How I Learned English

Yesterday somebody complimented me on my English and asked me, when I learned to speak it. This reminded me of a funny story.

When I was a kid in Germany, English lessons usually started in Grade 5. I however had a special teacher when I was in Grade 2. My cousin, who is 4 years older than I am, used to come into my room, bearing a poster board and many papers. I had to get up, greet him in English and had to wait to be allowed to sit back down on my little chair. Then he started his lesson. He was very strict and formal and taught me different greetings and what time it was and things like that. 

It was a lot of fun for me. First of all I loved the attention he gave me and second of all, I felt that I had to work hard, but that I accomplished a lot. 

Some time later I spent a vacation with my aunt in Switzerland. She had lived there ever since she took a job as a nanny when she was a young woman. I used to visit her often. One evening we were invited to a party, where the centre of attention was an older lady from England. At one point we ended up all alone in a room: the English lady, her dog, my aunt and I.

Now, my aunt does not speak English and the lady did not speak German. I thought, it was a very awkward situation.  Plus, there was something I wanted to know. So I took all the courage I had, looked her firmly in the eyes, pointed at the dog and said:”What’s your name, dog?”

The Lady was clearly startled, but after a brief moment she gave me the answer. My aunt could not believe her ears. She beamed, she was so proud of me. And I felt a combination of pride and embarrassment, because while I could not figure out what it was, I knew I had not gotten it quite right.