German Karaoke and Family Bonding

My husband is German, but despite his blond hair and blue eyes, you wouldn’t know it. There is only one thing that will turn his whats into vats: visits with his family. We’ve been married nearly three years and on each visit home he greets his family in German and quickly falls into his native language when talking about the drive down and the traffic. Their words bounce around the home like a ping-pong ball in a game that I don’t know how to play. But, to make me comfortable, they always switch to English. His parents and sister are proficient-to-fluent in the language, but there are still moments when some idioms don’t quite translate or the self-consciousness of speaking a second language creates a more formal tone to a family dinner. While we don’t have a language barrier in the sense of not being able to communicate, we do have one when it comes to growing together as a family.

On our last visit, my husband discovered a mixed tape that his parents made in the 1980s. He put it in the stereo and a German pop song blared from the speakers. I had never heard of the song called “Codo” by the band Döf (by looking at the music video it’s a wonder it never made America’s Top 40). His mother, who I had only ever heard speak in happy, but halting English, started dancing and singing along with the music. “Liebe, Liebe, Liebe” she shouted with the chorus, like she was back in a dance hall in Hamburg. My husband whispered in my ear that the lyric meant love and then he joined in with his family’s impromptu karaoke to the German song. They were not the Von Trapps, but they were putting on a show, and I was left to enjoy the show as an audience member, not a participant.

couple germany

Rachel poses with her German-speaking husband.

That is why I signed up for Rosetta Stone TOTALe. I know that my attachment to my husband’s family will keep growing deeper, and I need to speak the same language to strengthen it. I am at the beginning of my language journey and—like his family with English—I speak in halting sentences and am self-conscious, but I will push through. I just started on lesson 2 of unit 1 where the focus is on family members. On our next visit, I will no longer see my husband’s family as belonging only to him, but as meine Familie, too. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll know enough to sing along to the “Codo” chorus one Liebe at a time.

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Rachel Westerwelle

Rachel Westerwelle is a writer currently living in Washington, DC. Since graduating from the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, she has worked for Steeplechase Films, ABC News, Syfy, and CNN. When not writing, she enjoys leading ghost tours in front of the White House, playing “I Spy” in German, and cooking Top Chef inspired meals in her basement apartment’s kitchen.
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