Here I am still in Germany, forever trying to bridge the language barrier between the family I married into and me. The task falls on me because, mostly, they comprehend and speak English.
As for my German?
Let’s just say, I am still learning.
Learning a second language as an adult = Easier said than done.
Through the years, I have picked up many vocabulary words and can understand and speak several common phrases — at least enough to keep me somewhat in the loop during conversations.
This year, I am making more strides due to several advantages:
1. This is my 8th trip to Germany – high-time for more of the confusion to start to click, even as an adult learner.
2. I was here for 12 days without being spoiled by my husband, who I constantly look for to translate when I get stuck.
3. My mother-in-law is speaking mostly German to me – super confusing sometimes, yet super helpful in the long run. Didn’t someone say immersion is the answer to learning a new language?
4. I don’t have my go-to excuse of “baby brain” that I have used for the past five years. The kids, while still consuming and dependent, don’t occupy my every thought and deprive me of sleep. Alas – I have some free mind space!
5. I have been driving a lot this year. Nothing will force you to learn roads signs faster than sitting behind the wheel.
6. I have made a few solo trips to the grocery store. Nothing will force you to learn faster than reading food labels in order to buy the proper cut of meat.
7. I have the desire to learn more. I long for the day when I can express a complete thought and make productive contributions to conversations. Not to mention, navigate my way through a major city someday without looking like a complete fool and over-compensating with nonverbal communication.
8. I have been helping with household duties more than ever before. Nothing will make you learn faster than wanting to make sure you start the washer correctly or use the right cleaning product.
With all of these, what I consider, advantages I know I am making progress, but it is very difficult at times. Listening requires 110% of my concentration, which isn’t always possible for me to give.
During conversations, I find myself watching people’s mouths and lips as they speak, much like a baby who is learning to talk. I find myself using translating tools – mostly a hard-copy dictionary – to help me learn new words. It’s much easier for me to remember words that I look up myself and can see the spelling, with all those consonants and umlauts, than for someone to just tell me.
Did you know, on a washing machine, that einweichen means “soak?”
As for my four-year-old?
He is talking circles around me.
It’s quite humbling when he has to translate something for me. Like when we were in the grocery store and he had to clear up a misunderstanding between the cashier and me.
Weird (and kind of cool) that I turned to him for help. AND – that he came through.
I know children teach their parents lessons while parents are busy teaching them, but his fluency in German to my gaping holes in German has made for an interesting development in our relationship.
There’s no other way to put it: He knows more than me.
You would think I would be able to learn alongside him, but his brain is far more malleable than mine. Almost 31 years older than his, the cognitive/language part of my brain is already developed in English. My brain doesn’t know what to do with a new language, while his sorts and thinks with ease in two languages.
I am glad for him. How lucky is he? Bilingual at four. Just like that. And soon my daughter will be, too. And eventually me, I hope. I am already planing to enroll in a course when the kids are in school and I have even more mind space. (What will that be like?)
Until then, I’ll keep carrying my pocket translator in my purse and looking to the big dictionary on the shelf here in the house. I’ll keep driving, shopping, watching mouths, listening, turning to my kids, and trying my best.
Over time increased understanding will one day – one day – be the “click” loud enough to bridge the gap. Even if it takes me another eight trips to Germany.
Maybe then I can start comprehending the Metric System in Europe without using Google.
If you have ever learned a second language as an adult, or are in the process, what are your tips? Any other insights?