The Challenges About Acquiring a Second Language

By: silvia shields

Ok, so I was born and raised in Germany and, as the government mandates, I got my English lessons during the last five years in school.

I remember our very first lesson. Of course, we were and still are taught the "British English," which started off with: This is Ann and this is Mary, while the teacher tried to make sure that our tongue was between the teeth when we used the word "This."

Did I like English? I thought it was easy enough to learn but then I did not like our teacher, so I didn't pay anymore attention to it then was necessary to make it through the lessons.

After school, I started my apprenticeship as a shipping agent/freight forwarder - little did I know then how much English would be a part of my life one day. With the first caller speaking in English, I can still hear myself calling out loud: HELP! There is a caller on the phone who doesn't speak German (God forbid ... LOL). My Boss at this time was very tolerant at the beginning but also very adamant that I took and answered those calls. Guess my thoughts back then. :)

Fast forward many years later . . . here I am, the branch manager of the courier department in Frankfurt/Main, THE HUB for freight from everywhere in the world and of course, communication with a lot of different countries in the world - either by phone or via e-mail - is just one of many daily tasks. I am having no problem understanding and communicating with any of them with ONE big exception: my Boss is from England and English, spoken by British people, will always be my biggest challenge. Or so I thought. . .

In 1998, I decided to leave the corporate world behind me to fulfill one of my lifelong dreams: Move somewhere completely different, live a different lifestyle altogether - The Bahamas. So here I am with all my English experience and I realized I was lost when it came to small talk. Is this really happening to me? Does that mean I will never have a funny conversation or I will be not able to use my sarcasm? Thank God, it did not take me long to understand the "Bahamian slang" nor to have personal conversations. About a year after my move, I realized that I even started dreaming in English and all my thoughts came in English as well - It's kind of funny when you experience that - especially since I lived most of my life in Germany and now, not even a year later, my thoughts and dreams are coming in a different language.

For the next few years I continued to learn more words and phrases used in one's daily life and started working for a Canadian as his personal assistant. But there were still many words I had never heard of - the learning continued.

Eventually I started having problems finding the correct German expressions when I talked to friends and family in Germany - talk about getting adjusted. :)

Three years ago I met my Husband, who is from Liverpool. If you have ever met anyone from this area you know what I am talking about. The first couple of months I had headaches just from concentrating so hard on what he was saying...One part of our conversations in the beginning of our relationship became famous in our circle of friends and at his workplace (I hate to be the reason for musings . . . LOL) but let me share with you: Here we are, sitting on the sofa, having a nice conversation and during that conversation he asked me: "Honey, how many holes do you have in your ear?" Weird question, I thought but answered anyway.

"Three in my left and two holes in my right ear, my dear." I had not even finished my sentence when he broke out in a big laughter and fell from the sofa because he was laughing so hard. I was not all that amused and looked at him, asking, "And what is so funny about that?"

When he finally caught his breath, he said, "Honey, my question was how many holidays do you have a year?" and started laughing again and by then I joined him wholeheartedly.

Thanks to Hubby, most of the British accents are no longer a mystery to me.

Coming to the end of my reflection, I just want to let you know, that even though I have lived and worked in an English speaking country now for over eight years, dream and think in English, and am married to a man from England, there are still words I don't know, still some dialects I have problems understanding. There are still times when I can't find the right word to express myself and times when I am in Germany and have the very same problems.....

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