Here I am, 23 years old, learning German in Germany. Had I known this would be my life, I would have taken German in high school. But, my 4 years of Spanish did come quite in handy.
I will be honest, the German language is not so easy. Even Germans themselves admit that it is not so easy. If you would ever like a fun piece of literature, read Mark Twain’s “The Awful German Language”. Honestly though, even with it’s difficulties, it is a beautiful language and I have truly enjoyed being able to learn it more and use it in every day life. This post is not going to be about grammar or interesting German words, but rather things I have experienced while learning the language and it may provide some insight/comfort for those of you learning or hoping to pursue another language.
1) Stage Fright: If you know me, you know how much I love to talk and I am certainly not shy. My mother put me in community theater when I was a child and it definitely made me confident in so many ways. For the first time, I have experienced stage fright and couldn’t bring myself to start conversations or talk with people in German. Upon my arrival, I had a fairly limited vocabulary and had only taken an introductory class in the US. As I started to learn more in my intensive language course in Münster, I actually started to become more shy in public settings. Of course, a lot of conversations go beyond my German knowledge (politics, economics, medicine) but I found myself in a position where I couldn’t talk and it terrified me. I have so much to say and I had met so many nice, interesting people, I just wish I could talk with them.
2) The Need to Cram: If you’ve ever waited last minute to study for a major exam, you know all about cramming. And what did our teachers always tell us, “Do not try to cram the night before!” They are entirely right. If you want to learn something, and truly learn it well, it is a process. As I was experiencing this anxiety about speaking German in social settings, I had this urge that I needed to study German nonstop and not speak any English and you name it, anything to help me learn faster. All that led to was a headache and resentment. If you are trying to learn a new language, seriously, take your time. I’ve spoken with several people from other countries and other Expats about their process and they all said about 6-12 months before it becomes more fluid, and the learning process still continues after.
3) Take a Leap of Faith: You truly cannot learn a language unless you practice it with other people. It takes a lot of courage, believe me, but I felt so much better after I started trying to speak German rather than just being mute the whole time. Speak with confidence, even the confidence of knowing that you may not say everything right or get the gender articles correct or use the right case (there are 4 cases in German, btw). I have to say though, I am so lucky to have such nice people around me to help me through my learning. People that will kindly correct me, or ponder the grammar with me. I have included a photo of a great friend I’ve made in Germany, Hanna. She is Benedikt’s best friend from medical school, and her and her family have been so incredibly kind and helpful in my transition to life in Germany and learning the language. Last Saturday, they had their annual Sommerfest (where the photo was taken) and I told Hanna I really wanted to try to speak only in German at the party. She was so willing to help me and her confidence in me helped me blossom and talk to so many other people at the party in German. Of course, sometimes I still had to speak English when I didn’t know how to say something. The best thing was, I finally gained the confidence to try. That’s all you really need.
Hang in there fellow language learners! We are in this together 🙂