Right, so I’ve just spent the past three days in Munich – which was fun for so many reasons – and I’ve been using my German, we went sightseeing, etc., but then on the four-hour train ride back to Vienna I started reading Fluent in 3 Months by Benny Lewis.
I know there are lots of divided opinions in the language-learning community about Benny’s approach and how he presents it; and I do want to point out, quickly, that that is not really the point of my post here. I do want to review the book at another time (probably in the first week of February, when I’ve had some time to digest it) but right now, I’m not thinking about that.
What I like about Benny is that – in spite of opinions about all of that – he gets me incredibly enthusiastic about learning languages. I can see the flaws in his methods, but his enthusiasm is infectious and if I feel a dip in my motivation, sometimes reading his posts picks me up again.
So, the book got me thinking about what I’m doing right now. And I thought about it – and I thought about a conversation I’d had with one of the teachers I work with at school on Thursday – and I realised something.
I don’t know why I’m learning German, and – worst of all – I am not using my time here in any way effectively.
It doesn’t sound too bad at first, but this is something that I’m really unhappy and kind of guilty about. Yes, I came here to be a teaching assistant – but it’s an understanding of the programme that the teaching assistants are also students of German. I’ve been learning this language for over a decade now and yet still, when the opportunity to really practice or really use the language arises, I shrink away from it and avoid it and this is not helpful in any way.
It makes me feel kind of like a fraud – my degree is in languages that I don’t seem to be using – and I feel guilty for wasting an opportunity other people would probably kill for and though I don’t really wonder why I’m here (I’m surprisingly not terrible at my job), I do wonder why I want to be here when I’m not really fully integrating with the culture.
This may seem a little excessive – and these thoughts are perhaps some of those exaggerated ones – but the point still stands: after more than ten years of learning German, why am I not using it?
I’ve always been somewhat shy (I’ve sort of grown out of it in English over the past four years or so, though I do still find it difficult to just strike up a conversation), but this is no excuse when I’ve had offers to speak German with people and I’ve sidestepped the issue completely.
So after thinking about this, I thought some more. I like German, I really do. In and of itself, I like the language. I do like using it. I let my nerves get the better of me a lot more than I should, but I am always a little thrilled when I manage to speak to someone.
I like being in Austria. I’ve not made any real Austrian friends here but almost everyone I’ve interacted with has been friendly and I don’t want to use language as an excuse not to meet more people any longer (I’ll deal with the shyness/conversational problems later). I really want to stay here for another year and I can’t justify it if after the first year, it’s like I’ve never been here.
I do want to be a translator. The point of this year was to improve my German and make it more natural, with the aim of achieving this career goal through doing my masters in a few years’ time. Reading and watching TV do improve language, but I could do those at home – so, again, I need to justify my presence in my own mind, not anyone else’s.
This is why I mentioned Benny’s book, too – because his method is about speaking. I’m not the sort of person who’s ever going to just speak from day one; I know that. However, I’m so far past day one that I don’t even remember it any more and I have to stop hiding behind the same excuses I’ve been using over and over again.
With that in mind, I’m setting myself a sort of mini-challenge.
I’m going to Rome on Friday evening, because my semester break starts next week. So from tomorrow morning (Monday 26th) until Friday 30th, my aim is to try and immerse myself into the German language as much as possible.
I’ll tackle making new friends another time. 😉
I wrote myself a little list of what I should/shouldn’t do on the train back from Vienna:
- ich werde keine Fernsehsendungen auf Englisch ansehen / I won’t watch any TV programmes in English
- ich werde keine Bücher auf Englisch lesen / I won’t read any books in English
- ich werde veruschen, Deutsch mit meiner Mitbewohnerin und Kollegen zu sprechen / I will try to speak German with my flatmate and colleagues
- ich werde jeden Tag mindestens 500 Wörter auf Deutsch schreiben / I will write a minimum of 500 words in German every day
- ich werde jeden Tag die Zeitung lesen (wahrscheinlich Heute) / I will read the newspaper everyday (probably Heute)
- ich werde nur deutsche Musik zuhören / I will only listen to German music
- ich werde mindestens zweimal der Woche Grammatik studieren / I will study grammar at least twice in the week
Obviously, there will be moments where I have to use English; especially when:
- I have to prepare something for school or have to work at school
- I have to write something for this or my other blog
- I have conversations with my family/friends who speak no German
However, I’m hoping that these will be more or less the only instances where I have to use English this week.
I’m genuinely hoping this will help me and what I have to constantly remind myself is that there’s no one keeping an eye on me here; no one else is going to care if I do this or not – but I will. I want to end this year feeling that as far as possible, I spent my time productively and that it was all worthwhile.
I’ve taken a hard look at my approach today and I hope this will be the first step towards fixing it once and for all. Maybe it won’t – and if it isn’t, I have to not be too disappointed – but any effort is better than none.
Also, sorry that this blog post is a little longer than is usual – it’s been much more flow-of-consciousness than I expected – but this is something that’s been niggling away at me for a while and this is probably the most honest I’ve ever been about it. It can be difficult to realise that the only thing holding you back is yourself, but addressing the issues is the first step in fixing them. I think.
Has anyone else had problems like this? Also, incidentally, where do you think your strongest language skills lie? (Mine are definitely in reading, but that’s true in English as well!) I’ve got a couple of things planned for this week, so I hope you’ll enjoy them! 🙂