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Learning Through Imperfection

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, here I go again writing about language. I can’t help it, really. As a stranger in a strange land, language is one of the dominating forces in my life these days, and I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about vocabulary, grammar, and communication. Before German, I never committed myself to learning a language. I had only an abstract idea of how hard it would be and wasn’t prepared for how it would bring out both the best and worst in me.

For example, I like to do things right and I hate being wrong.  My approach of “do it perfectly, or not at all” does not work very well for language learning. Believe me, I have tried. It has been quite a struggle to swallow my pride and put myself out there, knowing that I am constantly making mistakes in conversation and in writing. But I am slowly allowing myself to learn by doing, and to treasure the moments when total strangers correct my grammar – a little social embarrassment goes a long way towards making sure I get it right the next time!

And the best part? No matter how much progress I make, there are always new mistakes to be made! More complex expressions to master! Finer distinctions between vocabulary to decipher!

So instead of trying to pass myself off as a native speaker (my do it perfectly, or not at all inclination) – which only sets me up for disappointment – I always try to stay true to what I am: a foreigner doing the best I can to learn a new language as an adult. And when I present myself as such, I receive nothing but support from those native speakers around me. Sure, I don’t sound as eloquent as I would in my mother tongue, but at least I keep learning.

Even with all the frustrations, I love the challenge of wrapping my brain around the German language, as well as the triumph of mastering ever-increasing levels of communication. My most recent point of pride? Meeting with a local non-profit organization and discussing the possibility of collaboration on my research project. Alles auf Deutsch, thank you very much. Did I make mistakes? You betcha. Do I still sometimes trip over my tongue while buying croissants at the local bakery? Of course. But that is all part of the process, now isn’t it?

Leave a comment about your experiences and thoughts on learning a new language!

One comment

  1. Dad says:

    Your language experience has taught you much the same philosophy that I learned from many chopstick sets over my lifetime. “There are rights and wrongs but stay with it long enough and the sticks will eventually teach the way that is best.
    Love you and your scribblings.

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