Episode 4 of Dating Basel: Learning German as an adult

Do you have too much self-confidence? Do you need something to bring you back down to earth? If you are searching for solutions for mild to severe ego growth, you may want to consider this tried and tested self-confidence reduction process…learning the German language as an adult! 

You will be given kindergarten level worksheets (don’t worry ‘kindergarten’ is still a word of German origin) and baristas will ask you to speak in English when they hear you attempt German, but look on the bright side you will still get your coffee :)

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, just when I thought I was so clever I began attending intensive German language classes. The classes taught me more than just the basics of German, they have shaped the way I see the world. Knowing other languages is really like having different personalities, it broadens your view of the world and allows you to think in different ways. On a personal note, it has reminded me of the fact l am an eternal learner with far more questions than answers.

I grew up bilingual, my mother tongue is English but I am also fluent in Arabic because of my upbringing. I thought that by knowing what is classified as 'the second most difficult language to learn' that I would somehow be better at learning German and boy was I wrong! In German, like Arabic, verbs are conjugated and there are declensions, but learning these in another language is just a mind boggle! When you learn languages as a child you pick up the rules intuitively (sometimes without being able to articulate them to others) but as an adult language learner, understanding the mechanics of a new language is more complex. In a sense you are unlearning what you already know, especially when it comes to syntax. If you have no idea what I am talking about, you live in a happy place – stay there. In a nutshell, here’s what I learned when I was supposed to be learning German:

1.    The world is a lonely and confusing place when you can’t understand those around you: There is nothing more isolating than being in a public place and hearing people connect when you cannot. There have been tram announcements that we have missed, our tram changing paths and leading us into Germany because we had no idea there was a change to the route. For our family, this meant that we were often late to work or school but these incidents made me think about migrants (my own parents) and refugees. We are fortunate to know English, arguably the international language, for others life is way more difficult and discrimination often stems from ignorance and fear. 

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2.    Swiss German and German are totally different: Learning High German in Switzerland is another obstacle because the Swiss have their own dialect. I was told that it is recommended one learns Swiss German only after they have mastered High German, so understanding locals at my beginner level is impossible. This means my language learning journey will be a long one. 

3.    Teachers are the best: I am biased because I am a teacher, but honestly my first German teacher Sara was amazing and I did not just learn German in her classes, she really taught me how to be a better teacher. There is no way I could’ve learned what I know now from Duolingo and podcasts alone, the connection you make with teachers and the encouragement they offer is invaluable. 

4.    I need German-speaking friends (and I made one in the most random way ever!): I have made many English-speaking friends, which I love, but this has not helped my German at all. In fact, you could quite happily live in an English-speaking bubble in Switzerland, but that’s not what I want, so I joined Tandem (no this is not Tinder, I am happily married, thank you very much!). For those who don't know, Tandem is an online language exchange group where you meet up with someone weekly and you teach them a language and they teach you one. The problem, however, is that there is an oversupply of people offering English for German. Enter my second language to save the day (thanks Mum and Dad), I found a message from a German speaker asking for someone to teach her the Levantine Arabic dialect. After some googling, I realised that I am fluent in that specific dialect, so I messaged the woman who posted the request and we have been meeting up for a coffee ever since. The people at the café we meet at must think we are so strange because we switch between English, German and Arabic every time we chat but hey! I’m learning. Slowly. (Langsam;))

5.    There is a word for the day after tomorrow: A fun fact that I learned in German class is that there is a word for the day after tomorrow (which doesn’t exist in English) it’s “übermorgen”. 

I know I started this post flippantly but on a serious note, if you want to step out of your comfort zone and try something new I recommend learning a new language as an adult. Sure, your confidence might suffer for a bit but you will feel on top of the world when you string a few words together (that people actually understand).


Frau Nomad Naomi

A Swiss Affair: Making the First Move

Basel, Switzerland. Photo: Stan Tsvirko

Basel, Switzerland. Photo: Stan Tsvirko

The first spark: 

Sitting in a bustling Sydney café by the ocean, I sigh.

My sister glances up at me. “Don’t worry,” she says smiling soothingly. “See the move as a new baby. You’ve had two and you know it takes at least six months to get used to the transition,” heavily pregnant, she lifts her arm from stroking her cumbersome belly and sips her tea. 

I sip my coffee and take in the view of the ocean, contemplating what she just said. Then, I object: “No! A new baby means stretchmarks and sleepless nights. I’m not sure I can see it that way right now,” I say half-jokingly. “I want to date Basel. I want to explore the city and get to know it. Learn the language and embrace the culture, understand its intricacies and quirks.”

She smiles and nods.

“I understand having a side fling or love affair is stereotypically more French, but Switzerland is close enough,” I laugh. 

She half laughs, obligingly.

My beautiful sister. Photo Credit: Me scrolling through her social media account ...it's what younger sisters do ;)

My beautiful sister. Photo Credit: Me scrolling through her social media account ...it's what younger sisters do ;)

So, that’s how I really started to accept the transition. This Type-A personality had a plan, a plan to date a city, an image of candlelit dinners and strolls by the Rhine. I don’t have the luxury of an ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ journey, my marriage is too solid and I have two little ones in tow, so here I am taking this on as an exciting affair. 

The Honeymoon period:

I first visited Switzerland in the winter of 2018, I was on holiday and I vividly remember the train trip from Zurich airport to Basel. I had never seen snow so beautiful, the crystal white flakes embellished Christmas trees and dripped off pine cones. It was picturesque.

When I finally arrived in the city I remember thinking that it had all the European charm you see in the postcards and so much character. I fell in love with the architecture, the efficiency of the public transport system and the water; drinking fountains around the city constantly sprout fresh spring water. My daughter became a fan of Swiss cheese fondue, me, not so much. I did however love the Octopus salad at an Asian inspired restaurant chain called Nooch, go figure! 

A drinking fountain in Basel, Switzerland. Photo: Stan Tsvirko

A drinking fountain in Basel, Switzerland. Photo: Stan Tsvirko

Romantic strangers in Basel, Switzerland. Photo: Stan Tsvirko

Romantic strangers in Basel, Switzerland. Photo: Stan Tsvirko

My beach loving children were not impressed with the cold, but a ski trip, hot chocolate and chestnuts helped the entire family climatize. After a week in Basel, I was both sad and happy to go home. The city left a lasting impression. I was happy to return to warm Sydney, to return to work and see my family but in my mind, Basel became my happy place. Memories of strolling along the Rhine, making snow angels (I can’t ski…yet) and daytrips to France and Germany meant I saw Basel as a pleasant place, both quaint and nostalgic. 

Fast forward four months and my husband declares he has been offered a job in Basel. I feel perplexed, living in a ‘happy place’ defeats the purpose of its existence, because once you live in the ‘happy place’ it becomes a reality, a place of routine and responsibility. I was worried I would start to see the cracks…

Basel, Switzerland. Photo: Stan Tsvirko

Basel, Switzerland. Photo: Stan Tsvirko

Back to the ‘happy place’:

We arrived in Basel on May 17 and so here I am starting a relationship with a city and sharing it with you, because as every avid literature lover knows, a place is a character too. I will share the good, the bad and the awkward. It will be raw, honest and a bit romantic, ‘cause hey! I’m in Europe now. 

Apart from a few sharp dagger-like death stares aimed at me for eating pizza with my hands and one night of deep sobbing on a pile of towels in the laundry, I have enjoyed the move so far. 

Stay tuned nomads…

Nomad Naomi

The Rhine. Basel, Switzerland. Photo: Stan Tsvirko

The Rhine. Basel, Switzerland. Photo: Stan Tsvirko

My children in France. Photo: Stan Tsvirko

My children in France. Photo: Stan Tsvirko

Leaving it all behind

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It's a strange feeling. Knowing that I will leave the place that I have lived most of my life in less than a month. It's a strange feeling. I see things differently because of this fact.

The annoying kookaburras that disturb my weekend sleep-ins have suddenly become majestic native creatures, with glorious voices that remind me to wake up and get the most out of the day. The eucalyptus tree that almost collapsed on my house, another distinctly Australian gem that I now treasure. The kookaburras, the gum tree, even sweaty Februarys will keep my mind warm in the cold Swiss winter and I will remember home. I will yearn for the grand Australian ocean and the tinge of orange that decorates the landscape. 

I once thought a new adventure, somewhere more central to the rest of the world would be a dream come true, but now I am not so sure. 

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I will miss my mother's hugs and being so close to her 'mumsy' scent and how I will miss the sight of her genuine heartwarming smile. I will also strangely miss my big sister's commanding voice and her annoyingly always-right intuition. I will actually miss my dad's 'dad' jokes and my older brother's insanely amazing coffee (I will never admit that he can cook better than I can).

It's a strange feeling leaving it all behind, but it's reassuring to know that I will return from time to time and maybe one day be back for good. I take solace in knowing that the warmth of Australia will always be in my heart and something tells me there will be something magical about a new adventure. After all Roald Dahl once said: "Those who don't believe in magic will never find it". So this is me closing my eyes so tight and believing (even if I do feel like a goose).


Armed with this positive belief, I will call myself "Nomad Naomi" - Adventurer of the Universe (who even as an adult, still misses her mum's hugs and hummous). I hope you will come on the adventure with me...and my beautiful family. 

Take care fellow nomads,