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Die Deutsch Schreiber - First Place

By Kayla Habeebullah

From the Mass Communication Department’s 2016 Photojournalism Exhibit


When I was a first-year high school student, I registered for German I because I knew that I was going to become a race engineer for Audi, the automobile manufacturer. After I registered for German, my sister told me that “German is one of the hardest languages to learn.” I already spoke and wrote Arabic, English, and Spanish, languages that I learned with little difficulties, but due to my sister’s claim, which I reluctantly accepted, I started to doubt my ability to learn German as easily as I had absorbed Arabic, English, and Spanish. As a result, I consulted Google, my second brain, about the difficulty of acquiring German and deduced that taking German might lower my grade point average. Although I was hesitant to take the course, I knew that I wanted to learn German in order to excel in my dream job; besides, I thought that knowing four languages would make me more marketable. Following my original plan, I took German, put forth extra effort, and excelled in the two-part course. As I crossed the threshold into the classroom where I would learn German, I got “goosebumps” and was reminded of my sister’s statement about the German language. However, the maps, charts, and letters of the German alphabet that beautifully adorned the eggshell, white walls put my mind at ease. Then, I found a seat next to my friend, Sarai, and she and I shared a few words about what courses we had and what we hoped to accomplish in those courses. Eventually, a pale and bald woman walked in and said, “Hallo, ich heisse ist Frau Creamer.” I did not know what she was saying until she translated her words to English, which were: “Hello, my name is Frau Creamer.” Frau Creamer told us that “Mrs.” was pronounced as “Frau” in German and that Creamer came from her German father. After her brief introduction, Frau Creamer announced that she was battling cancer. In the same breath, she told us that within the year, we would learn how to read, write, and speak basic German. At that moment, I recalled what my sister had asserted about the difficulty of learning German, and uncertainty quickly flooded my mind again. Nonetheless, I did not drop the course. First, we learned how to pronounce the letters of the German alphabet. Initially, this task was difficult because the English alphabets and the German alphabets are similar, but there are letters such as Ä, Ö, and Ü that highlight the differences in the alphabets. If Ä, Ö, or Ü, as opposed to A, O, and U were in a sentence, I had to pronounce “umlaut” at the end of the letter. For example, Ä is pronounced “ah,” so I had to say “ah umlaut.” Ö is pronounced “oh” and is spoken as “oh umlaut.” As my classmates and I become more proficient, we moved to basic vocabulary. Before the middle of the semester, I had learned how to say my name, some hobbies, and some articles of clothing. Therefore, when Frau asked me, “Wie heisst du?” (What is your name?), I responded: “Ich heisse ist Chayse” (My name is Chayse). “Was du gern während deine freizeit?” (What do you like to do during your free time?), she asked. I replied, “Ich spiele volleyball gern” (I like to play volleyball). “Was hast du an?” (What are you wearing?), was Frau Creamer’s third question. “Ich habe auf jeans, schuhe und ein T-shirt” (I am wearing jeans, a pair of shoes, and a T- shirt), I answered.

Frau Creamer also taught us to say how we got to school, what our plans were for the weekend, and what items we got from the grocery store. After rehearsing the phrases countless times, they became as simple as the basics I had learned. Before I knew it, I was speaking and reading in German. However, after we learned what Frau Creamer called the basics, the language became complicated. My first major writing assignment rekindled my fear, and I struggled to compose logical statements. I knew I needed help, but thinking about asking Frau Cramer for help made me feel ashamed because I had never had to ask for help before, and as a first-year student in high school, I did not want to start asking for help with my school work. Besides my father had told me to take an easy language such as Spanish that would help me maintain my high grade point average. It was too late to take Spanish and I did not want anyone to know that I needed help. While I struggled to put words on the page, many of my classmates’ yellow pencils raced across their white lined paper, as they effortlessly completed their assignments. In fact, one of my classmates always completed his assignments within fifteen minutes of receiving them because German was his second language, and it was his parents’ first language. I began to believe that I was the only student in the class who did not know German. Furthermore, my fear of being an outcast stopped me from asking for help when I knew that was what I needed. There would always be something wrong with how I formed sentences or conjugated verbs. In other words, I never failed at failing to get it right the first time. For reasons that I cannot explain, I thought “weil,” which means because, was a verb and placed it at the end of my sentences. For example, in the sentence: “Ich gehen, weil es seiht gut aus,” which means “I’m going outside because it looks nice out,” I wrote, “Ich gehen, es seight gut aus weil.” Constructing sentences in German became a brick wall that temporarily prevented me from attaining my goal. Because of my mistakes and because of my pride, I began to receive low grades on my writing assignments. Thus, I humbled myself and gathered up enough courage to ask Frau Creamer for help. She kindly informed me that the placement of many words in both languages is the same, but in some cases the German placement is different. Frau Creamer noticed my frustration and suggested that I stay after class and receive tutoring. I was reluctant at first, but I knew in order for me to thrive in German, I had to study with her after school, so I meet with her once a week. During our first tutoring session, she asked me to state all the problems I had with learning German. I told her that word placement was the only struggle that plagued me. Then, she wrote down a subject, a verb, and an adjective and asked me to form a sentence in German using the subject, the verb and the adjective she had given me. I looked on the paper and saw “ich,” “gehen,” and “das supermarket.” After I started forming the sentence, I looked up at Frau Creamer, who articulated: “Ich gehe zum das supermarket” (I’m going to the supermarket.). She complimented me on my slight improvement; I knew I needed to form a more complex sentence if I wanted to improve my linguistic skills. Thus, she gave me another test: “wir,” “haben,” “bus,” “schule,” and “weil.” Confused, I turned to Frau Creamer again, and my teacher said: “Just form the beginning of the sentence the same way you did with the last words I gave you.”

Then, I created the sentence: “Wir hatten mit dem bus zur schuhe, weil das auto ist pleite” (We had to take the bus because the car was busted.). When I handed my sentence to her, she smiled. Frau Creamer taught me how to properly compose sentences until the end of the course. In each session, I learned how to write longer complex sentences. Consequently, I passed German with a grade I was very pleased with, which was the highlight of my year. I was well on my way to becoming proficient in German.

Upon entering my second year of German, I was prepared for the challenges that the course would present, but I had also learned that if I worked smart I would prevail. When I walked into my German II class, I was expecting to see Frau Creamer, so I was confused when I saw an older chubby, long, grey-haired woman standing at the front of the classroom. She said, “Good morning. My name is Frau Grey. I am going to be your second year teacher.” I shook her hand, introduced myself, and asked, “What happened to Frau Creamer?” Frau Grey’s body language shifted as though she was uncomfortable, and after a brief pause, she uttered, “I will tell the class once they have all entered the room.” I found a seat and awaited the news we were going to receive about Frau Creamer. Everyone finally arrived, and Frau Grey told us that she was sorry to inform us that Frau Creamer had passed away over the summer. Her battle with cancer had taken a toll on her, though she fought cancer as long as she could, but her body succumbed to the illness. Frau Grey passed out pink breast cancer ribbons that we pinned to our shirts in memory of Frau Creamer. The class took a moment of silence to remember Frau Creamer, and as I looked around the room, I saw looks of bewilderment and grief plastered on my classmates’ faces. We shared a few heartfelt memories of Frau Creamer and began our year of German II with Frau Grey. My learning and understanding of the German language continued to expand. The first lessons we learned were German customs such as attending school, eating meals, celebrating traditions, and using currency. In addition to mastering our new speaking and reading assignments, Frau Grey wanted us to become better writers of German as well. Unlike Frau Creamer, Frau Grey expected us to write in a journal for a weekly grade. On my journal assignments, I always received red marks—symbols of failure. My hard efforts were painted over with vivid red marks; I asked her what was my main deficiency in writing in German. She told me that I had a difficult time attaching verbs and prefixes. In the German language, some separable prefixes are added to the “subject-verb.” For example, in the term “nachsprechen,” “nach” is the prefix and “sprechen” is the verb. “Nach” means “again” in this form, and “sprechen” means “to speak.” Because the prefix-subject-verb formation was difficult for me to comprehend, I scheduled times after school to work with Frau Grey. Like I did when Frau Creamer was my teacher, I asked Frau Grey for help, but I did not wait until I was failing the course. My after school sessions with Frau Grey were different from my sessions with Frau Creamer. Frau Grey was always busy with other school activities, so our sessions lasted about fifteen minutes. As a result, I was never able to fully comprehend the formation of prefixes and verbs when I worked with Frau Grey, but when I went home and used Google as my tutor, I began to learn how to form prefixes and verbs. When Google could not help me, I turned to my sister. My sister had lived in German, and though she was not fluent in German, she knew enough about the language to help me solve my problems. Day after day, we sat at our dinner table and attached prefixes to verbs. For the first few sessions, I still did not fully grasp the concept, but I was diligent in my efforts to learn German. Thus, I continued to use the Internet to help me supplement my learning, taking several online quizzes that were both multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank that required me to attach prefixes to verbs to form sentences, which helped me tremendously. Because I practiced at home on the computer and with my sister, my German literacy skills improved, and I began to receive better grades on my journals. After all my hard work and effort, I passed the class, but still needed work to perfect my German. During my two years of taking German, I acquired plenty of knowledge and skills. Ich habe gelernt zu sprechen, lessen, und schreiben auf Deutsch (I learned how to speak, read, and write in German.). I learned how to speak, read, and write in German. I learned about German culture and history. I learned that when I struggle, I should never surrender, never allow myself to think that I cannot accomplish my goals. Equally important, I learned that I must never be afraid to ask for help. With faith, hard work, and support from others, including Google, I learned that anything is possible. Because I persevered, I am Die Deutsch Schreiber (The German Writer) and a future Audi race engineer.

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