Today, a little excerpt from my bike touring journal over on the “crazy guy on a bike” website. For those not following along, I started in Frankfurt on July 1st, and I’ve ridden about 550km so far and have arrived in Munich, where I’m staying for about a week.
I might go into town later today, but that might not happen if I decide to take a nap or something. Until then, I’m working on languages again. With nothing pressing to do, I can work on my hobbies a bit.
Since I got some books the other day in Augsburg, I’ve been browsing through them a bit. The German bike-repair book is quite interesting, because it’s full of words I’ve never seen. I didn’t previously have any exposure to bike-specific terms, and this one does a good introduction. It’s aimed at total beginners, so it explains exactly how every part works, which makes it pretty easy to figure out the names for the parts just from context.
I also looked through my book on 1000 common Swedish words, which is written in German. It seems that reading has done a lot for me, because I know pretty much all the general words, and most of the specific ones. It’s more of a passive knowledge…I can’t recall a lot of them if I try to think of how to say something, but when I read or hear them then I know right away. I’ll have to go through it more thoroughly and see if there are any that I’ve missed, and add them to my flashcard program.
Although I’m feeling rather motivated to work on German and Swedish, the more urgent task is to do a bit of review on Esperanto, since I’ve got 3 weeks left until I start the week-long course in Slovakia. I have a bunch of 15-minute podcasts from Radio Verda to listen to, which were actually produced by a couple in Vancouver. They come out with a new one every week or two, and have over 100 online, so I downloaded a few dozen of them. I also have my Esperanto copy of “The Hobbit” with me for reading, although that doesn’t work so well when I’m riding.
I’ve actually really enjoyed listening to audiobooks as I ride. The countryside is quite peaceful, and I’m usually on roads with no cars, so audiobooks are the perfect passtime. Having hours and hours of extra listening time in German is really helping my comprehension and vocabulary too, so it’s a good combination. It lets me prioritize speaking practice when I actually meet up with people.
The opportunities for language learning are really great here. I’m quite jealous of the ability of people here to travel short distances from home and encounter a different language. The Dutch bike tourist I met here, for example, has been to Germany many times and is decent at German. There are some people here from Italy and Spain, although it seems that for them German is a bit of a stretch…it’s perhaps a lot easier for the Dutch since their own language is so similar.
It’s an interesting experience being in a place where everyone expects other people to know and speak other languages around them. In Vancouver, this is usually something that separates people a lot…people tend to form cliquey groups with their own language speakers. But here, although people join conversations in their own language more easily, most people also mix around and try to find common ground with the others.
Everyone is also quite tolerant of language mistakes, since it’s just a common occurance, and they know that not everyone can be expected to learn every language. Contrast this with the English-speaking culture of North America, wherein everyone is expected to learn lots of English to a high level, and where English speakers constantly make the assumption that they won’t have to learn anything else because the “middle ground” is always English.
This leaves people in quite a comfortable position if they already speak English, and not much motivation to branch out. I think this comfort also breeds expectation and assumption. Perhaps people just need to have things stirred up a bit more, so they don’t get complacent, which is exactly what happens here in Europe.
I’ve also started talking to other people about language-learning. Most people are quite amused to hear my story of having used hundreds of hours of Star Trek and CSI in German, and having read multiple Harry Potter books in German while listening to the audiobook in German too. Somehow, less focus on proper “study” makes them think that I’m some sort of language “genius”, but isn’t it odd that the people who speak the most languages all tell the common story that exposure to input is the most valuable thing you can do? Those who have trouble with languages (of which I was recently one), complain a lot about the defficiencies of classroom instruction and official “study”, whereas those who just find lots of ways to enjoy content in their target language talk about how fun it is, and how successful they’ve been.