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).

Tschüss,

Frau Nomad Naomi