Last week at a birthday party for a doctor living in a neighboring village, a celebration of 75 years of dancing around the sun, we met a sculptor from Damascus, a refugee in Germany who recently fled the ravages of war from his home in Syria.
Besides his mother tongue, he spoke pretty good English and a little German. With bright eyes and laughter, we engaged in conversation, he in English and me in German. We talked about art and culture, and our new lives in a new country.
“How can this be?” he asked enthusiastically. “How can this be that I can understand every word of German that you speak when I understand only half of the words, at most, of all the German people that I meet?”
“Es ist einfach.” It is simple. I replied. “Wir sprechen wie Kinder sprechen. We speak like children speak. In this way, we can share what we think and what we feel.”
Having participated for six months last year in a German language and cultural integration school with people from Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Russia, Kazakhstan, Poland and Thailand, I was well aware of the challenges we all face speaking in a new language. Many of us are terrified of making mistakes. Most of us were unwilling to speak at all.
We had to find a way to overcome our fear of speaking. Eventually we began to play with our speaking inabilities. Einfach sprechen, sprechen, sprechen. We began to have fun making mistakes. We learned to laugh with each other and not at each other.
We spoke like children speak, simple words, slowly, waiting for full understanding before moving on to the next thought we wished to convey.
Most of all, we want to understand each other. And as we understand, we, like children, learn and grow.