The language requirement in the College of Arts and Sciences can be one of the most feared by students, even if they are already fluent in another language.
When I was working on my first semester schedule, one of the hardest decisions I had to make was whether to take one Spanish class and be done with the requirement, or to try something completely different: Japanese or German.
Eventually, for no good reason other than great chocolate and awesome soccer teams, I settled for German. Little did I know then that German is considered to be one of the most challenging languages to learn. The class met five times per week, which meant that at least one hour of my time was going to be dedicated to German homework every day. I think that possibly the most difficult part of it all was that nothing but German was spoken during class time. Now, let me explain something: I walked into this class knowing absolutely no German, and the teacher expected me to communicate with him in German every day. Clearly this whole language adventure thing was not going to work out.
Those first few weeks were somewhat miserable because although it is not necessarily difficult to do the homework, it was really hard for me to let go of my beloved English. I did not feel like embarrassing myself in front of my classmates and teacher by mispronouncing words or using them incorrectly. However, at some point I realized that it was an elementary level course, meaning that everyone there was just as clueless as I was, and that we were all learning together.
The class quickly became one of the greatest courses I took that semester. I looked forward to it every day, and with each passing hour, I could see myself and my peers becoming better at communicating in German. Yes, it was undoubtedly still difficult because of all the different grammatical rules that the language has, but it was no longer fearsome: my friends were very helpful, and the teacher was incredibly friendly and understanding.
I realized that I really liked German and that I wanted to continue studying the language even after my required three semesters. As such, I seized the opportunity to live in Cornell’s Language House.
Next year, I will be living in this wonderful dorm that allows me to practice German with other students that are as interested in the language and culture as myself. Even better, we will be guided by a native speaker who is there to help us practice speaking, and to help us arrange events to present to the other residents of the Language House who are learning either Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin, French or Arabic.
I am not going to lie, being in German class as a first semester freshman was incredibly intimidating those first few weeks. Eventually, though, these feelings dissipated as I became more comfortable with the language and decided to pursue it further, even outside the classroom.