Back when I was an exchange student in Japan, I went to a small gathering at a friend’s house. The people there were a few Japanese girls, my Korean friend, and myself. I’d been dating a Japanese guy for a few months, so I was pretty good at conversation (if you don’t know the correlation, you’ve never tried dating someone from a different country ) but I wasn’t fluent.
When people would aim conversations at me, I was ok and could answer. But when they spoke between themselves, I was lost and just shut off. Now this isn’t me saying my friends were bad – they weren’t. I had a lovely time, and they made a Japanese name for me (which is Sayuri), and taught me how to cook some Japanese food. But I just wasn’t quite at the level where I could be a proper member of the group. One girl next to me turned to me and said “I studied in London for a year. I can see the look on your face and I know that feeling. Don’t worry, you’ll get there.”
I mention this now, because I had the same feeling the other night. On Wednesday night, my German teacher put down the grammar book after half an hour, sat back and said “ok, let’s speak in German. Tell me about your week”. I spoke, in German, for the first time. Not just ordering a beer or some food, but actual conversation.
I don’t know if this is just me but I get a real rush from this. Speaking in another language… it’s just such a great feeling and I can’t describe it. So, naturally, I wanted more.
On Facebook I’m part of a number of Frankfurt groups, one of which is an all-German group. They had a meetup on Thursday, so I decided to go.
It’s one thing to click “I’ll join” on Facebook but it’s quite another to walk into a bar, see all these people you don’t know, speaking a language you don’t speak and just jump right in. I had a mini freak out inside, wondered what the hell I was doing, but then bought a massive beer and just stood at the side and looked awkward until two guys doing exactly the same started talking to me.
I did pretty well. I’m proud of myself. They didn’t realise I wasn’t German for quite a while, but that’s mainly because I answered with single words for a while until I got into the swing of it. But it was hard. I had to keep asking them to repeat stuff, and I got into the habit of repeating everything in English to make sure I had understood it before I answered. I didn’t initiate anything, because, quite frankly, I forgot how very tiring it was. But also because I felt so sorry for these two guys who got stuck with me. I wanted them to know they could escape at any point, so I kind of zoned out when they were talking to each other.
One guy left after a little while and the other sat down with me and we just spoke in English for the rest of the night. I’m pretty proud that I did such a long time in German. But it’s not a nice feeling to be a burden on someone in a conversation. I want to keep going to these meetups and trying again and again until I can speak German for real.