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Thursday, 19 June 2014

Learning a New Language: My Experience

I'm shaking things up today on Curious Alisa! I thought I'd write about something quite big that I've been doing for almost a year now: learning a new language!

Now, to quickly give you a backdrop: I am a twenty year old girl from Canada. My first language is English (duh), but I am also fluent in Russian thanks to my parents, which essentially allows me to label myself as "bilingual". And I was totally content having those two languages. I took French at high school, and was pretty darn good at the grammar bits. However, I haven't used any French ever since I graduated High School and therefore hardly remember any of it. It became a passive knowledge, rather than active.

But then for several personal reasons, I ended up moving to Germany last year. And in order for me to be able to study at the local university here, I had to learn German. Don't get me wrong, I didn't exactly start with zero knowledge when I got here. I had taken a couple german courses at my university back home, but it just gave me some basic knowledge. I mean, you can't exactly learn a whole language from just two classes a week, 45 minutes each...

Now you're probably wondering, did I actually want to learn German? Well, my answer is yes and no. I didn't want to seriously learn it, maybe just a phew basic phrases and words. The reason behind that was that I honestly didn't think it was possible to actually learn a whole new language after childhood. After all, the brains of children are like sponges when it comes to languages. And even if it was possible, it would take several years.

Boooy, was I wrong! I started seriously learning the language and taking intensive courses in January, and I went from being an A2 to a B2 in 5 months. That's insane if you think about it. Here's a table that explains exactly what each level stands for. For reference, I have just passed an exam for B2 and am now currently doing a C1 course. I am getting closer to fluency day by day and it's an overwhelming feeling, having succeeded something that I thought was completely undoable. Words simply cannot express my joy and surprise.

So essentially I learned two things: not only is it actually possible to learn a new language, regardless of your age, but it is also possible to learn it quickly! The main key to success is doing it intensively rather than moderately. High School and Uni courses are moderate and barely scrape the surface, whereas 3 hour  lessons per day is intense and leads to incredibly fast progress! Of course, living in the actual country does help a lot because you hear the language all the time. Therefore, immersing yourself as best as you can is definitely an essential.

However, my weakness in the language is ironically talking. This might sound strange, especially since I now live in Germany, but hear me out. Just because you may live in the country where the language is spoken, does not actually mean you have to use it a lot. You hardly talk when you go out, whether it be to a store or something of the sort. All you normally would say is: "hi, yes or no, thank you, bye". Unless you have friends that only speak in the language you are learning, you will essentially never really have an opportunity to practice speaking.

Another reason why talking is a challenge for me is because I'm a perfectionist. I can't stand the idea of making a mistake *cringes at thought*. It sounds silly, but it really does stop and hinder me from saying a sentence sometimes. Talking is naturally a very spontaneous thing, and therefore we don't exactly have the time to "auto-correct" what we say. And that scares me. I'd rather say something 100% perfectly or say nothing at all. Which of course, is totally the wrong approach! You learn by making mistakes, so you have to risk making them. I try to push myself outside my comfort zone and I do see results from it.

This post is getting quite long, so I think I'll save my thoughts on how I find the German language itself for a different post :). But my main message is this: anyone can learn a language, as long as you put the hours into it! :) Let me know if you'd like to see more posts like these in the future. It's become quite a big part of my life and I would love to share it with you all!


  1. that was so interesting! I -personally- am from Germany, so german is my first language (obviously!), and i learned english in School for (aah ist so embarassing) 9 Years, and we didn't really talked in School... i still was pretty bad, yeah i knew the words but i just couldn't speak. so i went to the States für 9 months ( i came back 1 1/2 months ago) and it's so true! i learned the language so fast, because i HAD to talk, there was no other way. i was alone in a hostfamily with non-german Speakers. but i can feel you. the first weeks were horrible. i didn't talk with anyone, because i knew that they can hear every mistake i make. but i had no other choice than talking so i started it and i got better so fast. and now looking back at my time there.. it makes me pretty proud :) so if you Need someone to talk to in german, i am here :) ( and dammit german Keyboards, they automatically turn some letters in capital letters)

    1. Dankeschön Padii for such a lovely comment! :). Glad to hear you had a great experience in the States. Honestly, I would absolutely love to have someone to talk with in German! Could we make this offer a reality? :D.

    2. sure we can ! I think this would be fun! :)