One thing I’ve noticed while trying to use German during my time in Berlin is that I’m having a lot of fun. While it’s true that I’m often frustrated—by what I cannot say—I really try to celebrate all my little wins.
What I like to do is to see how far I can get into any German-speaking situation without the person I’m speaking to transitioning to English. This is a very delicate surgery since Berliners are generally pretty fluent in English and always interested in practicing it. It reminds me a little of Operation, the battery-powered game where your physical dexterity is tested by trying to remove little white plastic ailments from an electrified patient. If you veer too far off course, the red bulb nose will buzz and flash indicating that the game is over.
I’ve discovered that the trick to really mastering this game in German is confidence and style.
There are three places in particular that I visit to play my little German speaking game: Kaiser’s grocery store, Rossmann drugstore, and at a café called Kaffeemitte. My goal, at first, was to memorize typical questions and responses. I would like a large coffee with milk to go, please. Ich möchte einen großen Milchkaffee zum Mitnehmen, bitte, or Ich hätte gern einen großen Milchkaffee zum Mitnehmen. Originally I started off with just einen Kaffee, bitte but that resulted in too many responses: With milk? To go? For here? What size?
Since I was making my first attempts at communicating, I always wanted to reduce the chance that the barrista would throw me a curve ball, like asking me if I wanted anything else. However, the more I practiced with TOTALe and around town, the more likely I was to be able to handle questions thrown my way. My explicit goal was always to see if I could get through the entire interaction without needing to speak English and without the vendor switching into English.
Once I turned it into a game it became fun and I always pumped my fist in personal triumph when I could “end scene” having spoken 100 percent German. It was a bonus if I got a smile from the shopkeeper.