Monday, 19 July 2010

On being utterly fucking shit at learning German

I've lived in Austria for over 2 years.

My German is shit.

I understand a fair bit and my vocabulary is alright but I can't speak it much past the basics, and 90% of what I say makes me sound like an idiot because my grammar is absolutely terrible.

I've tried and tried and recently went back to basics and bought a book explaining German grammar for absolute beginners but I really cannot absorb the information no matter how hard I try.

Basically what I fail at is this:

There are 4 cases in German (nominative, dative, accusative and genitive) as well as 4 basic ways of saying 'the'. This essentially means the word for 'the' could be any one of 16 depending on the noun used and its context within a sentence.

The cases themselves are confusing. I have no idea what those four terms mean even in English.

Last night I spent 2 hours reading the same 5 or 6 pages and learning the rules before attempting a few basic exercises.

I got 18/68 right, and a lot of those were through guesswork since even after studying for all that time I wasn't sure if I was applying the rules correctly.

It is completely baffling to me, and entirely frustrating since I am generally pretty good at learning new things from scratch with a bit of practise, and I'd say my grasp of the English language is above average.

When studying or being tutored I just cannot understand most of what is being said and all the grammatical terms and rules end up just floating around and making absolutely no sense to me. I kind of hear it, or read it, as follows:

"You have this, this, this and this. When this is said like this, or in a sentence with this like this, you need to use this word for this."

My girlfriend thinks I am overthinking things when attempting to learn but that's what comes naturally to me. For example in English, although I may not know all the rules or grammatical terms involved, I know how to apply them naturally, whereas in German I don't and therefore want them to be explained in detail, which both Vicky and my former German tutor were unable to do.

Here is a stripped down example of a typical exchange between myself and my tutor:

"Why does ein change to einen here?"
"Because of the case"
"What's a case?"
"The way it is used in the sentence"
"How do I know which case to use?"
"You just pick it up"
"You just have to practise"
"How can I practise if I don't understand what I'm practising?"

*she explains the cases for the 50th time*

"Do you kind of understand it now?"
"I think so"

*I successfully construct a sentence based on different cases*

"Good. Now try another

*I fail*

"Why was I wrong that time?"
"Because of different nouns used"
"So there are rules to learn but sometimes the rules don't apply and I basically have no way of knowing when they will or won't?"
"You'll pick it up"
"You just will, with practise"

And so on. It seems like I can study and study, but as soon as I get something wrong, I don't understand why, and I discover that what I thought I knew I basically just got right with trial and error.

Nothing has ever made me as angry as my inability to learn German, and it's made worse by the fact that other, dare I say less intelligent people, seem to be able to pick it up with relative ease.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

On being afraid of the dark

A couple of months ago my girlfriend scared the shit out of me. We were in bed at hers - she was fast asleep, being one of those annoying people who fall asleep instantly, all the time : "Goodnight Vi..." "Zzzzzzzzz!" I was struggling to drop off, as per usual, and was amusing myself by contemplating my breakfast for the following morning (it was a bacon and egg bun and was very tasty). I noticed her breathing become a bit ragged and get more worrying, as if she were hyperventilating. She was also making these pained groans, so I gently nudged her and held her hand to try and rouse her. She woke and looked at me for a split second with a sleepy, trance-like expression - nothing too worrying - but in a flash her expression changed to one of pure and absolute horror, and the fear in her eyes at seeing me was palpable. I've never seen anything like it. She let out the most bloodcurdling scream I've ever heard from a person in real-life and began flailing at me, scratching at my face and kicking as she tried to recoil. Not only did she not recognise this thing in her bed as me, but whatever she saw for that waking moment was utterly terrifying. I had to grab her by the wrists and repeatedly say "Vicky! It's me, Stuart!" a couple of times to calm her down.

Apparently she'd been having a dream where she was staying at her mum's and they were sharing a bed because weird stuff had been going on in the house such as a guitar playing by itself and shadows being seen. There was a demonic ghost type thing after her and just as I woke her she'd been cowering under the covers in her dream as this thing gradually crept up and over her.

I still can't shake the scream and feared look on her face. It really was the most unnerving thing I've ever witnessed.

She's pretty easily spooked at the best of times, which until recently I've enjoyed, since it means I can scare her with the tamest of pranks. It's not that I enjoy being a jerk, I just think she needs to man up a bit. Also I enjoy being a jerk. I remember one time not long after we got together. We were sharing my bed and I got up to get some water, reached the doorway and screamed in horror as if I'd seen an intruder in the living room. Her first instinct was to scream and then throw the book she'd been reading at my head. Nice move Vicky - might as well make things a bit easier for any would be attacker by taking me out for them. Judas.

Anyway, I say until recently, because for the last few nights I've had to keep the light on when I go to sleep, if I'm spending the night alone. The reason being because I'm a pussy. Just kidding - it's because of something I experienced for the first time in my life a week or so ago. Sleep paralysis.

I had no sensation of ever falling asleep or waking up, but post-event research tells me I must have gone through a period of REM sleep and then came out of it. Except sleep paralysis being the utter cunt that it is, only my consciousness came out of it, leaving my body completely paralysed except for my eyes. As if this in itself wasn't terrifying enough, my consciousness had brought with it some elements from whatever dreams I'd been having, at least that's what research tells me was happening. Here's what I experienced:

I was lying on my side looking across my room and could hear police sirens outside and see the red and blue lights on my ceiling. Except the lights were all.... wrong. Then, very faintly at first, I heard a woman's voice from behind me, although it definitely wasn't that of my girlfriend who was lying there. The woman was babbling incoherently and becoming louder and I tried to turn around to see but found I couldn't move anything at all. I experienced an acute sense of panic and danger and tried to scream but couldn't make a sound. This lasted around 10 seconds after which I finally screamed like a girl and woke Vicky.

She assumed I'd simply woken myself from a bad dream, which I guess is the same assumption I'd have made had our experiences been switched, but as bullshit as it sounds it was all very real. I was awake, paralysed, and experiencing some surreal and terrifying shit. Further research tells me that my experience was really mild compared to those of other sleep paralysis sufferers. There's a recurring apparition associated with the phenomena, involving an old hag, which sounds fucking hideous. Google it.

So, since then I've been afraid to sleep with the light off, although now that I think about it, that's dumb, since if I experience all these ghastly hallucinations with the light on it's going to seem a whole lot worse. Also, I kind of want to experience it more vividly so I have a less boring story to write about it. I'd like to meet this crone and maybe reveal that she's not so bad after all. Or shit my pants when she attacks me in my not sleep.