It’s been a month since I arrived in Berlin, so it’s about time for a mission update! To make it more interesting, I’ve decided to include this multilingual video tour of my flat.
However, this is the first time I’ve tried to make a single video with multiple languages, i.e. the whole video is one unedited (other than adding graphics like flags & subtitles) take. I really prefer to use my languages to talk to people rather than my camera, since it feels very artificial. On top of that it’s hard to switch between languages so quickly, so I made a few mistakes, but otherwise you can hear me speak the languages I have good command over, one after the other, and I even included German so you can hear how I’m more-or-less speaking it after a month!
The reason that video is relevant to my first month in Berlin is because that flat is basically where I’ve spent most of my time since I got here! I prefer to spend more time outside, but before the summer weather got here I wanted to make sure I did as much of my indoor stuff as possible, to get it out of the way.
After the first week, I was translating double-time again and this gave me very little time to do anything else. So I decided to block translation work for the rest of the month, and most of my day has been devoted to writing the language hacking guide so that I can describe in great detail the process involved that helps me learn languages quickly.
I’ve made great progress in writing a huge amount already, and interviewing some amazing people to include audio in the guide. I’m hoping to release it mid-May!! (For more info on that, join the language hacking league by entering your e-mail on the right).
Progress in German
The first week was the most crucial, since I had already gotten into the rhythm of not speaking English. I made enough progress to be able to even spend several hours a day speaking just in German, using my usual tricks! Since that week, my level has definitely improved, but a lot less in its spoken aspect than what I usually prefer, simply because I’m not being social enough.
This month I’ve been implementing the ‘input experiment’ – a title I got to like less and less, since I find this concept of input vs output to be silly for language learning and totally ignores important inherent human aspects. I’m not a robot thank you very much!!
Anyway, this new approach has gone reasonably well as I discover which non-social systems work (at least for me) for learning languages. Certain ones are useful for reading and listening comprehension, and other ones (like SRS, which I’ll explain soon) have revolutionised how I previously learned vocabulary.
I’ll continue to share my thoughts on what I have found useful, and elaborate on them more over the coming weeks. These methods can help people with no access to other learners or natives in their town, although if you live in a major city and are learning a major language you have a lot less excuses for not being able to practise with people.
Chances of success?
I’m way off being able to reduce my accent to be non-foreign, but I’m told that without knowing it in advance, most people have not guessed that I’m a native-English speaker based on how I speak German. This is mostly because I worked hard in other languages to get rid of my English accent. This is less likely in in a video like the above one, because of the very artificial nature of switching from other languages so quickly and basically talking to myself. I speak better than that in conversations.
I still have an accent in all of my languages, but not having the English ‘r’ and other things have been hugely helpful in making sure conversations don’t slip into English. Even if my level is quite low, the lack of a very strong accent actually makes it seem like I’m speaking better than another foreigner who would actually have way more command over the language than I have, but with a very noticeable accent. This has been a big help to make sure that conversations don’t slip into English.
I still haven’t reached fluency (as I define it), but I’m confident that I’ll do this in May so my last weeks can be focused on reducing my accent and better emulating Germans. Remember, completely eliminating my accent isn’t quite what I’m aiming for – I want people to think that I’m German for about 30 seconds into our first conversation. This means that I can make some minor mistakes, as long as they are subtle enough not to raise any alarm bells!
In most casual conversations, people wouldn’t notice minor mistakes. Some readers seem to be confused about what I was aiming for. I never aim for perfection and I think it would be ridiculous to ever try. But what I’m aiming for is still realistic (depending on how devoted I am) and should be thought about in a social context. To me, speaking a language isn’t about how much I know, but how well I can communicate. There is a big difference that I’ll go into in more detail another time.
With regards the C2 exam – I decided to get a private lesson from a Goethe Institut instructor (very familiar with the exam) and asked her what she thought my chances are. She said that it is perhaps possible, despite my current level, if I keep up the rate of progress that I have so far. However, based on her evaluation of my writing I will have to work really hard for that important aspect of it to be passable. She reminded me how ridiculously hard the exam is to make sure I was aware of the very likely chance of me not passing.
The fact that she didn’t laugh / roll her eyes at my suggestion of doing the C2 exam is definitely encouraging! I now only have two months left before I plan to sit it!
Life in Berlin
Hopefully in the next update I can tell you more about life in Berlin itself. I have only been out to socialise a couple of times a week and I can say that so far I’ve found Berliners to be very friendly, and I quite like the city!
It’s one of the quietest major cities I’ve ever lived in. I have been in certain central areas that definitely don’t seem shady, and sometimes I don’t even see other people/cars for a few minutes. Usually capitals are chaotic and filled with traffic jams etc., but I find it quite peaceful here!
I think this will change soon because summer is upon us – warm weather came quicker than I was expecting, so I imagine the city will explode into life soon! I look forward to getting out to enjoy it!!
So I hope you enjoyed the video and this update! As always, I look forward to your comments
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This article was written by Benny Lewis
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