The following text is based on a six-month exchange program and on trying to learn German. Enjoy it!
I started to learn German in April 2011 just out of curiosity and fun. I had applied for various job offers in Germany and had not received any responses yet. As the chances of traveling to this country were 50/50, I decided to start learning at least the alphabet in German. To me, learning the phonetics of the letters and their combinations is the first step to succeed in learning a foreign language.
My learning until September 2011 was based on lessons from the internet, books borrowed from friends, motivation and time. It was enough to get by in Germany knowing how to say where I come from, to count until 100 and to say “Sorry, I do not speak German. Do you speak English?” These last two sentences plus the words “thank you”, “I’m sorry” and “you’re welcome” were essential for me!
Therefore, this is what I recommend:
Before you make an exchange in a country of which you do not know the language, learn at least the basics. People are much more attentive just because you try to talk to them in their native language. Obviously several times I was given the answer “No, I don’t speak English, but your German is very good, keep going.” Although I had already used all my German skills, I had to keep trying to establish a conversation; after all I needed the information. So challenge yourself, try to not be lost for words and jammed in your little vocabulary!
After five months in Germany with two German lessons a week, I’m able to ask about directions, not make blunders at restaurants – yes I committed gaffes – and understand the context of certain situations. I acknowledge that I would be speaking German much better if I had studied harder. I was tempted to quit learning this difficult language, but after traveling to Czech Republic and Denmark, I returned to Germany with the feeling of “being at home”. Indeed, here I understand information about trains and, in case I get lost, I can ask for guidance. I return to my “second home” with the happy feeling of “I understand a minimum of German” and this is the reason why I continue to learn this language!
Learning a language from scratch during an exchange program is not a guarantee that you will end up fluent in it. The language is not simply absorbed by your brain! It requires discipline, dedication and study; after all it is very easy to be tempted to speak English with your friends. As a matter of fact, the learning of every word is lived with enthusiasm and the chances of you remembering the vocabulary are bigger, because many times they will be connected to situations, experiences and emotions. My impression is that the language comes alive and you finally realize how words – so common and ordinary in our native language – open doors to new possibilities.
If you have also experienced something similar, please share your impressions about the learning of a new language!