I mentioned in a previous post that I was having an impossible time finding my trusty epsom salts here in Berlin. Well, an amazon order and a series of shipping snafus later, I finally received my giant bucket from a German bulk salt vendor. Ever a multi-tasker, I quickly developed an epsom salt bath/Pimsleur language class habit. It’s become one of my favorite (almost) daily rituals.
If you’ve never tried Pimsleur and you’d like to learn another language, I encourage you to try it. My first encounter with these courses was after I returned from a trip to Europe in 2005. I’d had a wonderful time in the Netherlands and wanted to learn a little of the language. I poked around the Austin library catalog and discovered that they had these audio programs available, not just in Dutch but for dozens of languages. Since then, whenever I’ve felt I had brain-power to spare, I’ve done a daily Pimsleur lesson.
Pimsleur is an audio, conversation-based system. I often hear it criticized for the fact that it doesn’t help with reading and it has a limited vocabulary. Sure, these things are true. What it DOES do, though, it does well. For every language that I’ve done ten lessons in, I can permanently recognize it when it is spoken around me. That may not sound like much, but I really like being in an airport and hearing an announcement and knowing “That’s Japanese” or “That’s Greek.” Being able to say a few words of greeting, even if it’s all I can say, shifts people’s attitude toward me enormously. I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say it makes me seem like a human. It gives me a sense of the cadence of a language, which is key to being understood when speaking. And within 30 or 40 lessons I begin to get a sense of what “sounds right” and what doesn’t.
Part of what has always made language learning difficult for me in the past has been shyness, or perfectionism, or not wanting to show my weakness, or something like that. The tight, panicked state that makes the mind go blank. I’m so glad to have gotten old and mature enough to not care so much about being revealed as a bumbling novice. But also I think it is helping to soak in the tub in a relaxed state as I practice speaking this new language. I’m training my body to associate German with relaxation, unlearning the fear that U.S. pop culture has trained me to link to this language. I’m also training my body to associate bathing with German, in preparation for exploring the deep culture of healing baths centered in this culture. Baths and German language, each better with the other.