When travelling in Germany I experienced one of the most frustrating situations that any language learner will come across when in a foreign country. You have spent countless hours learning and practicing your new language only to arrive and everyone will only speak English to you. No matter what you do, or how hard you try, the answer is always in English! Then you spend the whole trip wondering whether it is your accent, that you made some obvious mistake or you just forgot to wash off the massive letters spelling E-N-G-L-I-S-H on your forehead that they clearly see whenever you speak. It is hard not to let this knock your confidence… but fear not, I have a solution.
Never Give Up!
It sounds simple, and it is! Perseverance is one of the key traits that you need when you are learning a language. I have been learning languages now for a number of years and can tell you that it isn’t easy, but I love it. That passion is one of the reasons I will always return and strive on to achieve the desired results. However, I still go through phases where I feel like I’m stuck in sinking sand and, no matter how hard I try, I see no movement. This it the moment you have to push through to reach the finish line; like a running hitting the wall during a marathon or an author finding his way out of writer’s block to finish his next novel.
So, when you hit the “English” wall then push through. Allow me to explain….You walk into a cafe and want to order a coffee. You patiently wait in line and when it is your turn you confidently say “Ich möchte einen Kaffee, bitte” (I would like a coffee, please) only to have them reply with “small or large?” Before you worry about the fact that they responded in English, give yourself a pat on the back. They clearly understood you as they answered your question; even if it wasn’t in the language you wanted. Now it might seem like the obvious thing to simply respond in English and quickly run away; hoping next time they will reply in German. Fear not though, there is another option…Reply in German.
When the waitress asks you “small or large?” You should then reply with something like “Einen kleinen, bitte.” (A small one please). It may sound silly but it really works! Just because they reply in English doesn’t mean you have to. That way you still get to practice your new language and take back control of the conversation.
In the Black Forest, we down for dinner in the hotel restaurant and were greeted by the friendly waiter. He spoke very good English and asked us what we would like to drink. Unlike other times on this trip, I decided to use German no matter what. Never give in, never surrender! From start to finish it became a weird English-German conversation with us both speaking the other’s language. He opened with “Would you like some drinks?” to which I responded with “Ich möchte ein Weißbier und einen Orangensaft für meine Frau”. (I would like a Weißbeer and an orange juice for my wife). He asked “What would you like to eat?” and I replied “Ganze Forelle, bitte” (The whole trout, please).
Tip – I also always say “wife” when I am speaking in German because it is significantly easier to remember than “fiancèe”. A little trick when you don’t know the exact word in the language you are learning.
This continued through the entire meal, until I asked for the bill (Die rechnung, bitte). The response, however, was not was I was expecting. He opened his mouth and out came “Zusammen oder getrennt?” I had finally broken through and got him to speak German to me! I was so excited, I couldn’t stop talking about it all night to my long suffering fiancèe. I couldn’t believe that doing something so simple would actually have such positive results. I knew that this was going to be a turning point in my language learning.
Fact – Zusammen oder getrennt? Is a common question in German restaurants when you ask for the bill, as when eating out with friends the waiter will sit with you and split the bill per person so that everyone only pays for what they have eaten.
The next morning we checked out of the hotel and to my surprise the waiter from the night before was now manning the front desk and we had a lovely conversation; completely in German! Not a word of English spoken. We even talked about how the internet was being slow because it was a Monday morning and didn’t want to work; not something included in your standard language course. As I said Tchüss and took our baggage out to the car I fixed this memory firmly in place, ready to fuel more German conversations for the rest of the trip, and any other trips in the future.
Has anyone else been in this situation before? I would love to hear about it and how you overcame it. Let me know in the comments below.
Ciao for now!