The following is an interview with Ece, one of our members. Enjoy!
Where are you from? Where do you live? What language are you learning? Why? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Hello! I am from Turkey. I am currently living in Istanbul. I have been learning German for about 3 years now. I studied medicine (I recently graduated) and through the course of my studies I had to sadly witness how much of the value of “being a doctor” has been lost in our society.
Salaries here have lost their purchasing power substantially (with the downfall of Turkish economy as a whole) and even worse than that violence against doctors (and healthcare workers in general) has become a big problem. Because of that, I decided I want to practice medicine in a country - Germany - where I am better supported and protected through law and where my field is better respected. I also know that the struggling Turkish economy can’t offer me the quality of life I had in mind or the opportunities I had pictured for my future.
Have you moved country to improve your speaking skills? Why/why not? Or are you learning your chosen language because you moved?
Although I currently live in Turkey, I lived in Germany for 7 months last year through an Erasmus programme. I was trying to improve my German language skills and also get a taste of the culture and the working atmosphere that I am planning to join.
If you have moved country, has it been difficult to integrate? Why/why not? If you have not moved country to improve your language, are you planning to? Why/why not?
I must say it was very difficult at the beginning when I moved to Germany. One can learn a language all one wants but if you don’t put it into practice regularly (especially with spoken German as opposed to written German, since it requires more spontaneity), it is - from my point of view - impossible to become fluent.
I must admit however, speaking only English wouldn’t necessarily limit my social integration chances in Germany. But without a certain level of competency in German it would be impossible for me to complete my practicals in the hospital. It doesn't make sense to ask patients to speak English and rob them of the comfort and clearness of their mother tongue just so I could understand them better!
I am planning to move back to Germany with a language visa to sharpen my German language skills while I can look for a job there.
How has learning a language helped you in integrating into your new country?
Since my way of moving abroad would be to practice medicine, it would be impossible for me to integrate and operate in my new professional environment without speaking German. And because I am a recent graduate, it is even more important to me that I can cover a potential lack of medical knowledge or skills with a good understanding of the local language.
What has been the hardest thing for you in learning German?
For sure confidence. Grammar as well. German grammar is very well structured and does not allow many exceptions once you get a hold of it.
I also read a lot during my language learning journey which definitely helped with my vocabulary. I struggle with prepositions but I don't worry about them much, since I know from English already that once you are well accustomed to the language, it will comes by itself and start to flow a bit.
Confidence is tricky though. I think many people tend to be very perfectionist when putting a foreign language into practice - at least I am. It is incredibly hard for me to hear myself make mistakes and simply move on from them and keep talking.
I sometimes have the false expectation that I will be able to speak as well as the German in the podcasts/TVs hows/books I listen to and read - which means I expect myself to start speaking like a native without putting in the real effort to practice!
As you see, it can create a vicious circle of never practicing and still expecting to somehow get better.
How has Language Gym helped you in your language learning journey?
I think Language Gym covered the problem area of confidence really well.
Once you know that people you are talking to are also learners and they also make mistakes it puts your mind at ease.
Although it is still not easy to take the leap, it is much easier than trying to speak with natives directly and also lessens the fear of being judged.
How often do you attend Language Gym meetups?
My aim is 3 times a week although it is not always possible.
What other learning methods have you tried?
I did some 1-on-1 with a private tutor when I was starting (so for A1 and A2, especially for grammar). I think a private tutor really helps if you are trying to understand the structure of a language at the beginning.
I then also did some regular group language classes for B1, which really didn't help a lot since there were too many people in the class (around 15) and the teacher naturally had to pace the class according to the majority, not the individual.
Once I had the vocabulary to be able to read real books (it was Harry Potter for me and it worked well since I already read the books many times) I never looked back. I think reading heaps of books really helps with getting familiar with the melody and the soul of the language.
If you were to learn German again, from the start, what is the one thing you would change?
I would start practicing speaking sooner. I think after B1, speaking should be a vital part of your practice.
Listening and reading, being passive branches of learning, are always more convenient.
I think I would balance them up with the more active practice of trying to speak and write.
Other language learners will be reading this blog. What tips for them do you have in learning languages?
For me the trick was: understand and learn the grammar rules at the very beginning so you know how the logic of the language functions. This is doable, even with a very small vocabulary. Knowing how the sentence is structured helps a lot with guessing what the unknown words could actually mean.
What got me furthest so far, was the fact that I read a lot of books in german. Books motivate you to keep reading unlike news articles or regular language learning material.
And of course another trick is to try and shake off the fear of being judged or the fear of failing and throw yourself at speaking as early as possible.
Do you have any book/YouTube video/blog post/podcast recommendation that have helped you with your language learning?
I think Deutsche Welle’s Nico’s Weg is very well known in German learning circles. It is really as good as free language learning can get.
I also recommend the podcast Slow German, it was my stepping stone to gather enough vocabulary to then consume real German media such as TV series, movies or books.
Now for a general, non-language related question! What is the kindest thing someone has ever done for you?
When I was doing my Erasmus semester in Germany, I was having a really tough time at work in the Gastroenterology department. It was a very busy department.
The doctors were giving me a lot of responsibilities (like calling the general practitioners and admitting and doing the history-taking of patients). I felt very incompetent because of my non-perfect Gerrman.
However, I luckily made a very good friend in the dorm, Thara. Thara actually baked me a surprise cake and got up at 6am for me on a Friday to help me celebrate the last day of my Gastroenterology practicals. <3