My Language Education in Berlin and Brandenburg: A Two-Way Street
Learning a second language can be hard work, but it is worth it. Although German is not the most popular language to learn in the U.S., I knew if I stuck with it and made connections with Germany, the rewards would be better than I could imagine!
I love being able to speak German, but it was a long road to get to this point and I’m not at my destination yet. When I first got to Germany in 2010, being asked a question by a stranger was a terrifying experience! I had been learning German since I was 16, but I had never really put it into use until I was 20. Therefore, all of my answers in German came in a sputtering, broken sentence that made the asker reconsider and ask someone else. At times, it was embarrassing to have to say something in German in a university course and have it come out all bungled. To be honest, though, I still struggle with that!
After a year-and-a-half of being in Berlin, I’ve been able to hone my German skills so answers to strangers’ questions just come out automatically. I’m also hopeful that my grammar is understandable and correct!
As an English Teaching Assistant, I feel my language education has prepared me for teaching a second language to my students. I am able to relate to them a lot better, since I can translate for them and put things into terms they can understand. Moreover, I’ve been in a similar situation to what they experience when they try to speak English.
I share their experience of sitting in a classroom and not understanding most of what is being said. I’ve been afraid to speak out in fear of sounding silly in front of my classmates. I always try to let them know that I’ve been there too, and am still there at times. This kind of experience helps me create an environment where students can feel safe and feel comfortable making mistakes, because that is the only way to learn a second language. In my experience, if I never got out of my comfort zone, l wouldn’t be able to speak German fluently.
In the U.S., I didn’t have many opportunities to practice my German on a daily basis like I do here. However, I took advantage of the activities available in Minneapolis to meet with members of the German community. I participated in activities such as watching films or meeting for cultural celebrations. This helped encourage me to keep learning German by giving me some sort of connection to Germany. It was a great motivation for me.
In high school, we had exchange students from all over the world come to learn at our school, including students from Germany! I tried to meet and talk to them to hear their thoughts about the U.S. and learn about their experiences abroad. Although most exchange students are only there for six months to a year, making friends with them led to life-long friendships. They were also great contacts to make. For example, if I’m traveling near their homes in Germany, I can pay them a visit!
Although I could be content knowing two languages, I would like to learn more. There are so many advantages to knowing someone else’s language that it is worth it to try. Even if you aren’t able to be fluent, a neighbor or recent immigrant in your school would appreciate the effort and it would give you something to talk about! As we say here in Germany, man lernt nie aus: one never stops learning. So, why not? If you already speak a second language, I’d love to hear about it and what your experiences have been. Has it been an advantage for you?
I wish you all the best for week! Bis später!