Ex-Pat Language Learning. Here's Why & How to Do it

Berlin is well known for its diverse cultural linguistics. Pretty much anyone can find their vernacular style if they look hard enough. However, it doesn't harm one to try to learn the local language itself, it's likely that it's going to be used in your workplace (and if it's not, for the love of god tell me your work, can I work for you? Please?) Being an Ex-Ex-Pat (never thought I'd say that in my life honestly) I would like to think that I have some kind of platform of authority, but let me just clear one thing that is going to haunt you for your life, the same way it's going to haunt Germans when they hear the truth:

You're not going to perfect your vernacular, you're not, no matter how much you like to think that you will, you won't. I don't even speak good German, and I'm a bloody German! Germans are the same way, I'd like to say that Germans speak the best English as a second language, it's still heavily accented, but you can understand them, they convey the information they want to, and they do it well. English speakers are the same way in German, only, they don't understand the little metaphors (Quick game: explain to your ex-pat friend the various metaphors to do with the word “wurst” such as “das ist mir wurst” make sure to explain it as literally as possible first)

 Now let me give you a little disclaimer: Unless you are born in a multilingual family, the chances of you learning a language to the point where your accent blurs the line between what nationality you are and aren't, is nigh impossible. This is due to the fact that the various language groups use different tongue forms, and muscle contractions, see, in German rolling the R is a lot more common, and appears to be rather difficult to anyone who seems to be trying to learn the language. The same can mean for Germans and the th sound of the word three. I can not begin to explain how often I've heard Germans I know call the three a “tree” to which I aptly make a mocking comment and leave it at that (being social was never a strength of mine as you can tell)

 So what can be done about this? A myriad of things, the most entertaining solution for any ex-pat is to get a tandem partner, in practice it basically equates to “person whom you meet up with and speak in two various languages in” you meet this person, you introduce yourselves, you know, socialize, the normal human response. Then you both speak in one anothers' language you wish to learn. So to put this into perspective, say you want to learn Chinese, so you meet someone on a tandem partners website who wants to learn English and gives Chinese, now say you've done the usual messaging already, you're ready to meet up, you meet up, what next? Well, do whatever you do when socializing, just make sure to speak in Chinese, and make sure they are speaking in English properly. It's forcing yourself to be out there with your language, this forces you to adapt to the situation, maybe even make a fool of yourself, but you come to understand the nuances of a language much more as a result. You can also make some kick ass friends potentially.

 If you're not well versed in social interactions like myself, then you will more than likely attempt to learn via some sort of Rosetta Stone system, which can work on paper, but you're not going to learn what you need; you don't learn pronunciation as well as you should, in pronunciation there is a bit of character there, it's like a piece of your soul almost when it comes to speech, that's why we remember the “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech by Kennedy, that's why we remember the “I have a dream” speech, it's because these individuals had nuances in their pronunciation that gave soul to their words. So what can be done about this? Simple, you can switch it up like I had when I first learned English, either watch your favorite show/movie with the language you want to learn (provided it's provided of course) and add subtitles or switch it around. This can be used for any media form really that allows you to change the language, I played all my videogames as a child in English, because of how adamantly I wanted to learn English.

Finally, and this is the most important chapter, it's all about how much you want it, you need to Carpe Diem when in another language, you need to put yourself out there where you are forced to speak the language you're learning. You need to find a way to make yourself as uncomfortable as possible in that language, because it's humanity's can-do attitude and willing to “fake it til' you make it” view on life that has allowed us to come so far. I don't mean “Oh god who are these people, what is that white powder they're snorting? Well I guess when in Rome” kind of uncomfortable, more so a “I've never in my life tried to hold a conversation that lasted longer than five minutes in German/English/etc. Let's do this” There is going to be a flight or fight response that will inevitably pop up, one that tells you what you are doing isn't right, but that's the great thing about being human, you can kick your instincts to the curb, you can control that fight or flight response with time.

Suffice to say, learning languages is tough for a fair share of people. But if you go in guns blazing, you will learn so much faster than taking a moderate approach at it. Take the bull by the horns and show it that yes, you do in fact, lift.

By Florian Schmidt
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