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I am a localization manager/translator and intercultural consultant living in Berlin (Germany), passionate about languages, cultures, diversity management, body art, dancing, self-empowerment, coaching, effective communication and, last but not least, vegan gluten-free food and good movies.

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Do you want to learn a foreign language? Just make a new mistake every day

Learning a new language and using it every day is an experience that can enrich your days and open your mind. But it also has drawbacks or it can be painful. 
One of the worst problems is not understanding. Missing a nuance, a joke, a word. Needing time to get to the point. Feeling left out. 
In a word, feeling stupid. Really, painfully, hopelessly stupid. Someone not worth talking to.

[Even when you feel down 
because of misunderstandings and broken communication...
Life can still be beautiful.
Sunrise at Ostkreuz, Berlin]

It is a legitimate feeling, even if totally unjustified, and after a while it may become a useful alarm bell which, at best, you learn to live with and to manage. To use it to improve your language skills and to better understand yourself and people around you. 

At worst, you feel you're so totally stupid and you become more convinced of it at every new episode where you do not understand something. And of course, by living in a foreign country in contact with another culture and by speaking another language, the episodes never fail.

Many people try to avoid this feeling and this sense of inadequacy by switching to English like some kind of refugees but, in my humble opinion, this is the worst possible choice. You can really learn a language only by accepting this feeling, accepting it as a part of the process, accepting you're going to still make mistakes and keep moving forward anyway. 

You can really learn a language only while leaving your comfort zone and trying something different, even if the risk is to be considered less brilliant and intelligent than you actually are.

you only speak English because it is easier you will never improve and will continue to be afraid to make mistakes. The new language will never become an 'automatic' channel of communication.
will always be a tourist even if you're actually living in some place since ages, because it would be enough for people to just stop to be 'kind' to you while speaking English and to switch to the foreign language you are struggling with, in order to leave you lost and without the language and social skills you need to properly express yourself.

Is this what you want?

This one is for V. and J.

Tags: Learning a language, Inadequacy, Berlin, Embracing discomfort, Comfort zone

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