The title pretty much says it all: it has become my catchphrase since I arrived here in Germany. Some of you may have read my previous article about how the French are not exactly crazy about learning the German language as German is considered as a weird and impossible dialect in France. Well, as a result, I never got the chance to study it at school and had to focus on English and Spanish, so when I found an internship here in Hamburg, I just went for it hoping I would not have too many difficulties to survive.
Thus I arrived in Germany with no knowledge of German whatsoever, and trust me, it was not a piece of cake to begin with. Indeed, for a language lover like me, it is very frustrating to hear people talk in a language I don’t understand at all. There was nothing else for it, so I took a deep breath and concentrated really hard trying to learn a few useful things to get by, but also to be able to say “hey, I do know some German now!” on my return to France.
Of course, after 4 months I am nowhere near fluent, but there has at least been some improvement. I am still not able to make actual sentences and get the grammar right! Irregular verbs, noun genders, sentence structures do not make German the easiest language to learn. Frankly, it’s a nightmare. Even though I had brought a dozen books of German grammar and vocabulary, the grammar in particular is not going in. However, I am proud to say that I did learn a few things, not from books but by living the German life. As I discovered, there’s a lot to learn from just absorbing a language by observation and listening.
Let’s start with the vocabulary. Well, when you live in a foreign country, it is technically impossible not to come across some useful words written all over the place. Just by taking the train, the words like “Ausgang”, “Zug”, “fahren”, or the numbers (thanks to the metro lines) become familiar to you. When I am comfortably sitting on the train on my way to work and bored to death, I enjoy taking a glimpse at the newspapers people are reading, and once again it is a great way to learn some basic words after a dictionary check. Nevertheless, my greatest source of vocabulary was undoubtedly the restaurant menus, even though I am not sure that knowing the words “Schinken”,“Huhn” or “Bier” would be very helpful in a basic conversation about the weather. Going out with German-speaking people also taught me how to order a drink (very important!) and how to ask for the check.
Hearing German 24/7 has certainly been a radical learning method and now I am happy to say that I won’t leave Germany without picking up at least some German… Even though my spoken German is still a bit shaky, my understanding of German has greatly improved (at least, I think so). My vocabulary has grown bigger (that was not really difficult actually), and understanding German has become easier for me thanks to the key words I’ve been learning. Even if I can’t get the whole meaning of a conversation, spotting these famous key words gives me a clue as to what it’s about. This is a great step towards fluency, or at least getting you past the “not looking like a complete idiot when people talk to you” stage. And that is certainly a great success, because I had been looking like an idiot. A lot. For instance, on my first month here, when they asked me if I wanted to “mitnehmen” (take away) at the bakery, I just stood there looking blank, completely helpless, almost crying for help… Those days, thankfully, are over! Now I just have to work on my pronunciation – my French intonation just won’t leave me alone…