Visiting Room 21: Learning German At The Age of 30

My name is Monica, I am an Italian Visual Anthropologist trained in London. I have been filming in Sardinia, studying the system of meanings in the lives of specific Sardinian villagers as an ethnographer.

When I first came to Berlin I started to go to a school for German as soon as possible in order to learn the language. After four months of going to school I started attending a documentary film course given in German. However, four months of language school weren't enough to understand everything during the documentary lessons, and following it was difficult, confusing and really stimulating at the same time.

When, at the end of the course, we had to make a short documentary I first found a partner, Julia Seedler, and then we started to talk about some ideas.

In that specific period of my life, I was facing many difficulties in learning German – going to school every day for 3 hours. I thought straightway that it could be a good idea to show to my German classmates of the documentary course, the funny and crazy process of learning a language from zero at the age of 30, when someone doesn't know the native language, makes lots of efforts to communicate, usually making up a kind of non-existing, unreal language. That meant I was trying to communicate without having enough vocabulary or grammatical knowledge and therefore gesticulating, using corporeal expressions utilizing a few confused words with one of the most common aims: trying to be understood!

After the German course, we had a constant need to talk about how the new grammar rules we learnt were complicated and how there were many rules, how German was logical and schematic as a language, and how frustrating it was to learn new rules every day that made the scheme in your head more and more complicated.

Der, die or das, prepositions, Dative, Accusative and Genitive cases have been the main topic of any discussion and during many conversations most of the time is taken to discuss the use of the right case. Sometimes, talking with Germans we found out that they are not really aware, probably like everyone using their mother tongue, of the rules of their own German grammar, they just spoke without noticing the complexity of some sentences or the complexity, for example, of the declination of the adjectives as attributes. They always say that they would never learn German if they had to choose a language to learn, which is fair enough!

So in order to express this kind of feeling of mental confusion and mental effort, we decided to film 2 full days in a German school, inside "Raum 21" at the BSI Sprachschule in Berlin. This would allow us to follow both the class and the everyday process of learning by asking our classmates from all over the world about their feelings, difficulties, the kinds of cultural misunderstandings they faced every day and what was extremely different from their countries.

We ended up with a series of interesting and funny points of view, but what was really culturally meaningful was the game we usually played in class every Friday… have fun and be patient!

By Monica Dok
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