My Expat New Year’s Resolution

I’ve always been a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions. They give you a chance to reflect on the past year and evaluate what is working well in your life and what areas could use a little improvement. This year I have just one New Year’s Resolution. It is a big one, but achieving it would transform my life in Germany. I’m likely not alone in this resolution as it’s a common one for expats – Learn the language once and for all!

We all know the benefits of learning the language of the country you’re living in and although I have an intermediate grasp of the German language, having taken eight months of intensive German classes, I struggle to take it to the next level. You always hear that it’s easy to learn the language by living in a country where they speak it. I don’t agree with that.In order to actually learn the language you actually have to be immersed in it. As a freelance writer I work in English, watch online TV in English, belong to an English book club and even subscribe to several English magazines. My husband is German, but when we are tired or have something important to communicate, we do it in English. I have both expat and German friends, all of who speak English either fluently or much better than I speak German. Despite living in Germany, I actually don’t communicate in German nearly as much as I could, even though my goal is to become fluent in German. It reminds me of reading an article on how to lose weight while reaching for another potato chip. The way things are going, neither of those goals will ever be reached. That is going to change in 2012.

To reach any goal, I find it much simpler to break it down into baby steps that are measurable. Becoming fluent – heck I’d even settle for near fluent in German by this time next year, is a daunting goal so I’ve decided to break it down into day-day steps. Reflecting on 2011, I think my biggest hindrance was not making the time on a regular basis to learn German. As a freelance writer I often get busy with other projects my intentions to learn German are often the first thing to get brushed aside since there isn’t a looming deadline to learn German as there are for other projects.

Recognizing this, the first thing I need to do is to create a schedule, much like I do for my exercise routine. I do it first thing in the morning so that it’s done no matter what else comes up in the day. I’ve decided to do this for learning German as well and have scheduled 90 minutes five days a week to actively learning German. I will spend 30 minutes reading in German, helping me to increase my vocabulary. This should be relatively easy to do as I belong to a German book club with other expats in which we read books in German and then discuss them to the best of our ability in German, proving further motivation.

I will also spend 30 minutes watching German TV. I find it helpful to watch either children’s shows since the vocabulary is simple or American shows that have been dubbed in German. I find that being familiar with the characters and premise of these shows, makes them much easier to follow than trying to watch German soap operas with a complex cast of characters. I will also speak at least 30 minutes of German a day with my husband or other friends. I realize 30 minutes doesn’t sound like much, but it’s more than I’m doing now and I’m optimistic that the time will gradually increase as speaking German becomes easier. 2012 is the year that I will speak near fluent German!

How will you become fluent in the language of the country where you are living?

Laurel Robbins is a freelance writer and the author of the popular travel blog Expat in Germany where she writes about exploring Germany and the rest of Europe's most interesting hiking trails, festivals, off-beat locations and local cuisine. You can also follow her European adventures on Twitter.