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I really enjoy studying languages and I do think they come a bit easier to me than they do to others. I’ve studied Spanish in High School for three years, German in College for two years and have been studying French as an adult for a few years now. I’m not fluent in any of these languages, but when I find myself surrounded by these languages, it starts to click again. I get re-energized on language study after spending a couple days surrounded by another language.
I’ve taken a few months off from my official French Language Study, and I’ve decided to start it up again. I’m going to take a basic French Literature class in September. We’ll be reading and discussing Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince. I’m going to make September my French Language month.
In addition to this class, I’ve got these additional items on my list to push my French brain:
- Read the entire Le Monde, that I picked up while in Singapore
- Watch 7 Jour Sur La Planete (a 30 minute world news show in French with French subtitles) each week
- Use Duolingo four times a week
My goal for September, obviously isn’t to be fluent in the month, but just get back into the swing of things.
Do you set language goals for yourself? What recommendations do you have for me to make it through September and beyond?
In general, I don’t find travel all that stressful, but it can wear a bit thin from time to time. One thing I do whenever I can is to grab a foreign language newspaper and struggle my way through it. As I’ve mentioned countless times before, I’ve studied Spanish in High School for three years, German in College for two and am continuing to study French as an adult.
I love grabbing a local newspaper (or magazine) push my language skills to the net level. On my recent trip to Singapore, I was fortunate enough to snag a couple editions of Le Monde, a French newspaper that is just slightly above my reading level. I also selected a copy of Stern while flying to Austria.
I found it to be pretty mentally taxing to read these periodicals, but reading the news in a foreign language is a very fulfilling experience for me. It shows that all the hard work is really starting to pay off.
Do you have little travel pleasures that get you through long flights?
I love language and language study. As I mentioned before, I studied Spanish in High School, German in College and now French as an adult. I’m far from fluent in any of them, but I’m not completely lost when I’m immersed in these languages.
Today’s language struggle comes back from my college days. We were taking five weeks traveling through the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I started to get really sick in Amsterdam. It started as a cold and progressed to a very rough sinus infection. By the time we decided to go see a doctor in Berlin the illness was very far along – I struggled to breathe, my gums were swollen and from time to time, pus would leak from my tear ducts. It was awful and I was a mess.
We were staying in East Berlin – this was 1999, only 10 years after the fall of the wall and while the City wasn’t separated any more, they were still quite different areas. It was around 20h00 and I needed to see a doctor. My professor and I found a clinic that was open late, we find our way and eventually see the doctor. She was a solidly built East German woman with a very loud and gruff voice…who spoke zero English. Surprisingly, she spoke very little Russian too – my professor was fluent in Russian, but that was of no help.
As I sit on the examination table, she asks (in German) what is wrong. I was able to understand that without a problem. Then, I immediately think back to my most recent German class. Towards the end of the semester we could choose between studying the Zoo chapter or the Hospital chapter. I chose der Zoo and not das Krankenhaus. Dammit. Why on earth would I need to yell at a crocodile? “Du Krokodil – Du springen und beißen” was the only real phrase that I remember from that chapter.
So, I’m in the hospital trying to get a point across to the doctor and our interactions go something like this:
Doktor: Wie geht es dir? (How are you? / What’s wrong?)
Me: Uh…Meine Augen sind kaput und meine Nase ist voll (Uh, my eyes are broken and my nose is full.”
Doktor: “Deine Augen sind gebrochen und deine Nase ist voll? HAHAHAHA”
She then proceeded to ask what color various things were and she quickly prescribed some antibiotics – large East German horse pills that I could barely get down. The next day and after two doses I felt almost perfect.
Whenever I’m sick, or I go to the doctor, I always think of this lovely East German doctor who helped a lost, sick American kid when his nose was full and eyes were broken. I will admit, I haven’t done much more in my other language studies when it comes to the hospital, but I am confident enough in my language that I can work around the most basic medical ailments.
That was the beauty of my German professor’s style – he did a great job of teaching to “talk around” vocabulary we didn’t know. We knew it would be inelegant, but our point would likely be made.
Have you had any foreign language struggles like this? I’d love to hear about your struggles and how you overcame the issues.
While in Vienna during one of our walks around the Innere Stadt, we came across this elderly woman, likely in her early 80s. She was dressed very well – not fancy or in expensive clothes, but she obviously took care of herself and cared about her appearance. We saw her leaving a bakery, with a huge bag full of treats. As she stepped out into the street, she had a grin on her face, which quickly grew until her smile took over her entire face.
She sets her bag of baked goods on the ground, drops to one knee and begins to says “Du bist ein schöner Hund…Du bist ein schöner Hund!” While still kneeling, she grabbed the head of a large grey standard poodle, scratching his chin. She stayed kneeling, repeating that simple phrase. She was so happy. The dog’s owner also had a huge smile. The dog’s tail wagged vigorously.
You didn’t really need any German language study to understand what was going on here. This cute elderly woman talking directly to a dog and telling him that “You are a beautiful dog” was so heartwarming.
This scene lasted at most 30 seconds, but brought smiles and laughter to the three directly involved (owner, dog and woman) and the dozens of people walking past this display. We stopped and watched smiled and felt really happy.
It is these small things that happen every single day that we often would pass by and wouldn’t notice. I’d likely have ignored it myself, if it hadn’t been for this elderly Austrian woman, saying words that I easily understood in a foreign language. Take a few moments to observe your surroundings at home and while traveling. Don’t be in such a hurry to hit the next location on your list of must-see spots. Stop and pet derHund.
I spent this past weekend in Vienna and while I didn’t exclusively speak German. I did push myself to speak the native language as much as possible. Choosing to speak German almost exclusively while on the Austrian flights though – a flight attendant even commented that my accent reminded me of her grandparents, who lived along the German border.
I studied German in College for about two years. I find that the Austrians are pretty easy for me to understand. They speak clearly and slowly and if I know the vocabulary, I can get by pretty well. A couple of times on the trip, I struggled with a few words I didn’t know, which reminded me of a Thanksgiving trip to Mexico, a few years ago.
We were heading to dinner in Polanco – a swanky district in Mexico City. We took the subway from our hotel to the restaurant and as we were sitting down to eat, I decided I really wanted to wash my hands. I needed to wash the subway germs off before I ate dinner…so I asked the waiter.
In High School, I took three years of Spanish. I don’t practice Spanish as much as I do French of German. I told the waiter that I’d like to wash my hands before dinner — “Me gustaría lavar mi mono antes de la cena.”
The waiter looked at me quite quizzically. He looked around our dinner table, obviously confused. He responded with “El baño esta ahi….donde esta tu mono?” I was very confused…but then the waiter switched to English and repeated his previous statement “The bathroom is over there…where is your monkey?”
I misspoke. Mano is hand Mono is monkey. This poor waiter, who seemed genuinely confused by my first question, which was actually “I would like to wash my monkey before dinner.”
He was a good sport about it and didn’t make me feel foolish. We did joke about bringing a monkey to dinner later on in the evening. One simple letter dramatically changes the intent of the sentence. Why indeed would I need to wash my monkey before dinner?
What language snafus have you made? Did you have any truly awful interactions or were they just a little embarrassing? Share your language struggle stories below!