I’ve been in Austria for just under a month now. My ego, and my experience traveling in South America with little-to-no knowledge of Spanish before heading there tell me that I should at the VERY least by now be able to
a) order food and drinks,
b) ask how someone is and respond how I am,
c) ask for directions (not that they’re ever much help as my penchant for getting lost is extraordinary!).
Alas, none of the above is true. I can say thank you and please, and have learnt three different forms of saying hello, and two goodbyes. And that is IT.
Why the difficulty with German, you ask? Why that’s the same thing I’ve been asking myself since I got here….I had wild dreams of reading a few pages of a German novel to Boots (how I will refer to the boy in this blog) every night and having him fix my pronunciation, enrolling in an affordable and awesome German language school where I would be sure to excel, downloading free language learning software, meeting a neighbour who would decide to teach me from the goodness of their own heart…Alas, I have done none of these…I can’t even count to ten!
I’ve told myself that German is just difficult, that classes are too expensive, that Boots doesn’t REALLY want to sit and listen to me struggle with the ‘ichs’ and ‘rolled Rs’, the free internet courses I’ve found look ‘dumb’, and the neighbours aren’t home during the day. All valid excuses and ones that I’ve been using as a security blanket to hide the real reason I’ve been avoiding the learning curve.
The simple truth is that I’m embarrassed. Terribly, horribly, blush-inducing-ly embarrassed.
I’ve thought about this a fair bit and here’s what I’ve figured; when I was six we moved to Canada from the UK and I had a very strong Welsh accent – adorable, I know! But not so adorable at the time, as the kids in my junior school would chase me around the playground, make me talk and laugh at me. I was mortified (obviously) and according to my mom I lost my (super cute) accent overnight. Ever since then, speaking in public (especially using words or languages I’m not overly familiar with) is a real struggle. Maybe it’s just psycho-babble, but it’s my brain and my theory and I’m sticking with it!
So, what to do? Remain stuck in this six year old mentality or make a break and just dive in? Given this past year and the huge leaps I HAVE taken, I would be letting myself down if I continued on this self-pitying road, so as of today – I’m-a-jumping-in! (Knees trembling, blush creeping up my cheeks, and all)
And how? After hours of internet research and tidbits from folks I’ve met on my travels I have decided to try the following methods:
1) According to Tim Ferris he suggests finding the 100 most used words in the language you are learning and memorize the shit out of them. That is the 100 most spoken words, and the 100 most written words (some different, some the same). Check out his post here: http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2009/01/20/learning-language/
2) Increase said list to the most common 3-500 words and only add on words that I will be using in daily conversations.
3) English and German have a LOT of similarities. I’m on my 250th word now. Committing these to memory as well.
4) READ OUTLOUD! This simple act is the most terrifying to me (see above), but according to a terribly charming gentleman I met on the way back from a trip to Peru it’s the best way to learn. You sit with someone who’s fluent in the language you’re learning and read a page from a book. Fluent person stops you every time you pronounce something wrong and corrects you. You don’t talk about grammar, you don’t ask for definitions, you just read. And you do this for weeks. Slowly, it just starts sinking in. At least that’s the theory.
5) Continually try and pronounce “Oachkatzlshwoaf”. It means “Squirrel Tail” in Tyrolean (Oh, dialects!). And, as I live in Tyrol, this is the one word that apparently will give me mad respect when I go out. Yup, picture me now; entering super-hip bar with super-hip Austrians. “Hello. Squirrel Tail.” Here’s hoping that Boots isn’t pulling my leg…this is going to go great.
And that’s my game plan. Excel sheets prepared, flash cards in the making, a book picked out for when Boots gets home tonight and I’ve now said Oachkatzlschwoaf 20 times out loud to myself and I officially feel like a crazy person! Wünscht mir Glück! (and God help me if I can pronounce that!)