Lately I’ve been thinking about a saying/encouragement about language learning. It’s the type of thing where you aren’t sure where you heard it, or who said it, but it sticks with you for some strange reason. I’ve heard, repeatedly, that when you’re learning a language there will be a [MaGiCaL] light bulb moment and things will just make sense. During my language classes throughout university I held onto that. I waited and waited and waited for my light bulb moment, for something to just click. And when it never did I became angry. All I could think is what a load of horseshit that “encouragement” was. All it did was get my hopes up that I’d be able to truly learn another language only to let me down. But what I failed to realize and accept is, is that I would actually have to put effort into language learning.
I know what you’re thinking: “Brittany, you idiot, of course you have to actually put effort into learning a language…or anything, really.” And you would be right, but I’m not always a smart woman. I also lacked the real desire to actually learn. All I wanted was to *know* the language. Putting in the leg work wasn’t something that I even wanted to think about, let alone do. I am an intensely lazy person, and I took that approach, or lack of one, when it came to learning a language. The truth is, is that you have to want to learn. You have to want to understand what goes into making the language work. As awful as it can be to learn grammar it’s just as important as vocabulary. You need to learn it all, the fun and the not so fun parts, in order to achieve any sort of true understanding. And that bit of encouragement that made me so angry? It’s not wrong. It just doesn’t give the whole picture. There isn’t one singular “Ah-ha!” moment. Language learning is a series of light bulb moments. Along the way you hit points where individually things might make sense, but when you bring them all together you’re completely lost, until one day something just clicks. Then you coast along on that high of understanding until you realize that you’re lost again. Language learning is a cycle of confusion, frustration, understanding, excitement, rinse, and repeat.
So what makes this time different? Well the obvious difference is that I now live in the country of (one of) my target language(s)–Germany, for those of you that are new here–and have to learn the language in order to live and work within society. I’m taking intensive classes where we only use German, and soon French–I begin an A1 intensive class soon. I’ve also learned to take an interest in grammar. It’s become fascinating to me. Learning German grammar has helped me understand English grammar, oddly enough. In other words, I’m neck deep in the learning process, and I’m not trying to avoid it….well, most days. What can I say? I’m still a lazy woman, and some days I just really want to communicate in my own language.