your accent that you were German!" He was probably just being polite, but I took it as a compliment. (Thanks, Grandpa, for teaching me perfect hochdeutsch pronunciation -- too bad you didn't teach me how to say anything in that beautiful accent!)
So this summer we returned to our honeymoon locales, and again I was pleased that a good bit of the German came back. Not the grammar, but the words, and after almost a month in Germany I was beginning to feel comfortable enough with the language to think that if I were to spend six months there, I could probably get a fair amount back.
This is a long, rambling way to get to last week. My good friend Uta Lenk, who lives near Munich and who has two quilts in the Color Improvisations show now touring Europe, sent me a clipping from an art magazine -- in German. I figured this was her way of telling me to resume my learning process. It was about six inches long and included a picture, so this was not a huge translation task. Nevertheless, it took me a half hour with the dictionary to get it right (I made her correct my translation after I did it).
I hadn't even put the dictionary away when, a couple of days later, Uta started two new blogs, one in English and one in German. Of course I had to sign up as a follower. I can get the general drift of the German narrative on my own, but not the full story. And I fear the nuances remain beyond my grasp even with the dictionary. But I am resolved to improve, and decided the dictionary will just have to live on my computer table.