Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Live aus Wien.

I've been in Vienna for nearly a week, so I think that it's about time that I posted something here about my summer sojourn in Austria. Taken earlier today, the above photo shows the view from my bedroom window of the Jesuitenkirche, a historic church in Vienna's Innere Stadt cared for by the local Jesuit community, which has been kind enough to feed and house me and to patiently put up with my halting attempts to communicate in the German language.

Yesterday I began a four-week intensive German course at the University of Vienna, studying alongside over nine hundred other students from other seventy countries. In contrast with my experience last summer in Innsbruck, when I was one of a dozen Jesuits studying German together, this time I'm the only Jesuit in my language program. Though I somewhat enjoy the anonymity that comes with not being part of an identifiable crowd, I also suppose that being the only Jesuit in class could lead to fruitful conversations with curious classmates who have never before heard of the Jesuits, much less met one in person.

Language-learning can be very challenging, particularly as one gets older and one's brain looses the sponge-like qualities of retention that it seems to possess in childhood. I realized with a bit of a shudder last week that, excluding my native English, German is the fourth modern language that I've set out to learn, having been preceded by French, Italian and Spanish; I have also studied Classical Latin and New Testament Greek, but only with the relatively modest goal of acquiring reading proficiency. Though I'm ambivalent about the global dominance of English, I am grateful that it's my first language; if I tried to learn English now after having studied the other languages listed above, I might have a hard time.

In a certain limited sense, I've found that learning new languages actually does get easier over time, as one learns to adopt more efficient learning strategies on the basis of experience and practice. At the same time, though, I'm not sure that one can really master a language without living with it for a long time. Though I haven't formally studied French in fourteen years, it remains my strongest language after English because I've made a conscious effort to keep it up and to use it every day. Long exposure has allowed the language to seep into my brain and get permanently stuck there; I think that it makes a difference that I started learning French at age twelve and not, say, twenty-four (my age when I encountered Spanish for the first time) or thirty (how old I was when I started German last year). I can appreciate the practical need for short, intensive language courses, but I think that prolonged study and regular (even if limited) use remains the best way to learn - at least for me.

Though the demands of my language course will make it harder to find the time and energy for blogging, I do intend to post some further reports on my time in Vienna. In the meantime, please pray for me and my classmates as we contend with the difficulties, mysteries and wonders of the German language. AMDG.


Post a Comment

<< Home