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Inspiration: It’s What Keeps Me Going

At the gym the other day, between the monotonous stomping of my feet on the treadmill, I overheard a woman speaking in heavily-accented English.  She was asking her workout partner to show her how to correctly do a push-up.  I listened to her for a few minutes, as she struggled to find the words to describe what she wanted to say.  It made me reflect upon my own experiences as a study abroad student in Munich.  I remember how frustrating it would be to run into situations where I couldn’t accurately express myself.

On one particular occasion, my inability to remember the verb “to pay” meant that I couldn’t tell the waiter that I had already paid my bill.  I recall repeating over and over again: “ich habe schon…ich habe schon…” (“I already…”)  But the word escaped me.  I tried to motion a “paying” action with my hands, but it just confused the waiter even more.  Finally, I remembered the verb and was able to complete my sentence, satisfying the waiter and setting him on his way.

Running into situations such as these occurred on almost a daily basis when I first moved to Munich.  Things that should take moments to complete, often became stressful, drawn-out processes simply due to my inability to correctly express what I wanted to say.  As a grown adult, it was extremely frustrating to have my vocabulary set back to the level of a child, particularly when I still needed to do “grown-up things” (like set up a cell phone or register with the city).

So suffice to say, I completely sympathized with the woman at my gym when I heard her struggling in broken English.  But when I turned around and saw who she had been speaking to all along, I felt an even higher level of respect.  The woman had been speaking with her husband.  It was obvious that they shared the same mother tongue, so it would have been much easier for her to carry on in their native language.  But the fact that she chose to instead practice her speaking skills and converse with him in English, made me beam with admiration.

I’m now married to German-American man, but I have to admit that our daily conversations in German are usually limited to short words and phrases.  Rarely do we commit to conversing fully in German, simply because English is the more natural medium for both of us.  My husband moved to the US when he was 10, so he speaks English as if it were his native tongue.  Plus, we met before I even started studying German, so it’s become what we’re used to.

But I have to admit that seeing this courageous couple made me realize that there’s no excuse not to try.  It also made me think of all the people living in the U.S. who struggle to learn English because they want to create a better life for themselves.  I’m lucky that learning a foreign language has never been imperative for me – it’s always been a choice.  A choice that nonetheless opens the door to many opportunities and experiences.  So what excuse do I have not to practice more often?  Better yet: why would I not want to?

What motivates you to study a foreign language?  When things get tough, what “keeps you going?”

To join Mango Languages’ Language Resolution campaign, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook or use the hashtag #LanguageResolution to join the conversation.  Our goal is to make this the year that you commit to learning a foreign language by providing daily challenges, tips, and motivation.  Together, we can do this.

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    • Hello,
      Nice article. I have been abroad for about a year and always living in English speaking countries during this time. I struggle very often to communicate in English and also get frustrated.
      It may be easier for me to keep motivated since English is spoken almost everywhere and is quite necessary to get a good job, at least in some fields. But apart from that I see it like a challenge. I like challenges and this has become one of the toughest ones I’ve ever faced.
      The good thing about it is that it’s very rewarding and this make up with the frustration I sometimes feel.
      One of the hardest things about it (and also related to the article) is that I’ve continued meeting a lot of people who speak my native language and I’ve always managed to speak in English.
      Sometimes I get tired of it but I just think of the rewarding part and being aware that this challenge requires me to do such an effort, help me to not give up.
      Regards and good luck!

      • Thank you Jose! First off, I have to say that your English is excellent! Congratulations on all your hard work. I completely understand what you were saying about the difficulty to speak a foreign language when surrounded by people who can speak your native tongue. Being a native English speaker, this was a huge problem for me – particularly in Germany, where most adults learn English to the point of fluency. I would always run into people who wanted to test out their English skills in conversation with me! The thing that I found helped most was to surround myself with students who had the same objective as me: they were in Germany to learn German. So I became friends with students that I met through my language school and at my dorm. Since German was generally the only common language we shared, it was impossible to cheat! Plus, speaking with someone who was also not a native German speaker took off some of the pressure and I didn’t feel the need to be perfect. Hopefully you’ll also find ways to keep pushing yourself – but judging by how good your English is, it seems like you already have! Good luck again with your studies!

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