23 Dec How Being Multilingual Changed My Life
“There is no finish line”
As cheesy as it may sound, it’s true; especially when it comes to the topic of learning. I’m talking about the underdog in everyone’s lives; I’m talking of course about, languages. Learning a new language just doesn’t get recognized for their importance. Meanwhile trigonometry, 19th century Shakespearian poems and that physics formula you once wrote get to keep the seat in the front of the bus in your world. They are important, but to me, learning a language is a like a foundation – a starting point for everything.
I was speaking to my dad and he told me about his friend of whom he said ‘can speak 7 different languages’. Meanwhile, I struggle with 3, or 2 and-a-half if you count my basic German skills. I asked how anyone could do that and he told me that once you’ve learned your 3rd language, the rest would be easy. Skeptical, but it got me pumped. I had to learn German, because I had a mandatory internship program there. I wish I could say that I had a foothold in the race, but I had the opposite. Rather, it was like I was starting far behind the other sprinters and had a cinderblock attached to my leg. There was no autopilot here and no shortcuts.
My first language was Indonesian and in university, almost everyone (but me) spoke a third language. I was the odd one out and although I wasn’t alone, I knew that I had to do better. No questions or complaints, for me, just learn and keep trying. So I bought every German book, DVD/TV show and anything I can get my hands on that was German. Bear in mind that I took German lessons at the same time. I started to listen to all German music, watching Bundesliga and so forth. I tried to speak German at every chance I get.
In my school, the ones that were behind in their German skills had to really haul some weight. I took up tutoring as well as weekly classes in university. The lessons were particularly cool and fun and we learned a lot. I particularly enjoyed most lessons, because I was with others and it was an effective way to learn. Of course, I also spoke German around the house and would also speak it when I play online games.
While I was in Germany, I was fearless. I walked the back streets of Hamburg, where tourists/foreigners don’t go. I wasn’t afraid to find my own way back, find my own transportation or do my own business, despite the fact that I’m in a completely different culture and language. I went down to a little village called Soest, where everyone spoke German. I didn’t have to worry a single bit about asking how much, where can I find the toilet and where my hotel was.
I had a call from the hotel receptionist asking about my booking and she was speaking German. Did I mumble and stutter and asked if she spoke English? Of course not, I spoke to her, in German, to the best of my abilities (I did clarify in the beginning that I’m not fluent) and made that damn reservation. I spoke to people, and I was able to experience the best of Germany to the utmost potential. I got to feel the immense warmth of the German culture, which I’ve idolized since university.
No, but my multilingual abilities didn’t stop at the German border. That wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg. I opened my email and got 4 different job interview requests in Germany (I was there as part of my internship program): “We’re looking for a native English speaker… ” To add to that I was also business fluent in Indonesian, so all of this led to the best experiences in my life. During interviews, they’d ask me how good my German was and I was honest, I told them that I spoke German good enough for daily living. All in all, this was a rare moment where being in a feeding frenzy was good, assuming that you’re the food and the sharks are companies.
The feeling of learning English and German was empowering, it was like having an epiphany. I didn’t do these things because I was bored. I did it because I wanted to be worth something. As a result from being limitless and not limiting myself to only 1 language, I had the best educational, social and cultural experience of my youth.
Fahry Maulana Slatter