A few weeks ago my company held a firm-wide meeting discussing our future growth direction. The content is not important, what is important is that the meeting was (obviously) completely in German.
And then the most surprising thing – I actually understood a lot of it!
Ok, the first part anyway – but that was a good hour!
The first part consisted of a number of different speakers, some Austrian and some German, and while I still can’t pick up the intricacies of the different dialects, I did notice distinct differences between the speakers. Some I had to strain and concentrate to understand, others I could sit back and just listen.
And it empowered me. Maybe not in the way the company was intending, but for my German comprehension. It was like after all my hard slog learning, I finally get a gold star to show for it – there is a light at the end of the tunnel!
Sadly my triumph was short-lived, as the final person to speak was Austrian-born motivational speaker and radio personality, Tom Walek, who regaled us with tales of his gruelling expedition to the South Pole and naturally emphasised the important underlying principles of teamwork, motivation and rising to the challenge.
It was like he was speaking Russian.
For the next 1.5 or so hours I understood little more than a word here and there, and desperately tried to maintain an interested appearance while my colleagues laughed uproariously around me. I hope he didn’t notice me sitting blank-faced IN THE SECOND ROW – it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it – it was that I had absolutely no idea what he was saying.
And so the battle continues. But I’m keeping my gold star, along with the knowledge that perhaps I’m not as stupid as I thought and maybe my German studying is paying off.
While it could be a long road until I am able to understand every Austrian, I’m going to settle for some for now. And be comforted by the fact that the only real way to learn how to understand the fast-spoken dialects around me is to just to keep my ears open, and let it wash over into my subconscious. And that, folks, I can handle!