The Main Goal
In two weeks time I go to Berlin – and I want to speak German!
It’s not like I’m starting completely from scratch … I did get to the stage where I could hold a basic conversation at one stage, and I took an intermediate level class in Sydney back in 1980 … but, as I said, that was 1980 and I haven’t really spoken any German since.
I also have an underlying goal to become a real polyglot – not someone that has a passive knowledge of how several languages work and can say a few phrases in them, but someone who can have an interesting conversation with native speakers – which is the reason for my trip to Berlin – to attend the 2015 Polyglot Gathering and gain inspiration from those that have achieved my dream.
But after the Polyglot Gathering I will be going to meet someone very special.
In 1980, when I was attending the German class I decided I needed a German penfriend. I got hold of a German magazine and wrote a letter to the Editor asking if anyone would like to correspond with someone living in Australia. I had no idea that it would bring so many responses. Every day brought more and more. One day I received 52 letters – all from German people wanting to write to me.
Initially they came from what was West Germany, but after a few weeks I received a handful from the East. These seemed especially significant as the writers didn’t have many opportunities to correspond with people in the west.
I ended up taking the majority of the letters to a couple of secondary schools that taught German as I couldn’t possibly answer them all, but I wrote to several of them myself. Most of them dropped away over time, but right from the beginning my correspondence with Traudi was special.
Phonecall in the night
We were married around the same time, and had our first child in the same year. Traudi sent me photos of her house and lifestyle, and I sent her photos of mine. She was full of questions, curious to learn of life beyond the Berlin Wall, and I was curious to know what life was like behind the Iron Curtain.
One day I received a letter with her phone number. She said it was very difficult for her to call me, but she could receive a call from the West. I worked out the time difference. If I was up feeding my young baby in the middle of the night, that would be a good time to call. The International Switch Operator in Brisbane was very surprised that I wanted to call an East German number but managed to put me through. If you’d asked me straight after the call what we talked about I couldn’t have told you. We had 5 minutes of laughing and crying and total disbelief that we were actually talking to each other.
I’ve never spoken to Traudi since, but we’ve exchanged letters and cards over the years. I read of her joy at being able to travel to Sweden after the Wall went down, her struggles when she lost her job then her husband lost his, and the amazing way they picked themselves up working with unemployed youth and establishing an eco business based on environmentally sound gardening.
I will be spending two days with Traudi and Jürgen at Haselnusshof and I can’t believe we are finally going to meet after all this time.
My German has to be good enough!
How am I revising?
I’ve been dabbling in a few different methods to see what will get me to my goal the fastest. I started by glancing through a few German books that I have and amazingly some basic vocabulary started to come back.
Then I signed up for a German Made Simple Udemy course. I was lucky enough to do that when it was being offered free, though I see it’s over £160 now! I have nearly finished it and it’s going really well, reminding me of the basic grammar structures.
I’m also following the German course on Duolingo and I have to admit I’m finding that quite addictive! I can’t believe that such a high quality course is offered free!
I would love to take up Benny the Polyglot’s Fluent in 3 Months but I don’t have that long!
I’m going to add some Bliu Bliu into the mix though, to increase my vocabulary reading jokes and listening to native speakers.
And I’ve been given a whole list of suggestions of podcasts and good websites to listen to by a sympathetic fellow language learner.
So, two weeks to go before I put my revision skills to the test.
But there is one other little hurdle to get over as well – I’m going to a Welsh bootcamp in the lead up to going to Berlin – only Welsh allowed! If anything is going to earn me my novice polyglot badge, that will.
Wish me luck!