The Child-Bouquet to Learn a Language

«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”.

How to Trick One’s Weaker Self or How to Keep Motivated

Whenever we set ourselves any goals we’d like to reach – either to lose some weight or to change bad habits – we generally begin motivated. We strive to achieve our goal as quickly as possible, and with as many measures implemented as possible. Inevitably, after a few weeks, we hit a wall called procrastination. Suddenly, many days go by and we haven’t learned a word of the language we desperately wanted to be able to speak. Too many other things become more important – and we always find something that is more urgent to do at that moment, than learning and developing our language skills. Our subconscious mind takes over and tells us that we should do something else – like watching a movie or visiting some friends – since those are activities that our limbic system knows make us happy, or at least we don’t find them exhausting.

How can one outwit the limbic system?

I would like to show you how you can manipulate your subconscious to support you in reaching your goals.

Step 1:    Go to the website and send your brain on holiday. 

Step 2:   Follow the instructions provided, e.g. ‘I want to learn German’. 

Step 3:    Choose the picture that gives you the best feeling, keeping in mind your question. For  example, which picture could best support you on your way to speaking fluent German? 

Step 4:  Associate nouns or adjectives to that picture – whatever comes to your mind  (don’t forget your initial question).  

Step 5:  Choose the most relevant answers (about three, that attract you most). 

Step 6:   Create a positive sentence. E.g., I want to speak German like a leopard running through the grass: lightly, full of energy and always goal-oriented.

The sentence should contain the words you have chosen beforehand; the tense must be present tense – and it should create a picture in your head that makes you feel happy. 

Step 7:    Print out the picture, along with your sentence, and stick it in a prominent place, for instance, on your bathroom mirror. This is the best chance to see the picture daily and help keep your subconscious mind on track. 

This picture is called a prime. It helps you to stabilize your motivation. Every day your stamina will be supported, and the crash into the dreaded wall of procrastination will be avoided. Your subconsciousness supports your learning progress, and you will learn joyfully and therefore successfully.