When I was a freshman in high school I signed up to take German. I did this even though the school's academic counselor recommended I take Spanish. After all, Spanish is the unofficial second language of the United States. However, I chose to stay with German. At the time I told everyone I was getting in touch with my German Heritage.
I actually signed up for German because I heard that a very cute boy that I had an enormous crush on also signed up for German. In addition, I knew that Frau Z, the German teacher, seated the students in alphabetical order. And due to this method I would end up sitting right next to him. Not the purest of motives. But in my defense, I was only 13 years old.
Fortunately, my close exposure to the cute boy showed that he was not the nicest of people. Even at 13 I showed good sense when it came to boys. The crush did not last long. But as my reason for taking German had nothing to do with actually learning German, I was not the most focused of students. Indeed, what I remember most is Frau Z repeatedly saying "Ruhig!" in a rather threatening way. "Ruhig", of course, means "calm" or "quiet." A word that must be frequently repeated to teens who are bored out of their minds during the last class of the school day.
Regardless, I took 4 years of high school German and 2 years of college German. I even passed the written and oral exams to verify that I had reached the minimum requirement of Intermediate level to get my college degree. Therefore, you might think that I am in a good standing with the language. Right?
Yes and no. I graduated from college a while ago and haven't spoken German on a regular basis for more years than I care to mention. However, on a trip to Munich last year I started to regain the skills faster than I would have thought possible. Therefore, I was still feeling rather confident. Then I went to Switzerland and could understand next to nothing of what was being said.
Yes, German is the primary language spoken in the area around Zurich. However, although everything is written in Hoch Deutsch, the language learned in school, that is not what the people speak. Rather they speak Schweizerdeutsch. Which doesn't even sound like German to the untrained ear. To my ears it is much more sing-songy and rather Scandinavian-esque.
I have already started to spend a minimum of 1 hour per day studying Hoch Deutsch. I am using both books and language cd's. When I arrive in Zurich, I will sign up for a class that will hopefully make me comfortable with German rather quickly. My theory is that I once I am comfortable with German, I will then take a Swiss German class. (Those already living in Switzerland, please feel free to make comments on this theory! I would appreciate any advice you may have to offer.)
So what is GL Hubby's plan? I painstakingly taught him the phrase "Entschuldigung Sie? Verstehen Sie Englisch bitte?" That is the polite way of saying "Excuse me? Do you understand English please?"
Fortunately, his Company is very international and uses English as their primary language. He thought he would likely pick up some German once he gets there. He hasn't yet thought through how this process will work.
I will be very upset if he learns the language faster than I.