Who is Emma?
Hallo! I’m Emma, and in Summer 2019 I started on an incredible, lifelong journey. I started learning German. I had taken French for 4 years and German for 2 years at school, but nothing successfully stuck in my head. As of 2019 I could barely function as a tourist, ein Wasser bitte, and danke were about my limit.
I had been travelling to Germany and much of Europe for over 10 years and because my German friends spoke amazing English, I fell into the common English speaker trap of thinking that learning another language was pointless. Due to my failings of languages at school, I assumed that I didn’t have that fabled ‘language gene’ that my lucky friends possessed.
Then, in Summer 2019 after a holiday with my German friends, I downloaded Duolingo, just to see what it was like and whether it could help my tourist German. I also bought Language Hacking German by Benny Lewis and began working through the exercises. The further I worked through Benny’s book, the more curious I became. I actually started remembering German words, and the more I learned, the more I wanted to learn.
Learning a second language has changed my life, I am in love with learning, the sense of achievement and the fact that I can immerse myself in a different culture and chat to my friends in their own language. I can’t wait to share what I have learning about language learning.
The holiday that changed everything
Want to know more? Well ok then, I just love writing about my German journey!
When I decided to learn German I did so for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I was fed up of feeling nervous and incapable on my many trips to Germany. I was constantly relying on my German friends for help. There are several such occasions I could tell you about, but one in particular sticks in my mind.
I was out exploring a park with a few friends, the weather was threatening rain. Despite travelling quite a lot in the past, I was still always unprepared, leaving my wallet in the hotel room and generally being disorganised.
We found a souvenir shop and went inside looking for some of those single use rain ponchos. As we queued up at the till to buy one each, a friend told me the German word for the rain poncho and encouraged me to ask for it in German. As I got to the till I was a panicky, sweating mess. I felt so out of my depth just having to remember one German word. I mumbled something incomprehensible, and remember the look of confusion on the shop assistant’s face. I was mortified at myself. My German friend came to my rescue, got the poncho and I made a hasty exit.
To some, it may not seem like a big deal, but it was at the time for me. Have you ever experienced a similar cringe moment like this?
I’m so glad it happened. It gave me an epiphany that I needed to make an effort to learn this language. On this 10 day driving tour through Germany, I kept finding myself in similar situations. Checking into hotels, ordering food, hanging out with groups of German speakers without being able to understand or respond.
Was I really getting best experience by being unable to understand and speak the language?
Learning the language…
On my return home, I picked up my first German textbook and got started. I still had the mindset that because I was an English native speaker, I was fairly incapable of learning foreign languages. Apparently we’re missing that fabled ‘language learning gene’.
However I discovered, as I worked through Benny Lewis’ Language Hacking German that, slowly but surely, words were getting stuck in my head. Encouraged, I worked right through the book, then moved onto another book. I started watching YouTube channels for German learners and messing about with Duolingo.
I’d never learned a foreign language before, and realising that I was actually retaining words and phrases was such a high. I wanted more, started working on harder grammar books, taking some online courses and watching German TV.
When I started watching Peppa Pig in German (Peppa Wutz) and covering a multitude of household items in colour co-ordinated post-it notes to learn the German articles, I realised I was hooked.
… and learning to love it
I learned the awesomeness of German words. Super long words that would intimidate English speakers, but words that now made such sense. Words that were untranslatable into English but had such warmth and meaning that I couldn’t understand how we managed without such a word in English.
The way so many nouns are literal and descriptive. Erdmannchen (meerkat) = Little earth man, Flugzeug (aeroplane) = flying thing, Wörterbuch (dictionary) = word book, Wortschatz (vocabulary) = word treasure. How could anyone not love that? I find this such an endearing part of this language.
I love that fact that German is so phonetic. There are basically no silent letters. If you understand how each letter or group of letters is pronounced, you can have a go at most German words and be understood. Something that is impossible with the silent letter loving French and English languages.
The grammar rules, which, once you understand the basic ones, can help you piece a sentence together with confidence. Things like remembering that the verb is almost always in the second position. If you use a certain connecting word such as dass or weil the verb moves to the end. It’s seems so logical once you understand the rules.
Becoming a culture nerd & a good tourist
By this point I was delving more into the culture in German speaking countries. I was developing an insatiable thirst for knowledge, which was fuelled by my monthly Deutsch Perfekt magazines. These magazines gave me a great insight into the news and culture that fascinated me more and more. The more German I learned, the more I could understand about the culture.
I was taking regular solo trips to Germany, something that would have terrified me the year before. I kept my phrasebook with me and memorised phrases that I would need to use as a tourist. I could check in and out of hotels, order food and go shopping. The more trips I made, the more confident I became. I hardly recognised myself.
Whenever I went to Germany, I had a ‘no English’ rule. Thankfully the people I spoke to while I was there respected this and only spoke to me in German. I was only doing tourist type stuff at this point, so the repetition of ordering food, dealing with hotels etc. meant I was getting pretty good at tourist speak.
There is something special about going to a foreign country and conversing with natives in the native language. I felt far more immersed in the culture. I’d travelled all over Europe during my life, but never made the effort to speak the language.
Escapism & becoming conversational
About 6 months after I started learning German, I upped my game and decided to improve my conversational abilities. I discovered Tandem, a free app that I’m always raving about on this blog. It enabled me to meet countless native speakers online and gradually I started talking about things other than tourist phrases.
It was 2020, Coronavirus was putting all our lives on hold. Being stuck at home with no work, I could have gone stir crazy. I threw myself into my German studies. I had quite a lot of free time and got into Lingoda, the online language school. Having to get up and ready for my Zoom lesson at 9am every morning gave me something to focus on, and a routine to follow. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without having something like this to focus on. All the things I enjoyed doing had to stop because of the pandemic. But I could still study German. In a world where we were losing control of our lives, I could control this.
There were a few things I learned about language learning during this time. In an isolated world, there is no need to be lonely. Because of Tandem, I had an endless supply of language partners to speak to. I spoke to someone almost every day, many of my language partners I still speak to now.
I became more comfortable speaking German conversationally. These were still basic conversations; what I’ve been up to, my plans, my travels etc. I realised that when I was speaking German, I could escape from ‘real life’. I could go for a walk and talk to my friends on the phone. I needed to concentrate hard when I was speaking so there was no time to worry about the world around me.
People talk about having different personalities when they speak different languages, and I’m beginning to understand this. As an English speaker, I’m not that sociable, tend to enjoy my own company etc. As a German speaker I’m confident, socially outgoing and interesting (I hope!)
Why I love the German language
What started off as feeling a bit incompetent when travelling to my favourite country, grew into a fulfilling learning experience which led to a completely different way of life. Meeting wonderful people, being able to speak to my friends in their native language, being able to travel confidently. Those are the reasons I love the German language. I’m only at the beginning of my journey, a lifelong journey, and I can’t wait to see what I’ll uncover next.