«Learning German is a piece of cake» is something you probably do not hear often. You might remember taking a deep breath before having to speak and your imagination makes you think of all the things that could go wrong and that you should worry about. For kids, though – and that does not only apply to German – the learning process for languages is smoother and, if not always a piece of cake, the path is not too difficult.
I am going to tell you about two childhood stories to illustrate this and remind you that it can also be a piece of cake for you.
La blume blume blume: why it is important to make mistakes while
learning a language
A story I like to tell is the one of my father and one of his first experiences with French. Before starting middle school he asked an older friend if French was easy and this friend assured him that it was. He also gave him an example: He told him that flower meant “la blume”, a bouquet of flowers “la blume blume” and “la blume blume blume” a plant nursery. As a native (Swiss) German speaker, it completely made sense to him, since a flower was called “eine Blume” in German. So he became friends with the idea that it would be an easy task to learn French. Sadly, after summer holidays, his world was turned upside down, figuring out that “the plant nursery” was not “la blume blume blume”. His path with French was hard the following years. But he kept telling this story to his children. When you think about it, the calculation behind “blume equals flower therefore blume blume blume equals plant nursery” makes sense from a mathematical perspective and my father turned out to be great in Maths, Physics and Chemistry and this first experience with French showed this at an early age. So next to the fact that he never forgot what the real word for flower was, he also learned something about himself. And best of all, it gave a great story to tell. What this means for us is that it is important to make mistakes and to be curious when you learn a language.
Stay courageous while learning languages
Another story I do not often share with my students is that I also used to struggle a lot with the German language. It all started when I was five years old and was found to have a language issue. I started mixing up sentence structures and mispronouncing many letters. The result was that only my mother and I could understand myself. Sometimes I tell people that this kept me from talking, so I need to compensate that with talking a lot now – but that was not true. I kept talking no matter what. I mean, passion is passion. And since my mother was my personal translator, I also did not really notice that I was not understandable. Of course, I did notice that the kids around me could not understand me and it made little me sad. But after getting help in a great language school and continuing to talk a lot, I was able to overcome my issue.
This story taught me years later that this is how we should all learn languages. We should keep talking and improving and not care so much about what other people think. It gives you the chance to make mistakes, to learn and most importantly, to find your own voice in the language you wish to speak. This language issue also gave me the ambition to teach German, as I grew up and now that I am a teacher at VOX, I get to help people and encourage them to speak, speak and speak again. They can make mistakes, it is fine and an important part of the process. What is important is to speak without the fear of being judged, just the same way a little kid with a language issue used to do.
PS : in French, “a flower” is “une fleur”.