When I was four years old I knew that stealing a cookie today is worth more than the promise of any number of future cookies. I knew it in my marrow, and my sneaky fingers knew it too. I forgot this knowledge once I got an allowance and could buy my own cookie. Today I can express the concept, but I don’t really know it anymore, not like I did when I was four.
It’s aggravating to forget things. It’s worse when you remember that you used to know something and that you don’t know it now.
As I’ve grown older my mind has emptied itself like a pitcher, and it hasn’t always been refilled with similarly precious knowledge. For example, when I was in high school I could talk calculus to you all day. Now I can barely figure tips and make change. I have bartered away my math skills to instead become the Michelangelo of Powerpoint slides.
Other knowledge has drained out of me throughout my life. When I was seven I could look at a picture of a dinosaur, tell you the beast’s name, and pinpoint when it lived, within a hundred million years or so. Now when I hear paleontologists talk they use entirely unfamiliar dinosaur names that I believe they’re just making up to screw with us. As another example, at twenty-four I could diagnose and repair about any gasoline engine. Now when I open a car’s hood it makes no more sense to me than looking into the abdomen of a dissected hippo.
Today I find myself needing to learn German. The idea fills me with perplexity and dread because I don’t know any German at all. This despite the fact that I once had a German class. I had several. One time I said some German sentences to real people who spoke German in a real country called Germany. They answered me, and I said some more sentences, and I think I ended up in a stuffy restaurant eating a gigantic, greasy pig shank with a warm beer.
I don’t understand a single word of German today. In college, I studied German in Germany and minored in German. I should be ashamed.
As an aside, I majored in sociology, specializing in statistics and research methods. That includes telephone surveys, like the calls you get on Sunday afternoons asking what radio stations you like. If you think about it, I literally have a university degree in how to annoy people.
I need help to learn German again, and for that help I turned to my servant and companion, Google. Like a faithful Irish Water Spaniel, Google brought me three German-learning options and laid them at my metaphorical feet. I shall refer to these as “Option X,” “Option Spends-A-Lot-On-Advertising,” and “Option Holy-Crap-It’s-Free.” Here’s what I found.
Option X has an informational video that includes a drawing of Yoda, so that was in its favor. It claimed I’d learn just like a small child learns, and lots of testimonials promised that this system is amazing. It made so much sense and was so popular that I immediately developed a virulent, suspicious hatred for it. And yet, it includes no writing or grammar, and I can take the lessons in the bathtub if I want. I was promised that I’d learn useful phrases quickly, and the basic course costs less than the Lord of the Rings Trilogy on Blu-Ray, so I ended up pretty impressed.
Option Spends-A-Lot-On-Advertising must indeed spend a lot on advertising, since the full course costs as much as an iPad Mini. Even the basic course is pricey. Instead of buying it, my wife and I could each have our own Lord of the Rings Trilogy Blu-Rays, with another copy for our cats, and we could all learn to speak Elvish. But the cool thing is that I’d get a sophisticated computer learning experience with audio feedback to tell me that my German words sound like a ’58 Impala shifting gears. The less cool thing is that I can’t do that in the bathtub without electrocuting myself. It teaches grammar, writing, and a huge vocabulary, although it may take a while to get past phrases like, “the girl is above the train station.” I figure if I want to approximate two years of 8 a.m. German classes, this is the way to go.
Option Holy-Crap-It’s-Free has some German lessons you can take on the computer. But really, who gives a shit? It’s free.
I know which one I’m choosing.
In the spirit if getting off to a good start, I decided to begin reclaiming the German language and my profound childhood cookie philosophy at the same time. I thought I remembered that the German word for cookie might be “kuchen.” A short web search showed that a “kuchen” is actually a cake, and “küche” is the room in which you cook a cake. The German word for cookie is in fact “cookie.”
That seemed too easy. And it was. If cookie is “cookie,” then why is the Cookie Monster called “Krümelmonster” by German children? And I’d think that “Christmas cookie” would be “Weihnachts cookie,” but sadly it’s “Weihnachtsplätzchen” instead.
I wonder how you say “Tyrannosaurus Rex” in German?
Photo by Marilyn Peddle