Lucerne-based Filipina Maria Kristine Fleischhacker shares her experiences and tips on how to learn German in Switzerland.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela
Learning the language makes the struggle of living in Europe real. This is one thing I have come to realize with my stay in Switzerland, a country is divided into three main linguistic regions- German, French, and Italian- speaking regions.
When I first arrived in the German- speaking part of the country I did not know a word in German and this fact limited my conversations with some people who only speak the local language. What more, in order to be competitive in the job market here one has to speak the local language. There are many jobs for English speakers but the competition for these jobs among the locals plus the expats is very tight so learning German (in my case) would broaden my prospects and would make my daily living and interaction with the locals easier.
Here are some tips in learning the language that I have gathered thus far from my experiences:
1. Enroll in a language school. Learning a language is like going back to primary school – we learn the basics first and as we go along things become more complex. We can learn on our own but I think it is better if we have a professional teacher who can teach and guide us. I find attending a language school to be a lot of fun too. I also get to meet people from around the world with the same desire to learn the language. Some of them eventually became my friends so I not only get to learn but gained friends as well which is a very precious thing when you have left your good friends in your homeland. You can also hire a private tutor but that would cost a lot more.
In Switzerland each level would cost you around 600 Swiss francs and up. It would be best to compare schools based on how the class is being conducted in general, teaching materials being used, and prices for each level. For anyone who works during the day, there are evening and Saturday classes normally available. You may also look for possible agencies that can help you find a scholarship for your language study. Scholarship.ch is one that I know of in Switzerland. If you are already employed check if your company pays for language studies.
2. Check government agencies or local organizations for language classes. Sometimes bodies like these offer free language courses or courses for a far lower fee.
3. Join a conversation group. There are many expats in Europe and there should be a small conversation group in your area where you can practice and learn more of the language as you mingle with people. Sometimes conversation groups are by proficiency level. Check your church bulletin or forums online for groups in your area.
4. Talk. Ask your husband or wife or anyone in the house who speaks the language fluently to have a daily conversation with you. The first time I did this with my husband we ended up laughing so hard. I have also met up with people who do not know either English or Filipino so I would be forced to practice and speak. Do not be too conscious about mistakes at first, the important thing is that you are trying!
5. Read and Listen. Fortunately I have friends who have given me their old books, I am able to study diverse materials in German. I have also raided a good second-hand bookshop where I live. If you must start reading a children’s book then do so. Learning vocabularies day by day would strengthen our capability to speak the language. I have also subscribed online to a daily email of vocabularies and sentences in German. There are also a good number of videos online for language learning with many of them containing subtitles in English.
6.Be creative. Make flashcards for further vocabulary learning that you can use on your own to challenge yourself every day. I used to have “word walls” all over our house so I would get to read the new words or phrases every day.
7. Volunteer. Check the different charity organizations in your area. Many of them look for volunteers and this is an opportunity for you to practice the language. I volunteered in one organization in Switzerland and it was so much fun.
Learning a new language is a good investment depending on your goals and plans. It brings excitement and the joy of acquiring a new skill. It is just sometimes amazing how I go to the market and find myself chatting with the sellers in their own language – different from them but at the same time now becoming one of them through language.
Photo from luzern.com