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Ich spreche Deutsch…well, sort of….

We all know what it feels like, struggling in a foreign language to make yourself understood when you don’t know quite enough words to explain further… here’s a typical example written by Shelley some time ago but as relevant today as it was back then. If you struggle with German, you aren’t alone…

Normally, when I realize I need to ask for something in German I take the time…

…to rehearse in my head what I’ve got to say long before I say it. Yes, I’m terrified of making a mistake and having to try and explain something over when I don’t know the words to explain further what I’m trying to say. At the same time, I also hate asking someone to switch to my language when I’m living in their country as a long-term resident. It is my duty and responsibility to speak German, yet more often than not, I have found myself either not speaking up or switching to English.

The ticket windows at train stations have always been my safe haven, places where I feel comfortable. I know that I can speak English there and not feel bad about asking someone to switch to my language. I surprised myself a few weeks back, at those very windows in the Basel SBB which I once considered my safe-English-haven.

After waiting in line for two people, I had my turn at the window. Instead of beginning with my usual “Sprechen Sie Englisch?”, I instead told the guy behind the glass that I needed a return ticket from Frick to Zurich. Did I just start speaking English to him, without at least being polite enough to ask if he spoke my language or did I simply just start speaking German without thinking about it? I started speaking German without thinking about it. The entire transaction was handled in German, including him asking if I had a half tax card,  me using a credit card and him asking if I needed bus/tram tickets for Zurich.

It is starting to click for me, slowly. I’m not attending any language classes, so I’m using the German I’ve picked up on the street and from my Swiss husband. This experience gave me a surge of confidence and has made me less afraid to speak and make mistakes.

My husband even asked me to order dinner for us not long ago, something he never has done before as I’ve always been too afraid to speak up! It went without a hitch as well. I guess I’m no longer a virgin when it comes to opening my mouth and German tumbling out without thinking about it, eh?

Shelley

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