Lost in Translation: How to Learn a Foreign Language.

It makes me feel lazy. I’m sitting in a room with 15 other Internationals and I’m the only one limited to one language. They’re communicating with me in English, their third or fourth language, and I don’t even have the option to sift through several vocabularies looking for the right word to use; I’m limited to one and I feel like the laziest person in the world. Graffiti in BerlinMoving to a country with little knowledge of the language is interesting, to say the least. Ordering dinner at a restaurant becomes a stressful (but also often hilarious) ordeal, and shitty life tasks – such as registering at government offices, looking for an apartment and finding a job – evolve into nightmarish situations.

Unfortunately/fortunately for me, I quickly found a full-time job and was forced to drop out of my full-time language school when I was just one month in. I now work in an office with primarily English speaking people, which does not help at all. However, during that month of language classes these are the things I discovered about learning a new language.

  • Let it smother you. Try to use it in every aspect of daily life.
  • Make new friends. Friends who are also learning the language and friends who are natives.
  • Make mistakes. Looking like a total moron is the best way to learn your lesson.
  • Constantly talk to yourself and try to develop the skill of thought in this language.
  • Rediscover your native tongue. Through learning the rules and structures of a new language, you will, in turn, re-learn the ones of your own.
  • Have fun with it. You’re certain to look like a total ass but try to enjoy looking like a total ass. You’ll learn faster.
  • Write by hand. It’s the best way to memorise something.
  • Find a conversation partner and beg them not to speak your native language with you. A sink or swim situation is exactly what you need.
  • Watch familiar television shows and listen to familiar music in this foreign language of choice. If you already have an idea of the general premise you’ll pick up the foreign words much faster.
  • Once you learn one you learn them all. And thus, learn one now and you’ll soon be on your way to fluency in seven.

startup parties in BerlinOn another note (and in my opinion), there is nothing magic in the air of a foreign country that will immediately help you learn the language. It does help to be surrounded by it, sure, but it is just as easy to remain ignorant to a foreign language when you’re encompassed by it than when you are not.

Perhaps, due to the prevalence of English in this city, Berlin is an exception. And perhaps living in small town Germany would be completely different. Probably. I don’t know. What I do know is that in Berlin it’s very easy to get by not knowing the language. And this is how all the ignorant foreigners of this city (myself included) remain so comfortable in their native tongue.

So, as I sit in a cafe not encompassed by English-speaking expats, I can make out select parts of the conversations that are going on around me. Specific words jump out and I create sentences that surely are not correct. I learnt a lot during one month of language lesson, but mostly the conversations of locals just sound like mumbo jumbo. And then I remind myself of this…


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