Connect Magazine PWN Vienna
Learning German – My Story
By Joy Medos
It was back in 2003 when I got a job offer to join an international team here in Vienna. They hired me because of my experience and the languages I spoke at that time, German not being one of them. The moment I decided to move to Vienna, I knew, learning German would be a challenge and a necessity, if I really wanted to fully integrate in the environment I was going to work and live in.
I still remember booking a private teacher back home, putting the little savings I had for it, and after two weeks, the only thing I was capable to say was Guten Morgen. German simply wouldn't get into my head. This was the start of a love-hate relationship.
I moved to Vienna and made it my priority to learn German. In the office everyone spoke English with me, and as soon as I would turn my back, people, almost all internationals, started to speak German between themselves. I still remember lunches where everyone would be laughing at some jokes and me starring around as I did not understand what they were talking about. I was part of the team, and I wasn't. It was difficult to be in an environment that spoke a language I did not understand. Don't get me wrong, people were not rude or something, for them it was just natural to speak German between themselves as they were all living in a German speaking environment.
I immediately got another private teacher, this time paid by the company, to help me advance my German. And it just didn't work. 7 month later I still wasn't able to make a real sentence. I tried everything, watched German TV, tried to read things in German, was listening carefully in shops, been asking people to translate and explain ... and still, there was something blocking me. Till the moment I've decided to get a new teacher, and for whatever miracle, she got me to speak. I gained confidence and I started to make sentences and even though they were full of mistakes, I felt like I was progressing.
And as I was progressing and was trying to practice in the office, one person constantly laughed at my German, which made me feel so inadequate. I started to hate German even more. Till the day, I stood up, said to the person that, as long as his English is not as good as mine, he is not allowed to laugh about my German anymore. I wanted to practice and feel safe doing so. I was determined to make it work.
Three month later, my German still being completely broken, my line manager at the time asked me to become responsible for Germany and Austria. He said, no worries, everyone will speak English to you. Well, no-one did. I remember endless phonecalls, where at the end of the call, the person on the other side would ask if I understood, and me saying, sorry, no I didn't. How embarrassing. And we started over again.
Till a few month later, where I was looking for a new apartment, I succeeded to get one, with my broken German. The first real accomplishment.
17 years later, I can say I am kind of fluent in German and I am fully integrated, with wonderful German speaking friends, clients and partners.
Don't get me wrong, my German is not perfect, I still make mistakes (will never get the die/der/das) etc. and I do prefer to work in English as it has become my main language over the years, as I have been learning other languages as well (did live in few more countries in between due to work).
I guess what I am trying to say is:
Persevere and don't give up. German is not an easy language to learn for many of us. I believe that if we put the right focus, time and dedication, German can be learned. And it doesn't need to be perfect. So many people appreciate if we at least try. I strongly believe it will make your life in Vienna easier and more enjoyable.
Find out more about the author Joy Medos