Have you ever found yourself thinking « I can’t do that because I don’t speak the language » ? Even if languages can be learnt, people seem to focus more often on the difficulties they bring rather than the opportunities they create. In Austria, many foreigners come to learn German: how do the non-native experience learning Deutsch?
Experiencing the Deutschkurs: the first step towards learning German
In Austria, around 1.4 million people are foreign citizen, which equals 15.8% of the population. In Vienna only, you can count 182 different nationalities. That’s one of the reasons why newcomers can get around without speaking German: Viennese are almost all fluent in English. Yet, it’s better to know the language of the country you live in, as it will always facilitate your integration, work and socialisation.
The most common way to learn is to go to Language School. There are many of them in Vienna and anyone going to a Deutschkurs will tell you the same story.
First of all, it’s going to be awkward. When you meet with a new group of people coming from different cultures, ages and backgrounds, the communication will be difficult. Especially since it will have to be in German. This can be a frustrating exercise and will push you out of your comfort zone.
Languages Schools rank language proficiency from A1 to C2 according to The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). Depending on their mother tongue, students might find it easier or harder to learn German. One thing for sure, studying on your own and practicing often is necessary. In Vienna many people participate in Sprachen Cafes: they meet and discuss to improve their abilities to speak. Having a tandem is also helpful and is the equivalent of a language exchange. Alternatively, you can also use applications such as Duolingo or Babbel (the most famous language learning platforms) to learn vocabulary and keep practicing.
While with certain languages, the more you learn, the easier it becomes, German doesn’t follow that rule. Grammar intricacies and illogicalities might frustrate you to the point where you ask yourself: is it really worth it? If you reach this moment, don’t get discouraged. That might be the time to try to see things from a different angle.
Changing your perspective can help you to understand a language quicker
Going against the language is not going to help you, even if it feels good to rant about it. Instead of getting stuck on language difficulties we can alternatively:
- acknowledge a language as its own entity
- distance ourselves from our mother tongue
- understand that translation is helpful but not always necessary
- allow new ideas and concept in our psyche
- stop from referring to terminologies as illogical, complicated, etc.
- understand what purposes the new language can serve (being more straightforward, learning new concepts…)
- see it as a new adventure full of discoveries
- open our minds to new possibilities of comprehension
- create new relationships and friendship through Sprachen Cafés and Tandems
- accept that mistakes and miscommunication are part of the process
Changing your point of view is the first step to progress more efficiently. Then, as you will keep on learning, you brain will also operate differently.
How being bilingual will affect your behavior and sense of decision?
Multilingual people mention shifting languages in their head as they would switch channels on the TV. There is more than that, this is what studies show about multilingual speakers:
- “People self-report that they feel like a different person when using their different languages and that expressing certain emotions carries different emotional resonance depending on the language they are using.”
- Bilingual and multilingual people have a fitter brain. They can open to different thinking patterns depending on the language in which they think.
- In some situations, non-native communication is more rational while the mother tongue would make the person rely on intuition. In his Ted Talk How Learning German Taught Me the Link Between Maths and Poetry Harry Baker explains how the logic of the language changed the way he was making decisions.
- Bilingual kids have more empathy and are better at interpreting another person’s intentions.
- Languages also modify our perceptions depending on genre concept: A monolingual English speaker will look at all inanimate objects the same. French speakers, on the other hand, will automatically imagine a table speaking with a high-pitched, more female voice because in French, table is feminine.
Language learning : a step to take for long-lasting life changes
The first step is to initiate a change and decide to learn. Then, it is the ability to change your perspective and acknowledge the existence of different concepts beyond your understanding. When you are able to communicate in the language you have learnt, your brain will adapt. Your decision behaviors, thought processes, dreams and ideas will take different patterns.
Languages will also impact the way you blend in society and interact with people. In terms of emotions, learning a language can be a lonely experience at times but also a life changing personal challenge and success. Lastly, it proves that short-term self-limitation concept can be overcome for long-term gain. This is how learning a language can be a tool to self-improvement that all of us can experience.