learning a new language: closing the distance

My German partner and I had been in a long-distance relationship for almost over 2 years until finally this year we closed the gap! I am now living in Germany and it has been so amazing to finally be living our dream life together after having planned and thought about it for so long.

I had visited Germany many times before moving from the United States and knew from my experience with the culture that I would fit right in once I was able to relocate my life here. Pretzels, beer, castles…what more do I need? Well, I forgot one very important thing…the German language!!

Learning a New Language

I definitely underestimated what the experience of moving out of the country (and across the world) would be like…especially during a worldwide pandemic and starting my own business! Making friends was so much harder since there weren’t any Expat meetups happening and I wasn’t able to attend the intensive German course that I had signed up for. 

Now I certainly hope that none of you will have to experience this when you are closing the gap on your long-distance relationship…but I am here to motivate you that if I can do so with having all these external factors come in the way, you can do it too!

When I was still living in the United States, I had done some research into taking German classes in my city to prepare for my move but unfortunately, there were not any available where I lived. I had done the Rosetta Stone and Duolingo route and it just wasn’t for me. I had all these questions about the intensive grammar rules within the German language that an app couldn’t answer for me. I needed in-person guidance. 

I’m here now to let you know just how I combated the pandemic, and lack of in-person course resources to be able to learn a new language and close the gap on my U.S. to Germany long-distance relationship!

1. Learn the Basics

Luckily before my boyfriend and I went long-distance, we had been in the same location for the first two years of our relationship. With this, I was able to nail down the very basics from what I was able to pick up hearing him say in conversations. I learned to say basic sentences such as “I want…” “I am going to…” and “Do you want…”

My Rosetta Stone and Duolingo membership were great for learning additional vocabulary, but I had so many questions about the specific rules and decided the price I was paying wasn’t worth the little value I was getting. So instead, I went to my local bookstore and purchased a flashcard deck of 1000 German words. Each day before heading to work, I picked out 2 cards to learn during the day. I would set them in front of my monitor and look at them throughout my workday. The flashcard deck only cost $10 and because of it, I was able to learn a lot of new vocabulary words!

2. Take Classes

For me to really grasp the entirety of the German language, I needed a live class led by a teacher who could answer all my questions. Although when I moved I wasn’t able to take my intensive in-person lesson, I did find one that was offered virtually from a local teacher in the German city I moved to. It was only two hours a week, but that certainly was better than no class at all. 

On top of that, I found a self-paced online course (also with a tutor) that takes you to the B2 German-speaking level. Between my Zoom based German lessons twice a week and the online self-paced course, I was able to spend an hour or so each day learning German even during the pandemic. 

Not only are taking classes important to help you learn a new language rapidly, but they help so much with getting integrated with the culture and meeting new friends! From my online class, I ended up meeting a girl who lived in the same city that I did in the U.S. AND she moved to the same village in Germany…such a small world!

3. Prepare for a lot of frustration

Let’s be real, learning a new language isn’t easy! It takes so much effort, dedication, and motivation to keep going even when you want to pull your hair out. But please, KEEP GOING! For the first month or so that I was learning German, nothing really clicked. I just was going through the motions and got so frustrated that I wasn’t seeing any real progress. All of a sudden, it will come when you least expect it! 

What really helped for me, and my relationship was not to rely on my partner to answer all my language questions or be my teacher. Sure he could help me with translating a word or sentence, but as far as explaining why there are three different forms of the word “the” in the German language…that wasn’t his responsibility. Remember, your partner is your PARTNER and not a language teacher (unless they really are and if so, props to you)!

4. Don’t Be Perfect

When I first started to learn German, I was so caught up in all of the grammar rules and wanting to know the reason behind everything so I could study it to a T and sound like a native speaker. Well, I soon found out that not even native German speakers can speak the language perfectly! 

The biggest thing to remember when learning a new language is that PRACTICE makes perfect. If you are too concerned with sounding perfect from the first word you say in a sentence, then you are never going to even open your mouth to say a word to begin with. The more you practice, the more you will learn from your own mistakes. Plus, they make for great ice-breakers with locals and they might share with you some tips they know!

5. Set Out Days to Speak the Language

I am lucky enough to have an extremely supportive and empathetic partner who knew exactly what I was going through since he went through the same thing just a few years prior in the United States. Because of this, he never put much pressure on me to learn and kept it on my own terms to make this goal happen from my own will and determination. 

Once I started to learn more words, we would have specific times/occasions when we would only speak German. This was very effective as I didnt get frustrated if he randomly sprung words or phrases onto me when I wasn’t prepared. If we went out to a restaurant, it would be my turn to order for us, or if we went to the grocery store together, then it was my turn to speak to the cashier rather than him always intervening. Since he was the one person I knew wouldn’t judge me if I said something wrong, I felt very comfortable being able to speak the language knowing he was there to support me.

6. You WILL be Billingual

I’m definitely not the point of being bilingual, but I know that if I keep up with the same pace and follow my own advice, I will get there sooner than later! Learning a language has a lot to do with your mindset believing that you can do it. 

At the beginning, I had a strong mental block thinking that I want someone who could learn a new language, let alone become bilingual in a language as strong as German. Coming from the United States where we don’t learn a second language growing up, it was really difficult to wrap my brain around how to even learn a language.

I promise that if you and your partner stick to your goal of closing the gap on your long distance relationship and to become fluent in your new home language, you will make it happen! I wish you the BEST of luck and if you have any questions about how I made my move from the U.S. to Germany or specific language learning questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Meet the writer: Anna

Anna Schild is a world traveling, donut lover working as a Virtual Assistant to support bloggers, podcasters and coaches. You can follow her travels on her personal Instagram @annaschild817 and keep up with her life as an digital nomad VA on Instagram at @yourva_anna 

Website: annaschildva.com

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