Humbling experiences rarely happen in a persons life but when you experience it, it can have a great affect. One of those experiences for me has been learning a new language, more specifically, learning German. I believe most people I run into would say “I wish I knew a second language” but it’s difficult to make that next step into actually doing it. I’ve realized that learning a new language is like losing weight…everyone wants to do it and it’s very challenging but when you make progress it’s extremely rewarding. Learning a language is more than just another form of communication and I learned this first hand.
Early 2017 I was on a personal growth mission. I decided to start traveling and my next thought was about how years ago I wanted to learn German but never tried. I first started using Duolingo which was good to get the very basic words but the farther I went into it, the more questions I had, so I decided to find a tutor that was local. I started seeing my tutor Asja in April 2017 in preparation for my first trip to Germany in September 2017. She was great with teaching me the nuances of the language, local customs and explaining translations.
September came around and my first stop was in Berlin where I spent 4 nights. I realized that I wasn’t mentally ready and not nearly as confident to speak German. I spoke when I needed to but I was barely forming sentences and sometimes understanding people was difficult. Never the less, I was proud that I even attempted it…so it wasn’t a complete failure. After that trip, I decided that I wanted to get a full Germany perspective so I planned a 9 night trip and travel throughout Germany. This was the extra motivation to learn more vocabulary, speak more with my tutor in German and listen to more German.
Finally April 2018 comes around and I’m off to Germany. I spoke to everyone I ran into in German but I knew my limitations…but the more I spoke, the more I felt confident and the better I spoke. When I first arrived in Berlin, I stayed at an Airbnb and my host, Kylo, met me outside. I shook his hand and said “Sie kennen zu lernen” which means Nice to meet you. I remember him having a surprised look on his face and he asked me if I spoke German and we went back and forth in German and English. Later that evening, he calls me and asks me out for a beer with him and his bandmate. We talked for hours about life and where we are from. We had a great connection and we still keep in contact. I attribute this thoughtfulness to even invite me out because I attempted to speak the language and showed my interest in the language.
I started realizing how language is like a key to connections with human beings that you never would have thought to speak to or find similarities with. From me ordering food at a restaurant or asking someone a question, it benefited me differently. It sounds silly but one of my favorite conversations was with an older woman in Hamburg as we were waiting for a train to go to Berlin. It was just us 2 and it was very cold outside…so we literally started small talking about the weather, then the conversation turned into about where we were from and me learning the language. I remember specifically asking her “Ist mein Deutsch klar?” Which means “Is my German clear?” and she said yes it is. It was at that moment it felt like all my hard work, time and money invested was finally paying off.
Language is connected to culture. When you attempt to speak the language, it’s an added sign of respect and appreciation for the culture. I’m pretty sure that if I never attempted to learn German, I would have still had a good time traveling like anyone else but it definitely made it better and enhanced my traveling experience. It’s been over a year, I’m far from being fluent but I read it well, I can decipher a conversation when listening and I can get my point across in German. I’ve met so many good people because of me learning German…even down to my tutor who I see more like a friend and I’m grateful to have met her. So if you’re on the fence about it, go for it…you won’t regret it.
To get started, download the Duolingo app on your phone or go to www.duolingo.com
If you need a tutor, you can find one locally or over the internet for sessions by using the website www.wyzant.com