Follow the Leader


Is moving overseas to learn a new language worthwhile, or is it just too much added pressure in the learning process?  As a University student of Spanish and International Teaching, I understand the struggle of learning a second language and accumulating some sort of fluency.  The word struggle is an understatement for my experience.

Before adventuring off to Spain, I had only been studying Spanish for four short months, while my friends at University had been studying this language for nearly 6 years. With my determined spirit, I decided that I should at least give it a try if I wanted to learn Spanish. I do not regret my decision in the least bit. In fact, I am heading back for the summer semester to practice a bit more, but my experience has certainly not been a walk in the park.

Accepting the idea of not being up to par with the rest of the group is something that I could only accept over time. Luckily for me, I had a lengthy Spanish support system, and found a sense of comfort through teaching English.  It was my little getaway for me if I had a bad speaking day in Spanish or just did not understand anything for the life of me.  My favorite lesson in particular was with a class where I taught English to local adult learners. It took place every week in an organization for unemployed citizens and was a conversation-based class, in which I would prepare material for specifically articles and current events to discuss throughout the class period. During one of my first few weeks, I noticed one of my students in particular having trouble speaking during class because he often compared himself to the other students.  As a result of this, I found an article that I believed would really help encourage him to keep speaking regardless of the other students’ superior speaking level in English.  The article I chose was about a man named Matthew Youlden, who currently speaks 9 languages fluently, while the majority of people struggle with just learning another language.

Although Matthew did not specifically move away from the UK in order to learn his first language, he has found a way to study languages and become fluent in certain ones without ever living in the country where the language is widely spoken. For some people it is simply not necessary to do so. After introducing the article to my class, I decided to read off a list of quite unique, but also realistic suggestions that he gave on the site for those trying to learn a second language. In this list he included two very intriguing points.

1. Know why you’re doing it. For example, what if your company no longer required fluency in English or maybe your line of work is predominately here in Germany and does not require English a majority of the time. With this knowledge, would you still try to further your English speaking ability or simply stop trying with no clear goal in mind?

2. Act like a child. This is not me saying go outside and play on a playground or watch the latest episode of SpongeBob.  Kids have an act of not only absorbing information, but are also rarely embarrassed when they make mistakes.  When a child makes a mistake, someone simply corrects them and after this correction, they typically continue talking as if nothing happened.  For adults, on the other hand, embarrassment has a mind of its own and can stop their progression of learning language.

Overall, for any language learner out there, know your limits and what you can handle. So maybe packing your bags and moving to America for a while is not your best option, but taking English classes in Germany for a couple of years could be a step in the right direction and potentially even better for you than moving to an English speaking country.  All that Mathew is suggesting is to indulge yourself in this new language whenever you can, have a clear goal in mind and remember that we are all going to make mistakes throughout the process. The ones who embrace this embarrassment will be the ones who succeed in acquiring a second language. Best wishes throughout the process and after all there is probably someone else out there making even more mistakes (me in Spanish)! So keep on keeping on.