en route, Office

My foreign language learning tips

By Anna

Hi all, I am branching out a bit (a lot?) today. Ever been curious why a German who did not grow up bilingual blogs in English? Languages are my passion!

When I look at my passions three things stand out: creating, travelling and learning foreign languages. In primary school I started making clothes out of plastic bags, armed with scissors and tape I would get to work. Needless to say none of these “garments” ever made it out of the house not to metntion to school. The travelling part started to show when I was about 12 years old. My school had an exchange programm with a french school and so I went to Arras, France for a week. I was so nervous and excited about it all. What I can hardly imagine is, how nervous my parents must have been, sending their 12-year-old to a foreign country into a host family for a week. Well, it paid off. My french did not improve much – after all it was only one single week – but my Wanderlust had sparked.

I began studying English as my second foreign language in 7th grade. It came easy to me and it was fun because it went so much faster then French. And it opened up a whole new world to me: suddenly I began to understand what people on the radio sang! It was the coolest thing!

So when a classmate asked me how I managed to pick the language up so quickly, I said something like: I translate the music that I listen to. Bam. I don’t know if she understood what I was saying or if she was as interested as I was in understanding what her favorite bands were singing or if she just felt that I was a poor loner for spending time with a CD booklet and a dictionary… Anyway, that’s my top tip for learning another language:

1) Find music you like in the language you want to learn and start translating it. If it’s English, it’s real easy because such a big part of the music industry sings English anyways, right? Yet, it works the same way with French and Italian and you name it. If you love the Music it motivates you even more!

2) Ever looked at the bottle of your washing up liquid and read “liquide vaiselle” or “Spülmittel”? Well, you just learned what washing up liquid is in French and German. Even though you may not know how to correctly pronounce the foreign words, you will remember them if you are ever standing in front of that particular aisle in a German store. Or you can write the word down at the reception desk of your french camping ground, when you are out of the stuff. That’s already something. (The idea for this post actually found me when I was looking at the bottle of washing up liquid at work.) Check other household items and google the words to find out what language they are, if you cannot guess.
3) Watch tv or movies and series in the language you want to learn. I mentioned once or twice that I love Downton Abbey. But I adore it in English (in Germany anything and everything is dubbed). I admit I have a somewhat hard time with British English due to having lived and been “socialised” with the language in Texas, but any movie like the series is so much better with original voices and in its original language. Talk about jokes and names and sometimes voices? What matters if you want to learn how to speak in a way that people actually do, is to chose a film that sets in our present time. I never understand everything whether it is French or English, but I always pick up a lot while watching and listening, like getting used to the speed of speaking and memorizing often used common expressions, echt jetzt? Genau. Maybe you won’t even have to look them up because they are self-explanatory in the situation.

4) Now is the time to say: go find a penpal, a Sprachtandem or whatever. Except that I never did because that just isn’t my method. So I say: find a blog you love written in the language you want to learn. It’s best if there are pictures involved… If you are not into blogs ( well, hello, you are reading one right now!) try a forum, online magazine or print one. Picture/Text ratio is key here, the more explanatory pictures the better. You could totally start with childrens books, too! Why not read Winnie Pooh or Le Petit Prince in their original languages?

5) Go to the country. Live and speak with the locals. My ultimate goal to learn a language is to be able to communicate. Be it for a job, during the holidays or for an exchange programme, gap year or work and travel or your personal reason x. Like love. I have never been one to communicate well orally, I am quiet, shy, an introvert through and through. I communicate better written. Nevertheless I think I have always communicated what I needed to in my foreign languages. Yes, there have been confusion and embarrassing moments but those are memories now and they make the stories I will tell my kids and grand-children. You don’t need to be able to discuss philosophy to speak a language well on a real life base. Discussing actual objects “Ich hätte gern fünf Äpfel” is ok and enough for holidays or the start of your gap year abroad.

So I say travel and speak. Just say it. If you want that pain au chocolat say it even though you do not know how to pronounce it, say it anyway. In my experience people were always happy to help when I tried. I had the hardest time initialy to say “scissors”. I tried every way of pronouncing it that I could think of and still got a confused look. So I made a cutting gesture. Worked.

I am far from perfection in English but I am very much at ease with my mistakes. I have been learning so many new words since I started blogging in English, made some funny and some embarrassing mistakes and just practised a lot. If this helps only one person who is struggling with their foreign language, I will be very happy I wrote this! Now, let’s go make some mistakes and learn and grow!


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