Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an Adult

Thrifty Travel Mama | Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an AdultWhy, hello there. Didn’t think you’d see me ’round these parts again, did you? It has been a long time. And I’ve played out this reunion in my head many times. Has there been too much space and distance? Well, let’s just let it be awkward for a minute and then be done with that.

Over now? Good, moving on!

In case you’re new here, nearly four months ago I excused myself and backed away from this blog, forcing myself to turn and take one shaky step in the direction of serious language learning.

Fighting the this is never going to work fears and I’d rather be blogging thoughts, it took all I had in me to walk in the door of the language school near my boys’ kindergarten and ask what they had available.

You see, in our little city, the options for learning a language are as follows: (1) take an intensive course at a language school which means 5 days a week, four hours a day, (2) take a course at the community college for two days a week, two hours a day, or (3) find a private German teacher and pay through the nose.

That’s it. Take your pick.

What do you think I chose? What would you choose?

Like many bloggers, I’m an introvert. I despise group work and small talk. Busy work for the benefit of the whole class kills my desire to learn. Plus, I’m a mama, and I know from my previous experience taking an intensive course that there is just NO WAY I can manage being gone all morning, every day of the week, plus do homework at night for more than one week at a time.

The second option is just too slow. Plus, I honestly had no clue what level I was or which class to take.

Believe it or not, I swallowed my thrifty ways and tossed an incredible amount of cash at a private teacher.


But, old habits die hard, and I could not pass up an offer I found for two weeks of nearly free German classes. The catch? It was every night from 630-830pm, the absolute worst time of the day to leave my husband to solo parent. I love that man.

Over the course of nearly sixteen weeks, I took over forty hours of private German classes as well as eighteen hours of group classes. In between that, I struggled to finish my homework with one hand while warding off the laundry, dirt, and stench beasts with the other. We may or may not have had pizza and chicken nugget dinners every other night..Thrifty Travel Mama | Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an Adult

Learning a new language as an adult is incredibly humbling.

I watch my sons chatter away auf Deutsch, and I can’t help but be a tiny bit envious. It’s true that they essentially are in their own intensive course while at kindergarten four hours a day, five days a week. But, they also have no inhibitions. They’re not self-conscious at all when it comes to making mistakes or speaking with an accent. Ah, to be six again..

My German classes literally brought me to tears on several occasions because I felt so unbelievably stupid. Why is this so hard?! I would ask myself. My brain is just not wired to learn foreign languages.

Undeterred by the snotty nose and runny mascara, I kept the end goal in sight: I am doing this for my sons, to help them keep up the gift of being bilingual as well as for own enrichment and mental health (ha). So, here I am, still plowing through, one umlaut at a time.Thrifty Travel Mama | Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an Adult

Despite the difficulty, I’m happy to say that the payoff has been huge.


Before these classes, I would shrink away from any opportunity to even attempt speaking German when it wasn’t absolutely necessary. I started almost every encounter with, “Do you speak English?” Now, I do my best to tuck that question away and only pull it out for serious situations like doctor visits and the like.

Just yesterday, I met with another mom from my church that I barely knew. I was aware that she spoke English, but I made myself start things off with, “Wie geht’s?” (how are you?). I occasionally had to explain a few things in English, but I steered the conversation back to German after each detour. Thirty minutes of this kind of mental workout left me exhausted and literally sweating.

Oh the things I never thought I’d do!

Here are a handful of other examples that just a few short months ago would’ve been impossible..

  • Argue with a police officer about why I was breaking the rules (if you must know, I was riding my bike on the sidewalk with my kids at a dangerous intersection).
  • Select, order, and pay for festival tickets over the phone (no hand gestures!).
  • Read an entire parent letter from the kindergarten without the assistance of my pal Google translate… and understand what I read.
  • Sign up for a tandem partnership with a total stranger.
  • Consider asking all my German friends to only speak German with me (okay, I’m still on the fence about this one..).

Sounds amazing and like I’m doing swimmingly, right? Well, don’t believe everything you read.

Some days, the words won’t come. Other days, I won’t let them because I just don’t feel like it.

In between those thoughts, I wonder why I am doing this. Why am I learning another language with the intention of becoming fluent? Why am I learning German?Thrifty Travel Mama | Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an Adult

And, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there’s a downside. There’s always a downside, isn’t there?

The truth is, I now feel like I can’t speak any language well. I often trip over words in my native language, often forgetting what common items are called in English (!). I end up stuttering and then scrunching my face up in frustration because I just can’t manage to squeeze the right words (in the correct language) out of my brain.

I mean, I love bargains and all but the whole “buy one foreign language, get a free speech impediment” thing wasn’t exactly what I had in mind..

And when I’ve had a conversation with my tandem partner, for instance, I can’t seem to turn the German off and end up jabbering away in German to my husband who would rather just understand what his wife is saying, thankyouverymuch. The Deutsch monster just won’t shut up once it has been awakened.

So, what now?

Well, I simply keep on keepin’ on. At this time, I am done actively taking classes, at least the expensive private kind. I feel like my German is at a level now that I might be able to handle a regular group class (though my introverted, anti-group-work self will surely protest this possibility).

Thrifty Travel Mama | Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an AdultI bought a textbook and workbook with a DVD to keep up my independent study. But, really, what I need now is to just practice speaking as much as possible, hence the tandem partner.

And, in between all of that, I’m going to try to hang out here at Thrifty Travel Mama more regularly. But, don’t worry, I won’t start blogging in German any time soon.

Though I have missed blogging at TTM, I’ll admit it’s been a good thing for me to have a break, to refocus and, honestly, to decide whether I would like to continue writing. I’ve come to the conclusion that I do really enjoy blogging, because I often feel I have something to say either with the intention of helping others or simply throwing my two cents at the blogosphere.

So, pull up a chair, add me back to your Blog Lovin’, feedly, or subscribe to posts by email and let’s do this Thrifty Travel Mama thing again!

I often think to learn a second language you need as many of these things as possible – time, money, youth, and a live-in dictionary/language tutor. What do you think?

And, if you’ve learned another language as adult, how was your experience? Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

Thrifty Travel Mama – 2012 – A Year in Review

Whew!  2012 has been a wild ride, full of experiences and surprises.  “Year in Review” posts are all the rage in the blogosphere, so despite my inclinations to do the opposite, I’m jumping on the bandwagon.

In January, I went fully frugal.  I shared my source for Free DIY Passport Photos.  I pointed you to the European Backpacker Index, a tool for researching expenses in European cities.  Oh, and I saved you from having to run to the store at the last minute by showing you how to make your own brown sugar.

February brought me a birthday, and Doc Sci took me to Milan (sans kids) to celebrate.  We ogled da Vinci’s Last Supper and the views from the roof of the Duomo.  We got caught in Carnival madness, and stuffed our faces with risotto, bread, pizza, and (of course) gelato.

I went crazy in March trying to make our awful concrete student housing apartment more homey on a very small budget.  I spiced up the kitchen, bathroom, and front entry.  I constructed a ginormous cork board wall in the living room and plastered it with photos.  I somehow also found the time to completely finish Rosetta Stone German and post a final review.

In April, our little family went home to the US for 3 weeks, stopping in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida.  We soaked up the sun, and made kid-friendly activities a priority.  Among the boys’ favorite was our trip to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Back in Germany, May was part work and part play.  Doc Sci and I both took week-long intensive German courses.  We also managed a date night to the movies, complete with popcorn and assigned seats.

Doc Sci let us tag along with him to Berlin in June.  He attended a brainiac conference while the boys and I played at Legoland.   And speaking of brains, I got mine to work long enough to pass my German driver’s license exam.

In July, I switched to extreme nesting mode.  I stocked the freezer with a gazillion meals, and organized our life into one happy turquoise notebook.

I took a six-week break starting in August to bring our third and final little traveler into the world.  His birth story is the kind nightmares are made of.

We ventured out to Frankfurt in September to get the little guy his passport when he was only two weeks old.  And good thing, too.  Later that month, Big Foot found himself coasting through five countries on four planes, five trains, and two buses, in the span of three days.  No sweat for a seven week-old.

In October, I posted reviews of flying Delta Airlines and easyJet with a baby.  I should’ve shown you these fashionable Oktoberfest pull-ups, but I was too busy scoring freebies for babies and mamas in Germany.

November was an exciting month for us.  We bought a car!  Doc Sci wrote a fabulous guest post detailing the adventure.

We took our car on a little road trip to France in December.  It was all the travel we could muster in between the zillions of Pinterest projects that filled my days and nights before Christmas.

Every year has its highs and lows, surprises both good and bad, and 2012 was no different.  It’s just how life goes, and I’m thankful to live it with my awesome-amazing-how-could-I-describe-you-in-just-one-word husband and three blessed boys who make me laugh every day.  Here’s to 2013!

German Intensive Course

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expat Life - Language LearningEver since I finished Rosetta Stone, I have wanted to do something to further my German skills.  But, what?

My city only has one place where a student can study German two days per week.  All the other schools only offer classes that run every single day.  T-Rex is in kindergarten Monday through Friday, but Screech only goes to his little school three mornings per week.  Unfortunately, the times of the two-days-per-week school don’t fit within our family schedule.

I can’t afford private lessons, so that option is also a no go.

Hmmm.. what to do?

I mentioned my frustration to a friend who suggested an intensive course.  Several schools in the area offer these courses; one can start on any Monday and stay for as many or as few weeks as desired.  After thinking about it and talking it over with Doc Sci, I decided I could commit to one week.  Not great, but better than nothing.

After finding a school that had availability and a small class size, I was required to take a placement test.  As far as I understand it, German language proficiency is divided into the following levels from basic to advanced: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1.  I took a practice test online that recommended I start in B1.  The language teacher at the school suggested the end of A2.  However, the A2 class wasn’t offered in the morning, so she agreed to let me try B1.  If it was too hard, I would be, well, out of luck.

Fortunately, I was able to hack it.  Barely.  But not for the reasons you might think.

I understood almost everything going on in the class except for two things.. some vocabulary here and there that the class already knew from being together for several months (which is unavoidable, really), and grammatical terms.  The latter frustrated me to no end.

In my opinion, the lack of grammar is both Rosetta Stone’s strength and its Achilles heel.

I learned a lot of German in five levels of Rosetta Stone and appreciated not getting bogged down in tedious grammatical rules and diagrams, but I did not learn really important grammatical terms like noun, verb, adjective, adverb, accusative, dative, genitive, perfect, imperfect, present, past, future, etc. in German, and how they corresponded to the grammar taught in Rosetta Stone pictures.

For instance, Rosetta Stone will teach you to say “The dog ran”, but it will not teach you that “the” is an article, “dog” is a noun, and “ran” is a verb.  If I was to continue taking a traditional German course in a classroom, I would have quite a bit of catching up to do in this area.

Luckily, my objective in taking the class was not to learn grammar (and the teacher was nice enough to help me understand what in the WORLD I was supposed to do for some of the exercises).  Rather, my aim was to improve my speaking skills and perhaps pick up some new vocabulary along the way.

In this regard, I considered the time spent in class worthwhile.  A major plus was the class size – only three other students besides myself.  This gave the teacher plenty of opportunities to call on me and force me to fumble through speaking.

(If I haven’t said it before, I loathe speaking foreign languages.  I’m slow to process what is said, slow to think of how to respond, and slow to actually speak my reply.)

Though I think the experience was helpful, taking an intensive course is not something I could do every week even if I had childcare.  Most students in the schools’ classes were 5-10+ years younger than me, unmarried, and without children.  After all other daily responsibilities were done, I barely had an hour for homework at night, let alone time to attempt memorizing vocabulary and grammar from the previous days’ lessons.

But, I enjoyed the chance to get out and try something new.  Now, if only I could find a conversation group in my neighborhood or some alternative or creative way to practice other than with government officials and medical office staff!

Final Review: Rosetta Stone Online

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expat Life - Rosetta StoneIch bin fertig!

I’m pleased to announce that on Tuesday, March 20, 2012, I finally finished all five levels of Rosetta Stone German.  In case you’re curious, it took me a little over a year to complete the entire program.

I’ve previously reviewed Rosetta Stone Online here and here.  Below is my final review.Does Rosetta Stone make you fluent?  The answer to this question depends wholly on how you define fluency.  I appreciated this article’s explanation of the subject, and after five levels of German, I would consider myself conversationally fluent.

I’m able to easily make a pediatrician appointment over the phone, speak to the nurse in person about what’s wrong with my child, and answer most of her questions.  Just last week, I was surprised by how effortlessly I spoke with a neighbor on the playground for at least 20 minutes on a variety of subjects.  I don’t always understand everything said, but I can often infer the meaning of unknown words from context and listening to the words I do know.

This is not to say I never struggle with expressing my thoughts and ideas.  But once I mentally decide how I’m going to start a conversation, I’m often able to keep speaking.

Native-like fluency takes many years, and it was never my goal to achieve this status.  Despite the many similarities to English and numerous cognates (and false ones!), the German language is extremely complex and has oodles and oodles of words.

What are the strengths of the Rosetta Stone online program?  I believe Rosetta Stone has many strengths, but let me focus on three.

First, I really like how the program is broken down into 5, 10, 15, and 30 minute segments.  This allows almost anyone to be able to work language learning into their schedule.  It also combats frustration by allowing the user to feel like learning was accomplished, no matter the amount of time spent.  I discussed this a bit more in my first review.

Second, the program employs the use of repetition in learning.  The modules within the units are set up to drill the words and phrases over and over again albeit in different formats (speaking, reading, writing, listening).

Also, when completing a lesson review, the program automatically sets up a reminder to quiz you again on the same material in several weeks (called Adaptive Recall) in order to help ensure retention.

Third, Rosetta Stone online offers the user a very large vocabulary.  I know words for random things like forklift, EMT, and polluted.  I still have many words to learn, but Rosetta Stone has given me a great platform to continue building upon.

What are the weaknesses of Rosetta Stone?   Let me state up front that I think Rosetta Stone is a fabulous language learning resource.  I’m only nitpicking to give an accurate view of the (my) experience.  Despite what is written below, I still fully recommend the program.

As I mentioned in my previous review, the order of vocabulary baffles me.  For instance, emergency situations (like car accidents) were only covered at the end of Level 5.  Some concepts such as visiting a restaurant are covered incrementally across the five levels.

I thought some of the vocabulary presented was not necessary.  For example, I am not sure how much I really will ever use farm or construction vocabulary.  I would rather know how to discuss whether or not my son’s daycare teacher is going to get a substitute when she’s sick instead of how the bulldozer moves dirt and the crane picks it up.

Part of this stems from a strength of Rosetta Stone, pictorial learning.  It seems much easier to teach straightforward words (bulldozer) rather than more abstract concepts (substitute).

And one major gripe I have is the alphabet is never taught.  As an expat, it would be extremely helpful to know how to spell my name letter by letter in German.

Finally, although Rosetta Stone teaches you to instinctively know which form of a verb to use without memorizing rules (a strength), it does not ever explain when and why to use the grammar that’s presented.  As such, I am not sure if some forms can be used interchangeably or if switching between two forms changes the meaning entirely.  I plan on taking a week-long intensive course to hopefully help answer some questions and iron out the confusion I have regarding grammar.

All in all, I think Rosetta Stone is an incredibly useful tool.  It has given me confidence to attempt to speak in many situations I would’ve shied away from previously.  I now have the desire to join a conversational group and practice what I’ve learned.

Thank you, Rosetta Stone German for the gift of language learning!

Update: Rosetta Stone Online

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expat Life - Rosetta StoneHeute ist ein sehr guter Tag!

I’m happy to let you know that today marks my halfway point in the Rosetta Stone online program!  I’m doing back flips over here.  Can you see me?  No?  Really?  Well, I’ll leave it up to you to determine whether that has to do with your eyesight (eat your carrots!) or the fact that I’m typing and not actually doing back flips.

In February of this year (that’s 2011 folks), I gave you my first initial impressions of the Rosetta Stone German online language course.  Six months (six!?) have passed, and I’m now halfway through Level 3 of 5.  As promised, here’s an update on my experience with Rosetta Stone.

Do you still like it?  Yes!  Definitely.  Absolutely.  Without a doubt.  In fact, when my first three months of access ended and I was unable to renew (more on that below), I found myself almost in despair.  I tried out several other methods but wound up frustrated.  I had become so accustomed to the teaching method of Rosetta Stone that I realized I was expecting other programs to work the same way.  I couldn’t really get into any of the other products available, so I hunted down another Rosetta Stone online program and got back to work.

I am a visual learner, so the pictoral method really appeals to me (and so does Pinterest but that’s another story for another day).  To be honest, there are limitations to this approach.  For instance, the word for soon is bald.  The first picture for this word showed a doctor telling a pregnant woman her baby would probably be born bald.  I thought this was rather amusing, but then the word came up again in another picture involving neither babies nor old men.  When I’m presented with a word like this that I cannot figure out from the picture, I just type it into Google translate, and I’m on my way.

Does it work?  I think progress in language learning is very subjective.  Yes, of course, you can take tests to measure competency.  However, tests cannot assess your abilities in every situation.  I have learned a LOT of German from Rosetta Stone.  I think I read much better than I speak, but that is due mainly to my hesitation to try conversing only in German (remember, Germans tell it like it is – there is no Southern way about them).  That doesn’t mean I don’t try – it just means I am rather shy about it and only MAKE myself if I know the other person doesn’t speak English.  On the plus side, I’m now able to make doctors’ appointments solely in German which I consider a major victory.  If people slow down their speech a bit and simplify their vocabulary, I can usually understand the conversation.

One very important thing to note… I cannot figure out the method behind the order of vocabulary.  There are words/concepts that would be very useful for travelers (ordering in a restaurant for instance) that are NOT in Level I.  In fact, if I had only purchased Level I, I would have been very disappointed in what I learned.  It is a great base from which to build other vocabulary, grammar, etc., but it will not teach you everything you want to know for a trip over to Germany.  If this what you’re looking for, I’d strongly recommend getting Levels I & II.

How long does it take?  Since Rosetta Stone is a self-paced program, it can take as little or as long as you’d like.  I’d like it to have gone more quickly, but realistically, this is a good pace for me.  It has taken me six months to complete Level I, II, and half of level III (fyi: I don’t do the lessons when I travel).  I hope it will take less for me to complete the rest of the program (through Level V).  If you don’t have two kids and you have more than an hour or two of free time every day, you could definitely get through the levels faster than I did.  My goal after both boys are in kindergarten/daycare in a few weeks is to do one Lesson (four Lessons in each Level) per week / week and a half… ish.  Yeah, I know, good luck with that.

Where do I get Rosetta Stone online?  The whopping great deal I told you about in my first review no longer exists. When I determined that I HAD to HAVE Rosetta Stone and nothing else, it took me several days of searching (remember, I only have an hour or two of free time each day) to find another affordable program (I did not want to buy the CDs).  I found it through a continuing education center at a university in Florida.  The cost for one year of access was $299 and included the opportunity to change your language of choice one time within that year.  This is obviously much more expensive than the $48 for 3 months I started with, but it is also cheaper than buying levels 2-5 to complete the program (plus, I can change once and learn two languages if I finish German quickly).  And – enrolling in this “university” course qualified me for a childcare discount which means I will easily make back the $299 in no time.  Score!

If you’ve tried Rosetta Stone and would like to add to this review, please leave a comment below.

Review: Rosetta Stone Online

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expat Life - Rosetta StoneSome women are dude magnets.  Some women are seriously weird dude magnets.  I, on the other hand, am an old lady magnet.

Okay, correction: my boys are old lady magnets.

Yes, I know I’m biased, but they are adorable.  And hilarious.  And often loud and obnoxious.  But old ladies have a knack for only seeing the sweet side of boys.

Almost every day, I get comments either on their rockin’ ride (Phil & Teds, could I possibly love you any more?) or on their handsome faces, disposition, humor, etc.  At least, that’s what I think they’re saying.

One can only tell so much from context.  And I can only nod, smile, and say, “ja” so much.  Inevitably, a point comes in the conversation where the lady realizes I am not responding to her.  I have figured out what “you don’t understand a single word I’m saying, do you?” sounds like.  I then apologize, smiling of course, and explain I don’t speak da’ Deutsch.

Surprisingly, most are offended, give a little sniff, and walk away.  Ahhhhh, frustration!

But that is about to change.  This week, I started taking German with Rosetta Stone online.  First, let’s talk about how great it is, and then we’ll talk about the cost.

I don’t want any internet bloodhounds hunting me down and suing me for copyright infringement or trademark violation or whatever that legal schtuff is called.  So, I will just show you the welcome screen and explain some things from that.  Rosetta Stone (RS) offers five levels of most of their language (I think they offer 31?).  I started with Level 1 (duh), and it has four parts (units).  Each of those four units has four lessons.  It’s broken down in such a way that you only have one long session in each lesson (did you follow that?) and the other sessions are small, 10-20 minutes each. This works so well for me as I sometimes only have 15 mins here, 10 mins here.  I can still make progress and feel like I am actually learning and accomplishing something.

Each session employs auditory and visual learning.  You must listen to the words, “read” them, and match them with pictures.  This sounds simple and yet the method behind it actually seems quite complex.

All sessions require you to repeat words or phrases out loud.  The computer recognizes your speech and helps you with pronunciation (albeit by marking the question wrong if you say it incorrectly–grrrr).

The repetition of the words and phrases reinforces what you have already learned while intertwining new material to teach you even more.

So far, I think this is the best language learning experience I have had.  I know more German in one week than I probably ever learned in two years of high school Spanish.

Now, let’s state the obvious.  Rosetta Stone couldn’t stay in business while charging hundreds of dollars for their product if it didn’t actually work, right?

Yes, Rosetta Stone is very expensive.  But what is learning a new language worth to you?  If you’re just doing it as a hobby on the side, don’t have much NEED for learning another language, or aren’t self-motivated, you probably won’t get your money’s worth.  But, if you will actually use this new language on a regular basis and can discipline yourself to do the lessons, it will definitely be an investment worth purchasing.

However, let’s not forget that we’re thrifty around here.  Three levels of CD-Rom German is on sale for $479 right now.  Yeah, that’s the sale price.  Three months of online access used to be $199.  I say used to because I looked it up just now to double-check the price for you, and it says “this product is no longer available.”  Still, that’s not exactly cash I have lying around.

I wanted to know if this fancy schmancy program was REALLY worth almost five hundred dollars.  That’s ten weeks of groceries for me in the US.  That’s a plane ticket to London from the US.  That’s a used Vespa.  I had to do some research to be sure.

I came across a comment by someone about a community college in CA offering three months of online access for $48.  Now that is my kind of deal!

Nevertheless, the college’s website and graphics smelled of identity fraud machine.  I researched the college and found it had won a few environmental awards and was rated A+ by the BBB.  I called the number, talked to a real person, asked some questions, etc.  Okay, I’ll bite.

Turns out, it seems to be the real thing.  However, I’ll check back with you in a few months and let you know if it is still legit.  Things could always change!

So now when I have an old lady tell me how “süß” my boys are, I know how to say “Ich spreche ein bisschen Deutsch” instead of “Ich spreche kein Deutsch.”  Okay, Doc Sci taught me that, not Rosetta Stone, but I’m still thankful to be on my way to making German old ladies’ days!