I thought I’d learn German in about 12 months. I figured that seen as I lived in a German-speaking city and had decent motivation (desperate need to order coffee without stumbling on my words) it would simply come to me in good time. Presumably in the night, like a lightning strike, or a giant slap to the side of the head. One year seemed, to my naive ambitious self, a perfectly reasonable amount of time to pick up the intricacies of conversation.
I’ve since discovered 3 things;
1) I’m not a patient person
2) 12 months flies by when you move to a new country
3) Learning a language is not as easy as movie montages make it appear (damn you Colin Firth in Love, Actually!)
I’m now two years into my Expat life in Vienna and still at a beginners level of German. I can follow conversation in a group of Deutsch speaking friends, thankfully coffee & brunch ordering is now possible too. But the true art of expressing myself fluently still eludes me.
I’ve tried intensive courses at IKI, which were challenging but got me the building blocks. I’ve experimented with reading children’s books with S to reach the language the same way I learned English – through a love of reading. Now I’m enrolled at the Deutschinsitut, a slightly slower paced course better suited to full-time work schedules.
The kicker in Vienna is – everybody speaks English. Including my entirely English-speaking workplace. With such a flood of tourists and International organisations in the city, you could actually get by without learning a scrap of Deutsch. But I’m pretty sure that makes you an Expat arsehole.
Never, ever, be this guy
So here are a few ways I’m trying to force myself to speak more Deutsch everyday – if you have any language learning tips to add please let me know in the comments!
– Talk and talk and talk at home. I wuss out of talking Deutsch at home. All. The. Time. I’m like a 1950’s housewife avoiding sex, with my standard lines of ‘I’m just so tired today’ ‘Its been a really long week’ ‘Do you really want to? Right now?’. It’s the biggest challenge, but should be one of the easiest to overcome – it just takes discipline from you and your housemates.
– Text message auf Deutsch. This is an everyday activity that will sharpen your writing skills. I can follow conversation face to face, but my spelling and conjugation when writing Deutsch isn’t great. Texting gives you some everyday practice. Just make sure you only try this with your native German-speaking friends – group Whats App messages in German with the English-speaking family don’t go down so well.
– Read the free papers & familiar magazines. The U-bahn daily metro papers are filled with small, easy to follow articles with pictures. I can’t understand every word, but the gist of the article can be pieced together with regular reading to extend your vocab. I’ve also had a go at purchasing the Deutsch version of Cosmo. Even when written in another language the articles about ‘This seasons hottest Winter Coats’ & celebrity interviews are the same format as in English, making it easier to follow along.
– Ask for help. When you’re talking to a native speaker and they say a word you’ve never heard, ask what it is. Yes, it will be excruciating, yes it makes you feel about 10 feet tall, but if you don’t ask, your friends can’t help and you won’t learn. Suck it up and ask for help (still my biggest challenge!)
Lastly, there’s a few different language schools that offer courses at varying price levels to get you on your way to comfortably speaking. Courses aren’t for everyone – some friends have learnt German from reading comic books or spending time deep in the countryside where there is no other option – but for me, the structure of a school and deadlines keep me honest. A few of the better known ones are:
www.berlitz.com – One of the most expensive. Strictly only apply if your workplace can afford to cover the costs. They have 1 to 1 sessions, small groups and private office tutoring available.
www.IKI.com – My first Deutsch Kurs experience, it’s very thorough, moves at a decent pace and they offer intensive day time courses and 8 week evening courses. Your certificate from the OIF is included in the price, which is worth keeping in mind when you compare to other cheaper schools.
www.deutschinstitut.com The current option I’m trialling, these guys are reasonably priced, in the central 6th district and use the same workbooks as IKI. Their evening courses are particularly popular.
www.deutschakademie.at These guys are the budget conscious option in Vienna. When I first moved here and money was super tight we looked into courses here. To be honest, their offices and setup put me completely off when I went to enrol – everything felt cramped in, they were using old computers despite their location on the Ringstrasse it just seemed, well, cheap & nasty. Friends have studied there and liked the additional materials but I’m not sold on it myself.
My Deutsch is still a work in progress, but I’d love to hear anyone else’s tricks to picking up a language – if only to give me hope that I will one day conquer the dreaded German Grammar!
We don’t do snowy winters in Melbourne. Its more like, windy, grey and maybe a low of 7 degrees celsius. Nothing so serious as a snowy Austrian winter. Although Vienna has been remarkably warm this year, its still a lot bloody colder than Australia. So, when my family came across for their first Austrian winter, I offered them the following survival tips:
1. Invest in a decent jacket
Critical decision at the start of winter – what will be your jacket of choice through these long, dark, icy months? My heart always wants to get something fashionable but my thin cold skin needs the most effective gear in the business. Last year S got me an unbeatable Dynafit jacket and I haven’t been cold since. Seriously I can ski in this thing, walk to work, wear only a t-shirt underneath and it still keeps me warm. I love it – but its not exactly high fashion. My family took the same approach – warmth was #1 priority over look!
I’m so cosy, I can frolic at the Gloriette!
2. Shoes will save you
A decent pair of warm boots will make or break your winter. You spend so much time trudging through slush, trying not to slip on ice or simply standing outside in the cold when you’re drinking Glüwein at the Christmas Markets, that a decent pair of shoes is essential. Ideally a warm, comfy, fur lined pair of knee-high boots will do the trick. Otherwise you’ll be wearing thick socks a lot, paired with soggy runners and probably be in a really really bad mood the whole winter!
3. Protect yourself
In the snow you need to protect your skin from the sun on those beautiful clear days. Sounds unlikely but trust me on this – sunburn from snow can be a surprise horror as the reflected glare from the white snowy ground hits your unprotected skin as much as the rays from above. Save yourself from the panda-eyes effect by using sunscreen on those gorgeous blue bird days.
4. Accessorize darling…
In Australia I thought winter was all about wearing lots of cozy layers and big thick jumpers and coats. Here, I’ve learnt that its the little things that make a huuuuge difference. Winter accessories are a must – you 100% cannot leave the house without a scarf, hat and gloves or you will freeze. The icy winter wind will sneak down your neck, your fingertips may turn purple and without a hat you can forget about ever feeling your earlobes again. The most shocking thing I saw over our Christmas break was an Irish lad skiing without gloves….I don’t know how his hands survived. Accessorize every day!
Mum and Dad luvin’ their hat investments…
5. Use the right products
S managed to terrify my mum into thinking her lips were going to freeze and fall off completely when he shared this particular tip, but it is an important one. In winter you need to use different moisturizers and lip balms than you would in summer. A lot of beauty products have water based ingredients, so if you use them in winter weather you will only dry out your skin/lips, causing more pain than you had in the first place. Apothekes here in Austria sell winter lip balm for about €4 so treat yourself to the right products. I promise your lips won’t fall off!
6. Get into the Spirit
Winter can be cold, grey and wet. Or, if you have the right attitude it can also be beautifully white, magical and the perfect time to develop new skills. This is my third winter in Austria and there’s at least 3 new skills I’ve developed in that time. My skiing has improved massively – only possible in winter. I’ve gained an excellent ability for choosing delicious Glüwein – only possible in winter. I’ve ice-skated outside a hilltop palace – only possible winter.
Ice-skating very carefully at Schloss Wilhemenberg
Overall a cold winter is what you make it – so embrace the many wonderful opportunities winter brings and enjoy it- no one ever had fun spending 3 months inside whining!
What’s your best survival tip for winter? I’m sure I’ve missed a few crucial ones so let me know your strategies in the comments.