Is this thing on? Testing 1-2-3.
It’s time to dust off the old blog and provide an update on my German skills. I’ve been in Germany for nearly four years now and I can’t say that my German is particularly stellar. For a lot of reasons, during the past few years I have not put any active effort into learning or improving my German. With a huge, consuming, hell project at work, and other things going on in my life, I just haven’t had the energy or the room for it.
Instead, my passive understanding and vocabularly have steadily improved, and the rest of what I learned in class has just been stewing around in my head, growing a bit fuzzy. The result is that now I can understand a great deal and I no longer have to struggle to think about what people are telling me sometimes, but my ability to speak it and create it is totally shit.
But now the hell project is over. My life has undergone some big changes, such as settling fully in Cologne and not making the commute to Frankfurt on the weekends anymore. I’m feeling more settled in this country, and I’m, well, quite happy. Now I’m feeling the motivation and fire again to actively learn this language and gain a comfortable, working fluency. Now is the next big push.
One of the things that has held me back is my love of English. I’m afraid to lose it. Maybe because I’m a writer I have a particular attachment to it. I enjoy putting words together and being understood. At work, my job is centered on my native English skills. That’s my value to the company. And of course, I want to be respected as a professional and sound professional in the office. When I speak German, I sound like a child and I feel totally stupid. It’s the whole vulnerability of it that I struggle with. The ability to just try it, to get it out, no matter how bad I sound or wrong it may be.
Some others at work who are fluent in German report that what pushed them into working fluency was completely letting go of English (or their native language) for a period of time and only speaking or thinking in German. But the nature of their jobs isn’t in English like mine is. I can’t just totally go German.
However, I’m starting to get pissed. I want to understand and be a fully functioning part of discussions. I can no longer live like this. That’s the fuel that is motivating me the most. I want to prove to people that I can do this, that I can speak German and integrate myself into my company and into this country.
So I’ve started switching to German in many of my interactions at work. What I found is that people are surprised by how “good” they think my German is, and that they are appreciative that I am trying. Lately I’ve been becoming more and more integrated into a new team and they’re forcing me to speak it. A crucial component of this is that they aren’t laughing at me or mocking me, but are totally earnest in their efforts to help me in my German. It’s good to feel so supported.
I’ve also found the Practice Makes Perfect German series of workbooks to be particularly helpful. They’re mostly geared for people who have already learned some German and need to work on certain areas, such as grammar, verbs, sentence building, or vocabularly. It’s good for me to come back to it all again and reinforce what I once learned. It also explains concepts very clearly.
The Easy German book is also a really excellent resource for learning the basics. I think it’s for kids, but I just marvel at how they so simply and understandably describe the concepts of German. It was by reading this book that I finally started to understand things like reflexive pronouns.
So that’s my current process with learning German. I feel like I’m finally getting traction with the language and that concepts are solidifying. I think learning, and mastering, a language is like launching a rocket. At first you have to put an enormous amount of energy and passion into it to get it off the ground, but once you do, you are floating in orbit. Once in orbit, you keep expanding your knowledge and maintaining it.