Languages Matter in a Time of Pandemic: Why we learn German (Lucinda Axtelle, German 202)

Submitted by Michael Neininger on
Lucinda Axtelle

This was actually not the first time I’ve had online German instruction. In high school I took it for three years online. Though in that case there were no actual people I could talk to in German with the exception of a German woman from the community I met with and the school librarian. Coming to the UW I was so excited to have an in person German class. I felt my language skills improve vastly and I made connections with both the students and staff. In an ultimately vain attempt to fulfill my lifelong dream of studying abroad I applied to Spring in Vienna. As a CHID major and potential music double major, Vienna would be both a chance to explore my language skills and get valuable first-hand knowledge of my other courses of study. I did get into the program and spent one quarter gearing myself up for my quarter abroad. In the back of my head was a tiny voice saying “It’s too good to be true”. I didn’t listen of course, and yet it was right. I spent a week feeling sorry for myself but as things progressed my mindset started to change. My parents still had jobs where they could work from home, I was able to return home easily and safely, no one in my family has yet gotten sick. I started to realize that in the grand scheme of things, even though I had looked forward to Vienna there would always be other opportunities and I was thankful for what I had.

            German has given me a lot to think about in this quarantine. In fact, I think that language is as important as ever in this time of social distancing. German is by far my most communicative class, and I look forward to it because I get to talk with other people. Even though we’re not speaking in our native language it is really nice just to spend an hour connecting with other people each day. On a deeper level learning German gives me some hope. I’m learning a language so I can study abroad either at UW or in grad school. It reminds me that, yes right now you’re stuck at home, but someday this will pay off and you’ll be able to travel. The coronavirus has personally made me feel rather helpless. I watch our leaders bumble around making mistakes and wondering when will life be normal again? Yet I also have seen other leaders, like Angela Merkel, who have handled things well. It’s helped me to realize hardship teaches us important lessons. We are learning that in order to get through a crisis we need to listen to experts (many of whom work at the UW). We are learning that sometimes everyone needs to do what is hard for progress to be made. I hope we are all learning to respect each other more. This virus has brought out nasty prejudices which only hurt more people and do nothing to help this crisis. We are realizing that the people who deserve our respect are those who help others instead of those who bully in order to affirm their own power. The world is struggling right now but hopefully that means when we come out of this mess, our world is in for some long-needed changes. All of us who are students are seeing examples of how not to handle a crisis and how to handle a crisis. As we enter the workforce we’ll take that knowledge with us and hopefully fix this mess the world’s in. I sincerely hope that we come out of this with greater respect for one another and the world.

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