100 Days in the U.S.< < Back to
This essay is one of an occasional series written by students who are new to Athens, Ohio.
Moving to the United States is a long process, even if you only plan on staying a limited time. Applying for a visa, scheduling your new life and learning how to express yourself in this new language is difficult.
As English is universal language, Germans learn to speak it in school, shortly after learning the grammar for their mother tongue. Therefore, everyday conversations weren’t a problem for me, but expressing a variety of tones in a script that was meant to explain a complex topic in about one and a half minutes? Now, that’s a challenge.
The German and English language are very different. English has around 620.000 words. That’s more than double the number Germans use. On top, there is no other language that has more words than English. But in German, we can build great compounds, like “Hutschachtelfabrikantentochter”, meaning “daughter of the owner of a company for producing boxes for hat”. Hutschachtelfabrikantentochter.
Expressing oneself is more than just talking
Struggling with words, not getting jokes and even worse, not being able to express my own humor was difficult. “Believe me, in German I am hilarious…”, was one of my most frequently used sentences. The feeling of being foreign was new to me, as I lived in Germany my entire life.
Working as a journalist in a language that is not your mother tongue is quite challenging. But also, everyday conversations bring new aspects to your use of language. I talked to Ohio University’s communication professor Charee Thompson about the need of small talk. She said that most people aren’t aware of small talk anymore, as it is something so basic.
Small talk is more than asking “How are you?”
Small talk is used to fill up silence and as a polite way of communicating. And even if the definition of small talk is the same in most countries, the understanding of its use differs greatly. This is also shown in this audiofeature on The OUtlet, that starts at 4:44 minutes.
The use of small talk is not only about language, but also about culture. While working on this story, I have learned not only to acknowledge the American definition of politeness, but also to work my way into this culture. I understood that my German background is helpful but does simply not work in this new culture.
100 days are by far not enough to learn a new language to the fullest or to engrain with a foreign culture. But it is enough to understand where to start and to question differences.