I am reading Harry Potter again. While I kept most of my copies in the States, I brought 3 with me.* One I read on the plane (OotP, it’s my favorite, don’t @ me). And 2 versions Josh got me as a gift.
They’re not in English.
Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen and Harry Potter und die Kammer des Schreckens.
For a while, I would open it up, read the first page and have no clue what I was reading. I knew from memory what it should say, but the language comprehension wasn’t there. It became a game. Every few weeks, I would open the book and see how far I could get. At first, it started with a sentence, then a page, then two pages. Now I am chapters in and craving more, even though I know how the story progresses. I have a system down (I know, very Ravenclaw of me):
- Read the chapter.
- Underline any unknown/repeated words.
- Lookup the words and create a lexicon at the end of the chapter.
- Re-read the chapter with the audiobook.
It’s a slow process, but it’s rewarding, and I love seeing familiar and famous lines from the text pop out to me auf Deutsch:
Mr. H Potter
Im Schrank unter der Treppe
The biggest thing is that reading Harry Potter is getting me familiar with my new language and helping me feel more comfortable speaking like a local. It’s just one of the ways I am recognizing I am on the path to fluency.
Learning a new language is very difficult, especially for native English speakers. There are usually two different responses you get when people hear you attempting to speak another language:
- They will be insulted.
- They will switch to English.
Most of the time, people will just switch to English, which makes it more difficult to practice German. The best way to combat this is to ignore it and keep speaking in German. The best is going through an entire conversation and never switching to English.
I was able to speak with a florist, ask and answer questions, give compliments, make a payment, and say goodbye without switching to English! It was amazing!
I was riding a high when I left the shop, and on the way home, was stopped on the street by a girl who had a question. She spoke so fast and took me by surprise. Eyes wide, I sputtered and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak German.” IN ENGLISH. I laughed nervously, she tossed her hands up and laughed, said “OK” and kept walking.
Well, there goes all the XP I earned at the flower shop.
Setbacks like these are expected, especially since I have only been learning German and living in Germany for about 5 months. Still, I am slowly recognizing fluency on my part, and am more determined than ever to turn this blog into a German language blog! Just kidding. Here’s what I’ve noticed:
My spelling in both German and English is now bad. This is mainly because I am still in between worlds in my head, and mixing things up or thinking in German when trying to write in English, or vice versa. I wrote cash as casch. I constantly swap ei and ie.
My native language lexicon is slowly disappearing. I don’t think it will ever go away, but the less I use the words, the further in my mind they are stored and the harder they are to find. I forgot what an ambulance was called, so I called it a Hospital Car, which, my brain probably already knew, is basically the literal translation of the German word for ambulance: Krankenwagen.
Anyone learning a second language is bound to fill in unknown words with their native tongue. It’s a natural step to fluency and a perfectly normal way to learn. It’s also normal to flip it and use the second language while speaking in their native tongue. When talking with my international friends, we usually speak in English and use German as a filler language for any words that we don’t know or can’t communicate the meaning properly in English.
Filling or Forgetting
When I first started learning German, I would unintentionally substitute unknown German words with the same word in Spanish. It acted as a filler word, because once I learned the word in German, it became more difficult for me to remember the word in Spanish. Just like Hospital Car, I know my Spanish is probably in there somewhere, but it’s getting buried under a new language.
Listening to people talk in another language can be quite relaxing when you have no idea what they’re saying. Contrary to Hollywood’s portrayal, German is not a harsh language. No one is spitting, screaming, or tossing up Nazi salutes when they talk. It’s soft, often quiet and can act as white noise…until you start to understand what they’re saying. Being able to listen to other people’s conversations is one of my favorite things. Walking past a group of people and having your mind go, “Hey! Those are words! I recognize that!” instead of it sounding like a teacher in a Charlie Brown movie is a good feeling.
I moved to Germany with a traveler’s vocabulary. Hallo, entschuldigung, danke, tschüss. While I tried to study the language back in the States, I found it boring and difficult. I wasn’t motivated, and I had no one to talk to. Instead, I put all my hope in learning by total immersion. There wasn’t any concrete goal, just this idea that if I was surrounded by Germans speaking German, I would just magically and passively pick it up. While that is a nice idea, that’s one step up from trying to learn a language in your sleep.
Now, I have attainable goals for 2019. Nothing too crazy, and goals with which I can easily see progress and change:
- Read all 7 Harry Potter books in German.
- Get a tandem speaking partner.
Wouldn’t it be great if one day, while traveling in Hungary or Italy, where I don’t speak the local language, I can ask, “Sprechen sie Deutsch?” and be able to comfortably converse?
10 bucks says they switch to English.
*I also have an Icelandic version, but who are we kidding? That’s never going to happen!
What are your experiences learning or speaking another language? Are there other aspects in life where the same ideas of fluency apply?
P.S. Congrats to Lisa and Steph C. the winners of the Bielefeld mugs! Your packages are in the mail! ☕