If You Want to Learn English…Move To Germany

The German village where we now live – Bruchmulbach – is surrounded on all sides by American military bases.  And we’re not talking quaint Alamo-throwback musket armories, either.  The bases around here are the real deal.

ramairRamstein – 10 minutes from us – is the largest Air Force base in Europe.  A totally self-sufficient fenced city, the installation comes complete with a 2-level mall, restaruants, sports bar with the requisite 38 flat panel high-def T.V.’s, 18-hole golf course, fast food, a police and fire force, grocery stores, gas stations, brand-new 10 million dollar pool facility (I’m lovin’that), preschool through high school and a wide array of corresponding sports teams, as well as a full-sized airfield with trans-continental military flights leaving and arriving daily.

Just up the road from us is Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, which is one of the largest military hospitals in the world and one of the largest hospitals in Europe, military or civilian.  As mentioned recently, I got lost in there and wondered if I would ever escape without the assistance of a space-time wormhole (I did, but it was close).

Oh, another thing your tax dollars fund is a complete bussing system to get all the civilian kids from their outlying German villages to the schools on the bases.  This made our initial choice to put all the kids in base schools a pretty easy one.  Teachers are shipped from the States all credentialed and up to the exacting standards of the U.S. Dept. of Education.  Schools have playgrounds and dry-erase boards and gyms and cafeterias.  The whole thing.

landstuhlLittle America.  Right here in the south of Germany.

But just the other day, I saw a patient who has lived in Germany for 40 years…and doesn’t speak anything but rudimentary German.  Clearly, you can live an entire life here and never really learn the local language, the customs or the culture.

The military, actually, is trying for this.  Most of their people have been moved here, will move again in 3 years, and so the more like America their lives are, the better it is for these families.  You even spend U.S. dollars on the bases, even though everyone for hundreds of miles in every direction uses Euros.

But for people like me, who came here volitionally and want to intersect with this new world, this re-creation of where I just came from, isn’t such a welcome thing.  Cindy Lauper had some chops 20 years ago, but do I really need to hear “Time After Time” as I drive across the pastoral German countryside on my way to work?

Since the bases here are such a huge part of the local economy-  wait, amend that: They ARE the economy here.  They’re it.  We’re talking millions of dollars every year from these military operations.  As a result, along with all the completely Americo-centric base workings, the local area totally caters to Americans too.  As soon as you say you want to speak English around here…they just switch over from their German to usually a very well-learned English.  Walking down the street in Portland, if some guy came up to ask you a question and said he only speaks German, could you switch over and cordially address his needs in his own language?

I couldn’t.  Not in ANY other language on planet earth.  MY ways are the ways of the world, right?  I should mention, in my defense, that for a few ultra-geeky years in Jr. High I might have had some hope using Klingon, but again, we’re talking about this planet.  And if I did meet a monolingual Klingon speaker in downtown Portland, we’d have much bigger problems than mere cultural ignorance.

stoneAnyway, our big decision (among what seems like a gagillion of them lately) was to pull the kids out of their American schools…and HOMESCHOOL them.  That’s right.  We’re pullin’ em out.  They can learn the 3 R’s in the AM, and work on German during the afternoons.  I’m hoping to find some nice German grandma who misses her kids to come over 2-3 times a week for cheap to tutor them as well, and we just bought Rosetta Stone, homeschool edition (created for monolingual parents with visions of grandeur).

If I leave here bankrupt and sick with some strange German microbe that ate the flesh off my face and all tips of my body…but my kids learned fluent German, I’ll be perfectly happy with our time here.  I promise.  No complaining.

Don't worry about German, kids, just keep up with your AMERICAN
Don't worry about German, kids, just keep up with your AMERICAN

The military base schools have a German “appreciation” class, but they should be ashamed of it.  It makes no attempt to actually teach the German language.  It’s just meant to let kids know about life in Germany (makes sense, if you live in Thailand).  The first class consisted of some guy opening up his laptop and reading off Bill Gates quotes – in English – about following your dreams and not letting anyone tell you you’re a loser.  Frankly, if enough people tell you you’re a loser – in, say,  French, German, Farsi, Hindu, Arabic, Japanese, Chinese and Russian – at some point, we Americans might want to listen.

And, when approached critically, I have to say that much of American school is laughable.  So much time is spent lining up, obeying, filling out forms and being entertained…I’m not sure that kids learn much at all.  We’re certainly not keeping up internationally (AGAIN!  Health care, education…what ELSE can the rest of the developed world do better than us?).

Hey Man, I'm an ARTIST, man!
Hey man, I'm an ARTIST, man!

In France, for example, every village kid is entitled to real, genuine, music training in their local villages.  As part of their taxes, every kid gets a solid hour a week of actual music theory.  I’m talking just the bookish part of music for an hour every week, no instruments.  The boring stuff.  The hard stuff.  The stuff nobody has to learn in the States unless they REALLY want to do it, go to college to learn it, and spend 2 years on lower-level classes before they’re allowed to jump into the real thing.  This is America!  Learning is FUN!

Back to France:  THEN, kids get an hour a week of training on an actual instrument.  This would be the fun part.  The payoff for muddling through a weekly hour of theory.  They learn with a private instructor, in small groups of 4 or 5.  THIS is the way to actually learn music.  For American taxes, kids get some goofy music appreciation class where 55 kids sit around listening to “Bridge Over Troubled Water” while making sure to keep their legs crossed.  In my 6th grade music class, I got to listen to a recording of Janis Joplin mumble in a drugged stupor on stage until she collapsed.

germangIt’s true that our 4 kids could end up total imbeciles.  I don’t think the U.S. Education system is totally worthless, and there are some good things about the schools that we will lose.  We worry about that.  But I think, given the options, that our Rosetta Stone + Grandma approach holds out at least as much hope of truly teaching our kids another language and culture than what is offered on the military bases.  With good curriculum and focus, we should be able to get them up to speed on the academic topics too.  We aren’t the first one to plow this field.

Then again, we’ve been at it a week.  I’m still all filled with principle and certainty.  We’ll see where we are in a month.

10 thoughts on “If You Want to Learn English…Move To Germany

  1. Marius Laumans

    You know what? I believe that homeschooling is illegal in Germany. I am not kidding. Given that you guys are US but live on German soil, I do not know how that law applies to you. Recently, a few German Christian fundamentalists ended up in jail because they refused to send their kids to those dirty, perverted, heathen, kinky public German schools.

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    1. secretwave101

      It is. For Germans.

      But with how hard everyone is trying to keep us STRICTLY American, I don’t think we have anything to worry about.

      Although….many Palestinians learn Hebrew through incarceration in Israeli jails. Maybe we’ll go to jail for homeschooling, and we’ll finally learn another language besides American!

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  2. Schade

    Look, i spent almost 3 yrs in this god forsaken country. I know that not all German’s are Nazis. I started with a real positive attitude in the beginning towards a new country, languague, cultre, etc. I was excited to learn where my great gandparents came from. I was raised in a diverse country, an even more diverse city and learned to treat all people with respect. I was also raised to not say anything of you have nothing nic to say but the below NEEDS to be shared for anybody thinking Germany is a good country. At the end of this journey, I was VERY happy to leave….

    Okay, so here i go. Germany is the most racist, xenophobic, class intense or obnoxious (take your pick), dumb people, bad soccer playing country i have ever seen. This country is in for dire conseuences the next couple of year. They way you Germans think your govt and leaders are going to protect you, you are in for a real shock in 2011.

    Where do i start. The birth rate…Okay, you Germans need a 2.11 birth rate to survive as a culture. You have proven you cannot sustain this as its at 1.37. Your country cannot and will not survive in 50 years. Fact! Your have poor integration skills, you have muslims. Guess what. The German Federal Govt even said that “The current trend in birth rates is irreversable, Germany will be an Islamic state in 50 years”. In addition because nobody is having kids, your people cannot and will not support the pensioners which are a majority of your poulation. Even with your kindergeld/elterngeld programs. You also dont want to breed with Germans because you have past German guilt, so you want to raise German babies but not with German mothers or fathers. Unsustainable…

    The schools, They suck. Most of my colleagues (in Mgmt positions) would hav nothing more than a HS degree. You Germans take a test at age 9 that determines what you do for the rest of your life. Then you go to your genetic schools and then you go to Arbeitur or factory work at age 26 then you work for a few years, then your lazy asses want to collect unemployment or your pension at 35. And the coursework you people teach is all theory based. You cannot survive in 2010 learning theory. It will not work. Unsustainable…

    The welfare state…German welfare (yes East Germans included) make up 40% of the population. My taxes in Germany were going to help lazy German men and women stay on Hartz IV and not work. East German towns are dying…Women have left and Nazis are rising…The reunification did not work…Unsustainable…

    Brain drain…Because your schools suck and you cant get a promotion at your job unless you are there for 12 years, women are not being hired. You have a female Chancellor to save face but the reality is that women are frowned upon in the workplace. Your labor laws are the WORST in the world and thats why no capital flows into Germany. I was doing NOTHING at a major German company for 1.5 years but it was okay, i could have coffee, a job and a desk near the window. The economy is in shambles there and you still have huge expenses. The exports are not happening anymore but you have huge payrolls to make sure people are “happy”. Happiness to me is work and not pretending to work hard…Unsustainable…

    Economy…Export only doesnt work anymore…China is the new export King and your economy needs to diversify…You have little consumer spending and this will hurt you in the long run. You dont know how to spend wisely. The Euro is going to collapse due to high inlfation in weaker states of the EU. Its happening already…Germans are looking for “X’s” on the euro bills because X’s are printed in Germany and therefore better. How stupid do you have to be..Besides with Spain, Italy, Ireland and Greece soon defaulting and the Eastern European countries debt which Germany holds a % of soon to default, your country will yet, once again, pay for other countries problems….Unsustainable…

    People…I have Never met any more rude people in all my life. Nobody is happy, nobody engages in thought provoking conversations unless its about cars, futball or politics. Small minds…The German people LOVE to get HOSTILE over nothing. They have major temper problems. Its part of their past not to be mad but boy when they do, its like The Final Solution has awoken…Even if you make friends with Germans, you are still never considered to be a friend. Thats because they are XENOPHOBIC and you will always be the “Englisch” freind or the “Austrailian” friend. So sad that you cant treat people lik eyour own. Again, Xenophobic because you dont have anything against a particular person per say but you do against sub cultures or someone not your own…And the German people are slowly loosing their cultes and identities so they must be rude to foreigners. They hate people from Turkei and they are taught at an early age to hate them but the Turks support a good % of the economy that lazy German or “dont get your hands dirty” Germans wont do. Racism is till present. Amount young, old and everyone in between. Unsustainable…

    Your soccer team. Where do i start. Great history but your present teams are terrible. They play horrible team defense. Goalie’s are terrible (and nuts). Fans want to be proud but are still scared to be proud. This team will need to beat some great world teams to get ahead next year. The Captain has already said, that he doesnt expect great things from his team. Now their is a soar of confidence…Unsustainable…

    Germany is a country that is trying to catch up with the rest of the world but cant. The welfare state is not going to launch this country into the next generation but only drag it down. Germany is loosing its major welfare benefits in 2011 but i wont be suprised if you see mass calamity towards this move because of the vast number of people on welfare. And welfare is good, pays for your car, your kids, your house but that party is over soon. The Euro is slowly breaking up. Germans actually might like that because they can revert back to their Mark. Immigration and integration is still a major problem. And it comes down to the economy. The export only German economy doesnt work anymore. China is the leader from now on. Made in Germany used to mean something….Not anynore. Its a global economy and the country has to catch up. EU laws are even telling Germany to change their laws because they are Bismarkian and outdated. Labor laws are the most ridiculous i have ever witnessed but maybe France is worst, so okay the 2nd worst. The future is looking grim for Germany. Elder population, no kids, taxes being raised in 2011, brain drain with poor schools and jobs, corrupt politicians and business leaders who spy STILL. Germans will have a very hard near future but they have nobody else to blame but themselves. The German solution is unsustainable…

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    1. patricia

      Okay, where to start,
      We rebuild a country in ruins, to be clear the rebuilding was done by females!!
      We have some of the best food, great beer and a very very good school system. Germans are so NOT lazy we are hard working people .

      Rude, well for Americans yes because we say what we see and don t care about Political correctness, and we tell you because we think you don’t know the rules..

      Oh thanks for pointing out that “not all Germans are nazis” how much did you actually talk with people, how much did you open up. We have a huge history, and a huge part of that is Hitler we deal with it we try to understand ourselves our grandparents how this could have happened. It is not easy to say the least. This is an area that would take many hours to discuss, may i recommend a very good book in case you read, it is a excellent book about our history and attempt s to understand why.
      The Germans (Meridian) [Paperback]
      Gordon A. Craig (Author)

      I am sorry that you hated my Country so much, but YOU sound like a bigot close minded person that would not be happy anywhere .

      I know my fellow Germans are not easy people, please also don’t forget the ” tribal differences”, each region is completely different in mentality and attitude and also language and customs. So 2 people depending on the area can have a completely different experience in Germany.

      Xenophobic, well yeah not more so than other country’s including the USA , If you scratch the surface in most country’s today we are still tribal people.

      Does Germany have problems? Of course but what Modern Country does not, are we working on them yes. Sometimes successful sometimes not.

      But it is a Historic rich country with good people and I am sorry for most USA people who “live” in Germany and really don’t ” live there , never interact or attempt to learn the culture, just stay in the comfort of the base.
      Does not matter where in the world you “live” the base is the same the weather is different that it.

      Thanks, last words, your experience no matter where you live is all depending on you how open you are to it; how accepting you are of the culture you live in; how willing you are to explore and also to make a fool of yourself.
      If you cant do that, stay on base, don’t interact with the locals and you will be fine

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  3. p

    Hi, Oh we will be moving to the Landstuhl region, since my wife will be working at the Hospital for 2 years.
    In case you have not found your German Oma, let me know. I am a native German speaker… good luck

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