Hello friends, thanks for stopping by! As you may have inferred from this post, I have a love/hate relationship with the German language. In the big picture, I have no doubt German is the language for me, and that my goal to be bilingual is worth while. But in the smaller picture, I often get hung up on the daily frustrations and struggles of learning a foreign language. I have a habit of setting high, somewhat unrealistic goals for myself, such as being fluent by the end of the summer. And when I don’t meet those goals, I feel like a total failure. For instance, the other day I accidentally asked someone if they were pregnant, when I really meant to ask if they were a twin (the words are so similar!), and then I accidentally bought sour creme at the grocery store instead of yoghurt (again, the words are so similar!). I get so annoyed with myself, and start to think, If I can’t even do this right, I will never be fluent...maybe I am hopeless after all! It’s a downward cycle. I spent the first three weeks in Hildesheim living with a newly wed couple. We had an amazing time together, but I felt extremely discouraged in the language department. It seemed as though I’d reached a plateau. I’d taken three semesters of German and lived in the country for nearly eight months, yet I could hardly form a coherent sentence! I listened and drank the language in all around me, but couldn’t seem to actually speak myself. Then, just when I felt like throwing in the towel, the day arrived for me to move in with another family to work as their Au Pair. And just like that, my feelings about language acquisition changed overnight. What changed, you ask? Friends, I believe I’ve discovered the secret…Children! Ok, so maybe I’m not the first to discover said secret, but I’m sure glad I did. Below are three reasons I believe children make the best teachers, plus an assortment of random iPone photos from our recent walk around the neighborhood.
1. You Have No Choice- The children I’m watching are ages three and a half, one and a half, and three weeks. Surprise, surprise- none of them speak English, which is actually an incredible advantage! First of all, their adorable little voices speaking German is too much for my ears to handle. Second, I have no choice but to speak German with them. Since little kids are very expressive physically, it’s easy to decipher what they really want. For example, the little girl I watch said, “Du sollst mich anfangen!” then proceeded to run away from me squealing and looking over her shoulder. I had no idea what ‘anfangen’ meant, but I correctly assumed she wanted me to chase her. Basically, we play a giant game of charades, and I learn new words. It takes out the middle step of translating from German to English back to German, and accelerates the pace!
2. You’re On The Same Level- I am a perfectionist in nearly every area of my life, and I want so desperately to speak perfect German. But that’s just not how the process works. It’s trial by error, baptism by fire, falling down and getting back up again. If you don’t speak first with errors, you will never speak perfectly later. I get self-conscious speaking with adults, because I’m afraid they will think less of me or assume I am unintelligent because I don’t sound intelligent. I know this is not true 99.99% of the time- people have been so incredibly gracious and helpful- but I still feel that way often. With kids, on the other hand, we’re on the same level linguistically. I never feel as self-conscious and can speak without inhibitions. I don’t mind when they correct me or ask me what I just said.
3. You Learn With Them- When I read a picture book to the kids, I’m learning just as much as they are. If I point to an animal and ask, “What’s that called?” I usually don’t know the answer myself- I genuinely need them to tell me! I’ve learned the vocabulary for all five senses, common animals, house hold objects, and automobiles from children’s books. I love discovering the world with them, one word at a time.
^The good life.
^Where can I get one of those bikes without pedals in my size?
^The weary traveller.
^Grass is just so fascinating.
^One of the only areas of town that wasn’t bombed during WWII.^These German gardens, though.
So friends, if you’re struggling to learn a new language, look around for a kid to help out! That sounded kind of creepy…but you know what I mean. Easier said than done, I know, but I hope this post has been encouraging- you are not alone! If we put ourselves in a child’s shoes and remember to take one baby step at a time, we will be over that plateau in no time! Have a great week friends, I miss you already.