On a good day I can chatter away about the weather, the family and how I am and I can ask you how you are and how the family are. I can even manage to remember that you don't actually use the construct 'how is X' and instead ask 'was macht X' – what are they making. We make a lot in German: some of the things we make are sport, work, free time and holidays. We don't do things. On a really good day I'll remember that when I ask for something I don't ask 'if I may' or 'could I' and instead I remember that 'I'll gladly have'. Equally, I don't say 'yes please' when being offered tea or coffee but say 'gladly' instead – or 'very gladly' if it's a glass of wine. We do 'gladly' a lot. On a really good day when Suzanne or Annette tell me about the latest item of clothing they've just bought I'll remember to ask 'what for a colour is it' or 'what for a fabric is it'. On a bad day I'll be 4 beats behind the conversation and still be saying 'yes, please' for a cup of tea. I know when serving in the shop at the Tafel that there's precious little point in asking someone what type of bread they want and I need to ask 'what for bread do you want?'.
I can still understand far more than I can say but I'm good at replies. If someone asks me a question and providing no one moves the context goalposts too quickly then I can pretty much keep up. What I find difficult is actually instigating conversation. When I'm completely lost with a conversation but it's only social chat then I fall back on 'I can imagine' and hope that they start to use a word I recognise within the next 10 sentences. People who visit me here and can't speak German are always impressed by my German but it's not actually that great. Ease of conversation with a language doesn''t just happen and it's something that I work really hard with. The more you speak and listen then the more you learn and then the more you can speak, but there's quite a leap of faith at the beginning to actually do the talking. I long ago decided that I could be part of the conversation or I could speak really accurate German but I couldn't do both. I went for the communication and decided that as long as I was understood then that's what mattered. On Tuesdays I meet Frau S for conversation practice and she takes me through idioms and casual speech whilst doing her best not to wince at my complete disregard for adjective endings.
Today, I had an interview at the big hospital with Frau K for some more voluntary work. I was thinking that I could do something similar to what I did in Switzerland – serve coffee to people. Frau K has asked me if I'd do patient visiting instead because she thinks that's what I'd be good at – she wasn't at all worried about my language skills and said they were fine. When I told Frau S about this she said that Frau K doesn't let just anyone loose on visiting so I'm really quite pleased about this.
(I also really like the fact that everywhere I go in this town there is someone that I know and they acknowledge me and we have a chat and that it's just so much more open than Switzerland was).