by Sarah Gourevitch, Greenheart Travel High School Exchange Student in Austria
When I first arrived in Austria, I signed up for a German class that was 2 hours a week and as soon as that one ended, I jumped into one that was 4 (level A1.2 for anyone who’s curiousJ). This class is right by the opera house, so I can even sometimes catch part of an opera for free after class on the big outdoor movie screen projecting the current performance. In addition to my “Deutschkurs”, I write down words I hear at school or with friends, translate them, put them on flashcards and study them when I have a few minutes on a bus or train. German grammar has been a lot trickier for me to pick up, but I’m slowly acquiring a sense of at least what sounds right. Circus practice, of all places, is one of my favorite places to practice German!
Since I’ve been here, I’ve noticed a difference between classroom German and actual German. I guess this seems obvious enough, but still worth mentioning! In German class, activities are always exactly at or a tiny bit above my level of vocabulary and spoken slowly and articulately. I wish I could say the same thing of the streets of Vienna, but I guess that’s what keeps me on my toes :) Learning German outside of the classroom has been all about the little victories. One of my first weeks here, a woman asked me for directions to Belvedere Palace (in German). Although it was a pretty simple question, understanding the question, knowing how to get to where she wanted to go and then being able to articulate it in a language still so new to me was an incredible feeling. Another little victory was getting through a children’s book with my host sister, Teresa, as I mentioned in a previous blog entry. Another was ordering in German at the bakery by my house (which came with a pretty tasty reward!).
I’ve realized that a lot about learning a language is not only the language itself but also about body language and reading a situation. Even if I pick up only a word or two when someone’s talking to me (when ordering food or in a store or some other scenario where someone doesn’t necessarily know that I’m not a native German speaker), it’s often not hard to figure out what sort of thing one would be saying in a given situation. Then, I can use that knowledge to learn new words or phrases.
I had made several attempts to begin learning German before I left: I took a short online course, studied vocabulary, listened to German music and took out learn-German CDs. My advice for anyone starting to learn a language before arriving in a host country is to choose one strategy (or two, if you have the time!) and stick with it. Having too many gets confusing and you end up getting stuck in the very basics. Anyways, my German’s certainly come a long way and I can’t wait to see how proficient I’ll be by the time I head home!
Here are a few photos with my friends in Vienna who help me practice my German during my study abroad program.