Let’s Talk “Failure”

Language learning can feel full of setbacks if we start with super-high, new-year style goals. In an ideal world, you take up studying, speaking and writing in Spanish, and 18 months later you’ve got a mountain of vocabulary and speaking confidence. Most online resources – including bloggers like me – don’t often acknowledge lost motivation and ‘lost’ skills.

Snow in Berlin

Instead of goals, here’s my language failures and ‘abandoned’ languages:

French ||
My first – and worst – foreign language! Like most British kids I started French aged 11, and I always liked the language but I really disliked learning it. There were two classes sorted by ability, and it really put a nail in my French ambitions when, in my final year, I was moved from the ‘good’ class to the ‘less good’ class. The mandatory classes ended when I was 14 and I never looked back – until Summer 2017 when I spent a month cramming basic French for a vacation using Memrise… that convinced me French was still tricky but that I could actually enjoy it.

German ||
My school made us take two languages, which was a nightmare for some of us. I was randomly assigned to take five years of German (other option: Spanish), and I liked it, but by the end I had a B grade and could tell someone I had two sisters and lived in a detached house. Since 2015 I have gone from apps, to evening classes, to intensive courses, to using German at my job. But those feelings of inadequacy are hard to shake – while my understanding is 100%, I often second-guess myself or feel self-conscious when speaking. I know lots of people who are fluent in English but they focus on tiny weaknesses or small errors. It sucks that imperfections and anxieties feel like failures, but it happens to everyone.

Spanish ||
The second foreign language I can actually speak! I started an evening course a year ago, and I am at the intermediate stage – so still optimistic. Nevertheless, every day I regret all the learning I’m not doing: I started a diary in Spanish – stopped that! I have a lovely tandem partner to learn with – but when did I last see her? Where are the handmade flashcards? Why am I not reading El País every day? Will I ever finish ‘El Ministerio del Tiempo’? When I do pick up my phone to learn, I enjoy it, and that’s the important thing.

Okay here’s one resolution for 2019: there’s limited resources to learn Swedish (because it’s not super useful) but there’s course for German speakers called ‘Sprich mal Schwedish’ and my Noble Goal for the year is to have a crack at it. (I don’t know, I can enjoy the Scandinoir better? I’ll have a leg up if Sweden ever invades?)

My advice: keep your goals flexible, don’t feel guilty about taking a break from a language, and download a dictionary onto your phone!

3 European Shows to Binge

Deutschland 83
A lively and tense drama set during the height of the Cold War, it follows a young East German boarder guard who is forced into serving his country as a spy in the West German capital. Against a soundtrack of early 80s music (including ’99 Luftballons’, what else?) and the threat of nuclear annihilation, Moritz fumbles his way through espionage and starts to question his loyalties. Nail-biting scenes and plenty of dark humour. The next season, Deutschland 86, premieres this autumn.

The Killing (Forbrydelsen)
Season one of this Danish crime procedural follows Sarah Lund, an iconic detective clad in enviable knitwear, as she investigates the disappearance of a teenage girl. Decked out in her cosy threads against a drizzly Copenhagen, she finds a dark story where a family tragedy becomes gradually entwined with a local political scandal. The plot arc covers the entire season, which at 22 episodes is long for a European drama, and it is essential to watch from start to finish. You would be hard pressed to find a better scripted, or better plotted crime series from the last ten years (but try out the Danish-Swedish show The Bridge when you’re done). For a detective show with less of a time commitment, Sweden’s Wallander has stand-alone episodes.

Thicker Than Water (Tjockare än vatten)
This is an excellent family drama and quite different from most of the super bleak Scandinavian shows which get exported (see directly above). The Waldemar family owns a rustic hotel on a sunny Swedish island, and with the father long gone, matriarch Anna-Lisa runs the show with her loyal son Oskar. Season one starts with her summoning her two other adult children (a struggling actress and a failed restaurateur) back to the homestead with a peculiar proposition. The three siblings have no idea what the summer has in store for them, but scores will be settled and secrets will be uncovered. The characters are so well drawn and the realism underscores what is an engrossing and tense drama.