Making the most of a new life

Berlin #4 – Language

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One of the things I have enjoyed about coming to Berlin/ Germany over the years is that I have gradually picked up some language skills. This would probably surprise my old teachers since I was pretty awful at languages when I was at school. In fact I got a pretty miserable fail in French, and the only thing I remember from a whole year of German lessons was how to ask where the ‘Tram Stop’ is, and that’s only because I loved it that ‘Strassenbahnhaltestelle’ was a pretty long word for ‘Tram Stop’.

So while I never really got the hang of how to learn a language at school I guess that it is a bit different when you are immersed in it, and need to speak/ understand it on a daily basis; and as not all of Karen’s family and friends speak English it is important that I learn how to communicate with them.

Over the years I have taken a couple of courses (which generally start with how to book a hotel room, the very thing I don’t normally need to do in Germany) most of my language acquisition has been by trial and error (mixing up the words for ‘legs’ and ‘sanitary towels’ being a particularly embarrassing example of ‘error’), and this time I have been especially pleased that I was able to go through the whole process of getting new glasses, including the eye test, entirely in German.

One of the things that we were very clear about when we had children was that they grow up bilingual, and Karen is very strict with Jake about him talking in German with her. While this meant that Jake was a bit slower in both languages to start with, he suddenly started to fly with both when he was about three, and I have been amazed on this visit especially about how he has settled into German life almost as a native speaker. He does occasionally substitute the odd English word when he is talking, but his confidence in speaking and understanding both English and German, and his ability to switch between the two, is very impressive. It has meant that he has been able to make friends over here and understands situations very quickly. I’m sure that Sam will be the same as he already understands a lot and has both English and German words in his limited vocabulary.

Jake’s ability to pick up two languages so easily really shows me just how much capacity children have to learn new things, and how are motivated they are to do so; if for no other reason than because it helps them to make sense of the world around them. Similarly it tells me how much we need to promote and encourage that, something I’ve touched on before when talking about our problems (now resolved) in getting Jake into a school after we’ve moved house.

So as Karen and I fly back to Britain shortly to move house it is comforting to know that, as we leave the boys with family in Berlin for a few days, they will not feel like strangers in a foreign country. Rather they will be in a place where they feel at home and can communicate well with their those around them. If that was the only reason for them to learn two languages it would be well worth it.

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