When you arrive in a new country, ready to learn a new language, there’s advice aplenty, and of course, as you meet other foreigners who have been in the country 2 years, 5 years or 20, it’s easy to compare your progress to theirs. My advice: don’t.
Everyone’s language-learning journey is different. And while there are certainly recommendations on the best and quickest ways to learn a language, I think there’s only one way for each person – and that’s… their way.
Some people go to foreign countries with a life-long dream of learning the language. So that is what they do. They knuckle down and they learn the language. And it can be super fast. I didn’t come to Austria to learn German. I mean, I did, as an aside. But I came to Austria to see if I could make a life with someone. That was my focus. That was more important than learning a language.
Some people go to foreign countries with other languages already under the belt, having learnt it as a kid from a relative, or when they were in school. And it might not seem like much, but every little bit gives an advantage. I didn’t learn German at school. I literally knew the word ‘nein’ when I came to Austria.
Over Christmas I joined an online German class to brush up on my skills. I was together with some people from Slovenia and a Vietnamese girl. In some cases the teacher would translate a German word into all three of our languages. One word came up: Fischer. The English translation, ‘Fisherman’, is simple, especially when you compare it to Slovenian and Vietnamese! And it made me feel a bit crappy. If English is such an easy base to learn German from, then why aren’t I better at it?
And that’s when I told myself to stop. Because it’s not about if it’s easier than another language, or if another person picks it up quicker than me, be it because they have former experience, they work harder or they’re just better at learning languages. There’s so many variables, so comparing yourself to others can really backfire. So don’t. Accept that you’ll learn on your terms.
My journey may not have been perfect. I am still learning. I could be better. But I’m doing ok. And you know what, that’s ok, too.