I’m not usually one to make grand new year’s resolutions. The past few years, my resolutions took the form of “read a difficult book this year”. Difficult being defined as (a) lengthy and (b) not my usual fare. With this “system” I’ve managed to read:
(2016) Gödel, Escher, and Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter. I’ve wanted to read this since I heard about it in college. It’s an extremely unusual book with lots of eureka moments for me. Maybe Hofstadter’s enthusiasm is really just infectious. This is a book whose pronouncements on artificial intelligence was just way off but I would nonetheless still recommend for introductory insight and intuitive explainers for some pretty abstract math. And more! As Hofstadter will tell you, this isn’t a Math or a Computer Science book. He has a very specific topic in mind—which I think is a fair assessment of his own work—but this book is really just unusual in that it touches on a lot of things.
(2017) A Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking. Fun fact: my copy is a volume combining the two books inside a single cover, in glossy color print. I got this from the Manila International Book Fair back in 2012 (yep the same book fair that triggered this post). Sat on my shelf for five years before I worked through it. Shows you the extent of my tsundoku.
(2018-2019) A History of the World in Twelve Maps by Jerry Brotton. I’ve always been fascinated with maps and always been fascinated with looking at history through unusual, maybe even mundane, objects. This book just called out to me. As you see around this time, I’ve failed to keep up with my goal of finishing a difficult book within the calendar year. Not sure what happened, but I could guess. I even brought this book with me to Germany.
(2019-2020) The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. My introduction to The Campbellian Hero’s Journey was from internet discussions about Po the Kung Fu Panda. This book is a dense treatise, and though frequently cited in literary analysis, I’ve found it to be more anthropological than literary. To be honest, I’m not too convinced with Campbell’s thesis here—as a matter of style he’s not as scientific as I’d want him to be; for example, he doesn’t try to address how his theory can be falsified. But I still recommend this not just because it will give you context in a lot of contemporary discussions about literature (including films, TV shows, etc., not just written stories), but also because I think Campbell is actually on to something, despite the lack of rigor on his methodology, and he offers an interesting insight into the human psyche. I finished this book this year while in social distancing mode.
So, I don’t really have a book this year that would qualify, unless maybe I start tackling German texts. And actually, I have! I’ve been reading Das Labyrinth des Fauns, Cornelia Funke’s adaptation of the acclaimed Guillermo del Toro movie. This story is just great, I don’t even notice it’s not in English, in either medium (recall: the del Toro movie was a Spanish production).
Oh, I’ve also made a few more traditional resolutions.
2019, definitely influenced by my plans to leave for Germany, I started journaling. I even wished for a fancy journal notebook from our office exchange gift.
2020, I resolved to be more focused. To be very honest, I didn’t do that well on this resolution. If it’s any consolation, the Wacom tablet kinda helped me make up for it, scored goals in the dying minutes, if you will. The past few days (if not the last few weeks of 2020, when I already had my Wacom) I’ve absolutely nerd sniped myself into digital painting. I’ve figured out that my learning style relies heavily on experimentation. That’s why I’ve so far had a hard time, experimenting with the art lessons I’ve been learning from Youtube (like, color theory, anatomy-grounded figures). Erasing is easy, yes, but not always clean, which sucks if you’re trying to get a lot of things right. Digital painting is still a lot of effort but it’s more convenient. I feel like I’m back in school. I’ve been doing a lot of things that apply the things I learn but I’m not really producing anything remotely portfolio-worthy—exactly how I felt during my Computer Science undergrad.
So what’s it for this year? I should definitely continue to be more focused but that also means I should really stick to a strict sleep cycle regimen, something I find hard to do during the gloriously long days of summer (there’s a lot more to this statement but it’s probably a blog post of its own).
Maybe be more creative, be more fearless in my creative endeavors. If you need to churn out a thousand crappy things to create one good thing, then let’s churn through one thousand crappy things with an indomitable spirit. In fact, I have an art project I’ve been working on lately, also what prompted me that I might need a Wacom tablet for this one. Maybe you can argue this project is a coping strategy for all the 2020 distancing, but also, it’s not surprising if you know me as well as I do. So whatever. I don’t care what people say, let’s just do it!
And oh, it’s new year. This Neil Gaiman quote definitely fits. Calligraphed by yours truly, circa 12/29/2018, Speedball with Higgins ink on Canson watercolor paper.
Alternatively titled, “How to Stop Yourself From Climbing Walls in a Lockdown”.
So, Germany finds itself in the midst of yet another lockdown, though to be honest, it’s all pretty much the same to me. The option to work from home has been on the table ever since this whole pandemic started. I’ve always worn my face mask, always kept physical distance, and only rarely ate out, even in the distant pre-Corona era.
The only difference to me are the reasons I have for biking. Whereas in the summer—with the temperate weather and considerably loose restrictions—I had an incentive, a destination to bike to more or less, I have no such thing in a lockdown. In fact, it is even a disincentive to go outside my apartment, even when the sun is just splendid.
Luckily, my interests are particularly suited for membership to the Couchpotato Verein. Aside from the handful of books that I’ve acquired since moving into Germany and my ever-growing Netflix watch list, I’ve also been improving my German (and learning French and Swedish), blogging a lot more than usual (this is the fifth post this year, infinitely more than last year which had none), as well as discovering some new toys to occupy my time.
I’ve figured out that the trick to keep me from climbing walls is to indulge my curiosity. One thing I really liked as I moved to Germany is just the sheer amount of new things I learned. There’s the typical cultural learnings that’s part of the trappings of moving to a new country but I also had to learn a lot of new things from my job1, learned new martial arts (still striking though), and, heck, even learned that I can cook. Yes, you read the last bit correctly.
Who would’ve thought making instant noodles at 2AM in the Hacker House is good practice to make stuff like this?
I have, of course, already told you about my bike. For bike enthusiasts it’s not such a jaw dropper but nonetheless this is the first bike I owned to have multiple gears (the last bike I “owned” was a BMX way back in elementary school). It’s relatively simple but I still enjoyed learning about how to use the gears, and learning about maintenance. That said, I still use my bike mainly for transportation and leisure, any exercise I derive from it is secondary.
I have, by the way, aptly named this beautiful bike The Adventure Time.
I kinda fancy that biking is my exercise to keep my road awareness on-point. I still don’t know if I would want to get a German/EU driver’s license; the public transport is good enough for me save for a few cases where I would just book a taxi. But boy do I miss the zen experience of a good, traffic-free road.
Like a bike, a guitar is something I’ve long planned to purchase but kept putting off. I’ve told myself that I will purchase one as soon as I’ve settled into an apartment that’s more or less permanent for me. And yet, I just never did. I was too busy with other things and my fingers are too shaky anyway from going to town on sandbags in my Monday Boxing classes.
That last excuse was naturally invalidated when Zanshin Dojo had to close due to the Coronasituation2. As luck would have it, the first Facebook Ad that would actually interest me is an advertisement for the absolutely beautiful Yamaha Silent Guitar.3
Hey sexy you’re going a bit too fast. We’ve known each other for a short while and you’re already on my bed.
Anyway, needless to say, I’m in love with this marvelous piece of engineering. For anyone who asks whether this is acoustic or electric, the answer is: yes. I have no idea and I don’t care. Such is love.
What’s really nifty about this is that I could plug my headphones in it and play with bass, treble, and reverb effects by turning knobs on it’s control panel. It will be dishonest to say I don’t find the user experience oddly sexual.
Also, as a corollary to this purchase, I have finally purchased noise-cancelling headphones for myself. For so long, I have been patiently mending the broken joint of my Sony MDR V55 and even adapting my usage to keep it serviceable as much as possible (the cans are still good, it’s really just the broken joint), largely due to sentimental value. But now I’ve purchased a Sony WH-1000XM3. I have no idea why I put off buying noise-cancelling headphones for this long4; listening to music with noise cancelling definitely counts for a religious experience.
Although to be honest, I’m not too confident with my guitar-playing skills. As such, I’ve never really splurged on it because I feel like my skills still can’t justify the expense. This is why the guitar I have in the Philippines is the least fancy of acoustic guitars; it doesn’t even have a built-in tuner! I could only justify this recent purchase because it is such a beautiful specimen of an instrument.
It’s this same austerity, the same high-standard I set for myself even when just self-learning, that I’ve put off buying a Wacom tablet for years. Ever since I’ve had my own disposable income to spend on my hobbies (computers, cameras, telescopes), I’ve contemplated getting a Wacom tablet. But same with my guitar, I fear my skills are not at that level where it can be said that I “deserve” a Wacom tablet.
I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a bad side-effect of my college education. It has ingrained in me the idea of “prerequisites”, that you can’t tackle an advanced topic (like digital art-making) if you haven’t passed the foundational class first (like basics of drawing on a paper). There is certainly some wisdom in arranging a curriculum as a directed acyclic graph but, outside the ivory walls of universities, life is just not so. Much of human progress is built by people who tried to do things before they were even certain they were ready.
I think higher education should somehow take this into account. I believe this will also address the perceived lack of creativity plaguing university graduates today. Boy won’t I make a good teacher.
Anyway! I’ve digressed too much. The point is I’ve finally decided to give myself at least a passing grade in Basics of Drawing on a Paper, and bought a Wacom Intuos M Pro tablet. It was also on a big discount for Black Friday. Are you seeing a pattern here?5
I’ve been with the Wacom Tablet for a few weeks now, enough for a few sketches. Cognizant of my own weaknesses, let me give you the museum treatment through my portfolio gallery!
For my very first digital painting I drew my dog Newton, here stiff and wondering how long must a good boy sit before you can call him a good boy? I drew it on GIMP, after an absolutely hair-tearing session trying to install Wacom drivers on my old-but-supposedly-still-supported Ubuntu 16.04.
After which I did a bit more research and came upon Krita. So I decided to give it a try for my next act which is…
On the leftmost you see a photograph of an earlier (read: almost two years ago) attempt to draw Dognity. One of the reasons I finally transitioned to digital painting is that I don’t have a good scanner to publish my sketches online. They always need postprocessing to even look presentable. And somehow, I just can’t get it to look right.
A remarkable detail here is Embrr’s characterization. You will notice that in my attempt from two years ago (read: when the Lab was still a homie), I drew Embrr’s features kinda round—innocently boyish, you might say. Whereas in my most recent attempt, his bulk as a Labrador is definitely still there but the mass is more compact. Now, it so happens that I keep describing Embrr as The Biggest Puppy I Know (this is not sarcastic at all, unlike his other title as The World’s Most Disciplined Dog). I wonder if my perception of him as a Big Puppy made me subconsciously draw him with puppy-like features; in contrast, I haven’t seen him for almost two years now which might have grounded my perception better.
Lastly, as evidenced by this film roll of an image, this son of a bitch was tough to draw digitally because aside from being a Big Puppy, he is also a Borkin’ Shadow. At least with pencils on paper the subtle variations in tone comes for free naturally. Heck he even shines naturally thanks to the concentration of lead from, I think, 4B shades. It doesn’t help that this is the first I ever attempted with Krita, so add that to my adjustments. Anyway, it’s managed, lessons were learned and we can now proceed.
Despite being the Hacker House Dog for most of my stay in Kalibrr, Embrr is not actually the first of the Hacker House Dogs. Before Embrr, there was a couple of dogs, a couple in more ways than one. To keep the content of this blog PG-13 (I think I’ve already hit my quota with my guitar innuendos above), let’s just say that they are friends for always! Behold Einstein (the shih tzu) and Pi (the beagle), or, as I refer to the pair, PiEnstein.
Oddly, the richness and depth of Einstein’s fur was way easier to draw than Embrr’s simple, monochromatic coat. I obviously did not intend for this piece to be a “complete” scene as I present it here. But I was really pleased with the outcome that I just arranged it so.
Next up is Jake the Dog, a female cat, who has since just been affectionately referred to as Jakey. You would have to find Cassandra for the full story behind the confusing name. In my head I have Germanized it to Jakey von Katzendorf.
She was a stray rescue, with a kinked tail, and so we sometimes call her Pikachu. She’s also fat so when she sleeps, I call her Snorlax.
In case the name really bothers you, well, yes, I can confirm that she takes hers after the second protagonist of Adventure Time, whom I’ve also taken as my spirit guide. I didn’t have a hand in naming her though; it’s pure coincidence that our paths crossed.
Yep, it’s me, and yep that Jake the Dog.
At this point I think it’s a good idea to talk about how I evaluate my art skills:
My forté so far is portraits, though I’m far from a master. This developed from repeatedly drawing anime characters in elementary school, that being my original motivation. This style later progressed to more realism as I drew from newspaper clippings; I don’t have any of my work from this period (thank God?) but the blocky resolution of small clippings blown up to roughly A4 size didn’t do my lack of skill any favors. Of course, thankfully we soon had the internet—and later on even smartphones—which really helped me improve.
I particularly find the nose hard to draw as it’s not defined by clear outlines but rather by shadows. So I find that it depends a lot on the weight of your stroke. Or cheat with a different pencil grade.
The jawline is another pitfall; irregular and yet the shape of which could really make or break recognition of a portrait’s subject. Loomis heads help but I found it hard to adapt when the proportions start to differ (even with the method Loomis describes in his book). There is a surprising amount of ways a head can differ from these proportions.
I haven’t had the time to work in color a lot. Again, this is something I’ve been trying to work on through the years, especially when I started to add the pets to my repertoire. But there’s just more ways to mess up and harder to correct too. In this regard the Wacom is a realy game changer.
I still find it hard (though not impossible), to draw from memory. Or from moving subjects. One thing I would really like to do—especially here in Europe—is to just sit at some public plaza with a sketchbook and a pencil and draw people, draw scenes. I could try but the experience would be frustrating, I imagine.
The bulk of my work being more or less portraits, I haven’t really done a grand scene. I guess some of the skills I learned from photography, another hobby, would translate to composing scenes. But I have never even attempted it.
I’m hoping that with the Wacom, I could workaround (and even overcome) my weaknesses. It’s looking good so far. I have often wished, after judging that I’ve drawn an eye a bit too small in relation to the rest of the face, and yet at the same time already too detailed (what a nightmare!), that I could just select the eyes and scale as if in Photoshop. Doing exactly that for the first time in Krita just felt extremely satisfying.
Which brings me to the second part of my exhibit, portraits.
I’m currently working through some personal projects right now (which involves line art, lots of line art) so, unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to digitally redo a portrait I’ve drawn on paper; for such exactitude, Embrr would have to suffice for the meantime.
Nonetheless, here’s an example of a portrait I did earlier this year. I have been trying to develop a technique with a mechanical pencil.
Here’s my first human attempt at a portrait on Krita.
I was attempting for a less detailed style, with more emphasis on light. Almost impressionist. Unfortunately, having seen face-masked people for most of the past months does not help my weakness with noses and jawlines.
But actually, I should be thriving in an age of face masks; a pandemic should be a boon for my artistic career! It literally covers the parts of the face that I am not good at!
I find you can be friendly with just your eyes.
That’s it. If you’ve read this far thanks for staying with me. I think I wrote this blog entry just to prove to myself that I haven’t wasted my time in lock down. I would’ve wanted to add more images, more digital paintings, but I’m still working on them on top of other things.
Wait, actually, there’s another one…
Luna wishes everyone a Very Meowry Christmas. She also wants you to know that she has totally absolutely nothing to do with the fallen Christmas tree. She says you shouldn’t worry about the gifts rather just be thankful that she didn’t have to use one of her lives on that unfortunate incident.
Not unexpectedly; I’ll be lying to say I did not change jobs to learn new things, improve myself as a software engineer. [↩]
Alternatively, we could add this to the ever-growing, definitely less-than-scientific, list of Facebook’s Newsfeed Algorithm Displaying Prescient Powers. [↩]
Well, it was on sale for 100 EUR less, so there’s that. [↩]
Clue: I got my beautiful bike second-hand for a huge discount from a coworker who has resigned and left Hamburg. The beautiful guitar, while not exactly on sale, was listed some 100 EUR less than the Facebook ad lead me to believe. [↩]
Even if you were living under a rock for the past eight to nine months, I’m pretty sure you would’ve heard about the pandemic ravaging the world right now, if only because you no longer need to avoid people; they socially distance themselves from you automatically. And you can treat those who, for some confidently-wrong belief or another, insist to invade your personal space anyway, as crazies. As a modern-day Diogenes you no longer need to invoke your view of the sun to insinuate someone is an idiot. A silver lining, what a relief.
Which makes me wonder if a modern-day Diogenes would read blogs because if not then my whole first paragraph has no audience. But I guess in an age of social media and walled content gardens the personal blog is the barrel in which a philosopher might dwell. Gasp. I was the Diogenes all along.
Anyway, back to the topic. I’m pleased to report that the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t affected me adversely despite living by myself, a stranger in a strange land. Selfishly I might even be thankful to find myself in Hamburg amidst all this. There are only a few ways I can be more comfortable right now.
Not that it hasn’t affected me at all. Whereas so far, thankfully, I’ve managed to stay healthy, the pandemic has got to my thoughts in all sorts of ways. From the usual negative stuff to more positive outcomes like bursts of productivity here and there, and things I wouldn’t have otherwise tried like finally buying a bike.
My key achievement so far is my proposal for a new economic indicator metric: the Toilet Paper Availability Index. It measures citizens’ general confidence in government proclamations at a highly localized level. Fair to say that this has failed spectacularly in many parts of the world during this pandemic, including, unfortunately, in Germany, long-clichéed to be world’s best at just following rules.
I guess, arguably, no formal rule was instituted, Merkel merely implored the German populace to not purchase like hamsters.
That said, it will be disingenous of me to imply that the scarcity I’ve witnessed is any cause for alarm. In fact, for reasons I would not expound in here, my apartment is currently home to an ungodly amount of REWE Double Chocolate American Cookies.
I hear your screams of “Wait, Chad. But. Why?!”. So okay. They are gosh-darned delicious okay? Addicting even. Won’t be surprised if REWE adds meth in these in secret. Okay moving on…
I noticed that my local REWE has stopped stocking these lately. I’m a bit worried as I don’t know why. I’d like to think they grew concerned that I, a loyal customer, will die of Diabetes but it’s probably either (a) they are trying to avoid liability from a loyal customer getting Diabetes or (b) they just stopped stocking it. I would like everyone to know that if I die of Diabetes, I would’ve died happy. But if I die of starvation in my apartment, you have my express permission to call me der Idiot.
(Editor’s Note: I have since discovered that my local REWE still stocks these cookies. They just moved the shelf somewhere else. I have very conflicted emotions regarding this.)
Speaking of worry, I have long since determined that my ultimate frustration is a situation which I can’t do anything about. Having no option but to wait for anything, for something to happen, is my idea of powerlessness. As long as I can struggle for a result, I can find a certain peace of mind.
Which might just be this pandemic’s greatest blow on me. To be honest, moving to Hamburg to work for Goodgame last year is quite a huge personal goal I’ve achieved, the downside of which is a very philosophical/poetic Loss of a Goal. I have, at the start of the year, just resolved to start poking around looking for a new goal. Then, history intervened: The Year In Which The World Changed A Decade. So much change that introverts tired of isolation.
And now I don’t know in the worst possible personal way. I do not want to give the impression that it is such a horrible thing. I just find myself on a plateau, quite a comfortable plateau, but a plateau nonetheless. I’d rather be scaling mountains, trying them just because they are there. The pandemic just made planning that so much harder. I have no idea what to expect when every expectation just goes out of the window more than usual.
I’m used to testing Fate. It’s just that doing that right now comes with so much more uncertainty.
I didn’t want this to end in such a downer so here’s a really pretty photo I took recently.
Though I don’t like you for your tendency to remind me of my own mortality, I can’t deny you can be so pretty.
Ich bin mit Ihnen für Monate verknallt. Obwohl, in diesem Fall, möchte ich deinen Nägeln ergänzen; die Farbe Rot passt am besten zu Ihnen. Ich finde auch Ihrer Augen sehr wunderschön nicht nur aufgrund jeder trägt Masken jetzt. Sie gefallen wirklich mir.
Was für ein schlechte zufallig dann. Deutsch zu hören ist für mich gerade schwerig ohne Masken. Jetzt ist est nicht genau unmöglich sondern herausfordernder. Wie unglucklich!
Second Semester, Academic Year 2010-2011. Alternating between the modern classrooms of the College of Arts and Letters (colloquially: CAL New Building, CNB) and the depressing, dated, even claustrophobic (yet no less loved) haunts of the Department of European Languages in the Faculty Center, I took a relatively unknown GE subject. Perhaps what lead me there is equal parts curiosity and economics of GE classes in UP Diliman but, nonetheless, it would prove to be among the classes I would label as “mind blowing”, exactly the kind of experience universities are supposed to provide.
The class is deceptively (though maybe fatefully) coded European Languages 50 yet we did not even get to learn a single new word in a language that’s not Filipino or English. It was more like the instructor’s, Señor Wystan de la Peña, exploration of a thesis topic stretched out over a semester. My greatest takeaway from the class (of which there are many!) is the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, the same concept utilized, if over-exaggerated, by the eerie plot of Arrival.
Simply put, Sapir-Whorf says that your language shapes your world view. “This is why,” Señor de la Peña would explain, as then-head of the DEL, “you cannot understand a culture without a certain competence in their language”.
It is a nifty framework with which to see the world, the kind that, at least I’d like to think, applies not just to linguistics and world views in general but also to more specific, more niche, aspects of life. Knowing Sapir-Whorf convinced me that, while being able to explain a concept to a five year old is still a landmark of understanding, there is necessity in jargon so long as we know to distinguish when to use analogies and when to use specific technical terms.
I am of the opinion that Sapir-Whorf should be part of higher education’s canon, much like the Theory of Evolution, Postmodernism, Calculus, and Relativity.
First Semester, Academic Year 2011-2012. I am taking Anthropology 10, less due to curiosity and more due to requirement; it counts as Philippine Studies, a GE track I am admittedly not too fond of. I lacked 3 units of it before I can graduate and Anthro 10 fit the bill perfectly.
Among UP’s problems then (and maybe even now) is the lack of experienced lecturers/instructors as well as aged facilities. Perhaps nothing of my UP experience exhibited this issue more than Anthro 10. Held in one of the iconically shabby classrooms of Palma Hall, it was also conducted by a fresh graduate. It was his first time teaching. Heck, it was hisfirst semester teaching.
Not that these circumstances automatically translate to a poor experience; in fact a lot of my classes during my first year in UP was conducted by fresh grad instructors, two of which I can positively remember to this day as being thought-provoking and perspective-expanding. What marked my Anthro 10 experience was that the instructor was not a good public speaker at all. Perhaps he had a good syllabus, a thought-out lesson plan for each meeting, but unfortunately, all this fell short as he can’t deliver as a public speaker.
And this was before one of my classmates introduced herself as being raised in Bahrain, couldn’t speak a word of Filipino, so can we please hold the class in English?
The show went from bad to worse. I was so disappointed that in my Student Evaluation of Teachers (SET), I wrote a complaint so long I hit the limit of the textbox provided…so I continued my tirade in another textbox in the form. I wrote it in Filipino because to do otherwise felt hypocritical; I was, after all, airing grievance at the fact that we are Filipinos, in the Philippines, studying in the University of the Philippines, taking a class that credits under the Philippine Studies requirement, and yet the class had to be held in English to the general detriment of everyone’s experience, even to the visible discomfort of the instructor.
(Granted, English is an official language in the Philippines but this fact comes with a lot of colonial baggage that I am not going to talk about here. And let’s just say, it was EL50 which brought this baggage to my attention.)
All this because of one girl in our class of around thirty, who had eyes so alluring they could give Ann Perkins a run for her suitors, skin the perfect shade of caramel it reminded you of sun, sand, and sugar, but who could nonetheless speak not a single word of Filipino. Attraction and annoyance is an odd blend of emotions, needless to say.
Anthro 10 would also go on to discuss the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. In this unique configuration of circumstances I form a resolve that if I ever find myself living amongst people who had their own language, even if I could get by with English, I will not overstay my welcome and I would make an effort to learn their language.
September 2018. I receive a job offer from a game development company in Germany. Containing my excitement, I open the employment contract they sent me. The first thing I noticed was the odd two-column formatting.
Only the right-hand side made sense to me. The left side was in German because, surprise surprise, Germany speaks German.
A flood of memories overwhelm my excitement. Something about a foreign girl with lovely eyes and skin tone of a daughter of the desert. Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. Señor Wystan de la Peña, then-head of the Department of European Languages. Promises I made to myself.
…in case of discrepancies, the German version prevails.
Looks like I would have to learn German.
When you learn a new language you get to feel like a child again. Slowly, the world around you starts making sense; there is a distinctly childlike wonder in finally deciphering your boxing instructor’s command “Komm zusammen im Kreis“, having only learned the word Kreis from Duolingo yesterday. You feel a distinct pride in being able to hold a conversation with someone speaking German, even if your side of the conversation was all made in English. ‘Cause who would’ve thunk, understanding a language is different from being able to speak a language.
Some people learn German, then go to Germany. The likes of me learn Java (or Python) first, then go to Germany, then learn German. Have I told you that story of when I learned how to swim already in the pool for the final exam? (Yes, yes I have, a thousand lifetimes ago.)
When you learn a new language all those seemingly-trivial exercises you had in elementary school suddenly make sense. There is, indeed, no better way to build-up vocabulary or ingrain grammar rules other than constant input. You will contrive to have a Word for the Day, not so different from the one you had in English class, Grade 3. You’ll be reading children’s books in the language you are learning because, it turns out, Mickey Mouse’s adventures is a great way to build up the basics of a language.
And I would just like to point out that my decision to build up my vocabulary first at some expense to grammar proved to be a good decision. With a large vocabulary I can play with the language in my head already. I can, if in laughably broken grammar, talk to myself in German, express my thoughts in German. Though this made it easy for me to express myself in this new language, the downside is that without being used to the rules of grammar, it was really difficult to figure out what native speakers were saying. It doesn’t help that with the multitude of rules for declensions and conjugations, German words tend to sound vastly different depending on the context. And have I told you about separable verbs?
When you learn a new language you realize that there is more to communication than just speaking. Body language is a language too. And it can get you surprisingly far.
I’ve had a 10-session beginner’s German lesson, courtesy of Goodgame, my current employer. The things that stuck out to me in that lesson was:
How the instructor, despite being able to understand English, just wouldn’t talk to us in English! This comes around to my point above about how learning a language is all about the input, so I guess the best way to maximize learning in any language course is to use the damn language as much as possible; I didn’t get ripped off there. Come to think of it, my English teachers, despite being Filipinos themselves, just made it a point to enforce use of English in the classroom with an almost fanatical zeal.
And also how, with a mixture of words that are common between English and German, words that varied slightly between English and German, as well as a lot of body language, gestures, and pop culture references, he was able to build up our vocabulary remarkably well.
When you learn a new language you notice the smallest details of conversation that you take for granted in your native tongue. One of the things I find hard in translating all my German training into lässig Unterhaltung is that real-life conversation is not as clean as Duolingo’s examples, as a YouTube instructional video, or heck even just in TV shows. In real-life, people stutter, nutzen vielen Füllworte, use phrases instead of sentences.
There’s also the fact that I am, dare I say, a grammar nazi when it comes to English, a long-lasting effect of my high school education, which makes me extremely self-conscious when using a new language, not to mention one with rules as austere as German.
When you learn a new language (and perhaps especially when said language is related to a language you already know anyway) it recontextualizes the language you already know. There’s a lot to be said about untranslatable words but, at the moment, I find a certain conviction in the word egal. You wouldn’t find a lot of people who would consider egal as not having an English equivalent precisely because it can translate to any number of standard English words/phrases like:
does not matter
But notice how, in English, this concept is always expressed in terms of a negation. It feels liberating to express this concept in terms of its own, not just as the negation of something else. This is one word I wish would transition into standard English. “I find the issue egal,” sounds better, more powerful, than “I don’t care”.
And of course, learning a language gives you the vocabulary to talk about your experience of a foreign land. Germany is, I realized, basically fairy-tale land (the Brothers Grimm are Germans, didn’t you know?), the perfect place for the concept of die Waldeinsamkeit to emerge; Germany basically produced among the most iconic and influential works of Romanticism. And despite being the second largest city in a European hub, I found Hamburg’s busy hours oddly rural. Most establishments close too early; the only Starbucks I know, stationed at the city center, closes at 7PM (or, should I say, 19:00). Learning the term Protestantische Arbeitsethik does not completely explain this to me, but helps me accept the way things are.
To an English speaker, German has a lot of rules. To a German speaker, English has a lot of exceptions.
Paraphrased or so from the film The Two Popes.
Anthropologically speaking, it makes sense for languages to evolve to facilitate efficient communication between members of the speaker-group. I have come to believe that German evolved to see who can follow more rules.
Deutsch hat das Wort die Schadenfreude, um ihre Gefühlt zu beschrieben, und das Wort die Lebensfreude, um Italianer zu beschrieben.