I’ve been living in Austria now for 2.5 years. Wow! That’s even surprising for me. And I know what you’re thinking… 2.5 years… she’s definitely fluent by now. Well, I have to admit something… I’m definitely not!
Of course it depends on your translation of fluent. Can I read the local newspaper and work out the story? Yes. Can I listen to the traffic/weather/news report and know if there’s an accident ahead? Yes. Can I have a perfectly normal one-on-one conversation with someone about almost anything? Yes.
But… and it’s a big but. There are still so many things that elude me that I still don’t feel comfortable in and around the language. And I’m exposed to it… every week day at work people around me speak predominantly German. That’s right, I have been listening to German for over a year in a proper Austrian workplace and I still have no idea what’s going on.
And you know what? It can be Goddamn lonely. I understand that ‘full immersion’ is the quickest way to learn a language, but whoever is able to actually achieve that must be one tough cookie. Because that would mean months and months of continual loneliness not knowing what’s going on. At least I get a break occasionally when someone translates for me. And then I can actually laugh for real – not just laugh because everyone else is laughing.
So what can’t I do? I can’t follow a conversation if there are more than two other people in it, if it’s noisy or if they’re speaking in a particularly strong dialect. I can’t watch a movie in German without subtitles (unless it’s one I know very well, like the Notebook). I can’t pick up random conversations around me (you know like in public when someone randomly makes a joke and everyone laughs a little).
And I miss those things. And sometimes it gets me down. And I think, why haven’t I got the hang of this yet? What’s wrong with me? I know that the Austrian dialect is much harder to understand than real German (Hochdeutsch), and I have to deal with different dialects at home and at work. I know that sometimes I tune out when too many people are speaking because I realise I won’t understand. And I know that quite often I watch a movie in English because I actually want to enjoy it, rather than making it a study period!
But I realise that I have to live too. I have to be happy. And if being happy means switching to English at times and tuning into Triple J instead of turning on the local radio, then so be it. I know German isn’t the most difficult language to master, but it’s still not one of the easy ones. So even though I’m not doing as well as I thought I would, I’m still here, I’m still trying and I’m going to keep trying. And one day, it will get easier. Well, it better.
So for now I’m moving away from the ‘study, study, study’ method and into a more fluent way of learning – watching movies and series (we just got Netflix), listening to audiobooks and reading (I just finished ‘Der Zauberer von Oz). Because for all the people who tell me it’s so important to smash grammar in a language course, the same amount of other people simply say: Don’t worry about it so much, the language will come.