My own language learning journey

This year I have decided to teach German and found that teaching adults can be very satisfying. With each client I learn something new about how to teach languages too.

My husband, who is Welsh, has been trying to learn German for some time – mainly because he wants to be able to converse with my family.

He has started several times, the first time in Kiel at the local “Volkshochschule” which is the equivalent of an adult learning centre over here. Unfortunately he got sick with the flu and missed a few lessons and stopped going. It never occurred to him to ask me to teach him. Maybe it’s a couple thing (some things are off-limits) and I simply found it a bit daunting. Though now that I have taken the plunge, I won’t have a problem at all teaching him.

He has now resorted to Rosetta Stone, which is an impressive language course and appeals to people who don’t like using books, pens and paper but prefer their courses to be highly interactive. Unfortunately while it is a very good course it has its limits. The voice recognition doesn’t always work and a few times he has asked me about the pronunciation of a word the program decided that he pronounced wrongly, but to my German ears it was correct.

I love learning languages. If I had more time I would pick up one of my favourite languages, Italian, again. Or I would learn Welsh, which makes sense since I live here.

My love for languages started early when I was  about six years old and still living with my grandmother and aunt in a tiny town called Goch near the Dutch border. In the 70s and early 80s a lot of British soldiers lived in Goch with their families – and I would occasionally play with their children. My English was as limited as their German, but we somehow managed to communicate.

When I moved from Goch to Cologne to be reunited with my mum, I got more immersed in the English language, due to the fact that my mum hooked up with my stepdad. My stepdad is British or to be more accurate he has a British and a New Zealand passport. So the theme tune of “The Archers” was pretty much part of my childhood. When I attended grammar school at the age of ten I started learning English at school – and took it up as one of my A-Level courses (in German we would call these “Leistungskurse”  taught six hours per week). In grade 7 I had to decide between French and Latin. Or to be more precise my mum decided for me that I should take up Latin. And boy did I hate those lessons! Our teacher was very strict and in grade 9 we mostly translated endless war strategies from Caesar’s “ De Bellum Gallicum” – no Asterix for us then. I had Latin for four and a half years gaining the “Grosse Latinum” qualification. My mum had a very good reason why I should learn a dead language. Most subjects at Cologne University, which has gained the status of an Elite University a few years ago, require the Latinum. And family history has it that my mum met my dad while studying Latin at university as she needed this for her own course. I certainly needed it for Art History and Philosophy. At grade 9 I had the choice between French and Russian –and since Russian was the more interesting and exotic language I opted for that.

If I have been raised in the former GDR it would have been my first foreign language. I studied Russian for three years. Learning the alphabet was dead easy and didn’t take longer than two weeks, even the grammar was manageable thanks to my Latin language experience which gave me a solid foundation for grammar. What I found difficult though was to memorize words. Russian is pretty complicated when it comes to pronunciation, they do love their consonants and some words are just hard to get your mouth around. And if I can’t pronounce something I can’t remember it. In year 12 I dropped Russian in favour of Philosophy which was a good choice as I later studied it. The final choice of language came in grade 11 between Spanish and French. I chose Spanish, but only had it for half a year because I couldn’t stand the teacher.

When I started university I had to take up French for Art History (the requirements are rather strict, apart from Latin, you also need French and another language). I had a crash course at the Institut Francais and can’t remember anything I have learnt but at least I gained my “qualification” for the course. I also originally started studying Italian. Unfortunately, I failed the first big test after the first semester and didn’t enjoy the course. You simply can’t learn a language in a class of about 80 to 100 people. Ridiculous. I switched to Politics instead and eventually settled for Philosophy and of course kept studying English.

There you have it – lots of attempted languages, but only English really stuck. Why? Well, because English is very easy to learn, easy to pronounce and a flexible language. Plus it has the best swear words.

However, I would say I really learnt to speak it properly and more confidently when I had my first British boyfriend during my 20s and when I spent most of my term holidays in London. And also during my time at Goldsmiths’ College.

My English has improved vastly in the last 14 years since I have been together with my husband. Watching British telly has also been very helpful and reading lots of English books too.

English punctuation still remains a mystery to me though. 🙂

So how many languages have you attempted to learn? And which languages do you actually still use? Let me know below.

 

Japanische Kirschbluete - Cherry Blossom Tree - copyright Helen White

Japanische Kirschbluete – Cherry Blossom Tree – copyright Helen White

 

Helen White

I am a bilingual journalist, jewellery designer, German tutor, and translator – and I am passionate about cats.

Helen White – who has written posts on Helen Kaut Press.


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