How do you measure success when learning a language? For some people success is measured in exams, certificates and qualifications, for others it is more a question of gaining confidence to be able to do things which you couldn’t do before – like ordering a coffee or reserving a hotel room. This is the story of one of our past students, Andy.
Andy started beginner German classes with Language Learners in early 2015. He was planning to take ski instructor training in Switzerland and wanted to get a head start on the language. Here is what Andy himself had to say about his first set of lessons with us:
“I had never spoken German before and needed to learn a lot in a small amount of time. In the space of just a few months Teri had me confidently speaking the language to the point I arrived out here and became the person who had to do all the translating and question asking! Teri’s lessons were great fun and really well structured. From tenses and grammar to specific lessons on Ski vocabulary, she really took into account my requirements and level. When I come back next year I will definitely be continuing the lessons and improving my language skills further. Thanks a lot Teri!”
Did Andy return for more lessons? Yes, indeed he did. He came back at the end of the ski season and continued learning in preparation for a return to Switzerland in the next ski season. We continued with focussed classes on grammar and ski vocabulary including naming eight different types of ski lift, and practising how to call for medical assistance. In fact, he was so inspired that he also took the Goethe Institut A1 level German exam in London shortly before the 2016 ski season, which he passed with a good mark.
There was mixed news about Andy’s season. The good news was that he felt confident in his language and really enjoyed his time there. The bad news was that a ski accident saw him “enjoying” the Swiss medical facilities rather more than he may have wanted. However, every cloud has a silver lining and we were delighted to get a message from Andy to say that the medical vocabulary we had covered had been really helpful and that he had managed to complete all his own medical forms, in German, despite the pain!
Andy recovered from his accident and completed the ski season. He has now returned to the UK and has moved away from the area to start a new job.
Many keen skiers will spend the weeks and even months before the season getting their body up to speed, ready for the snow. They run, squat, stretch and lift, hoping to improve their fitness and stamina. While they may not ski into the first snow drift they meet, they can sometimes fall at the key hurdle of ordering a drink and food at the bar!
“But everyone speaks English” I hear you cry. It is certainly true in the hospitality industry that many staff will speak some English. The level may be patchy, or you may find that it is fine until you have a specific, more unusual, requirement. This can be a particular issue if you have food intolerances or need to avoid particular foods for any other reason.
Once you move away from the well-beaten tourist track then you are more likely to come across those who do not speak English. The most memorable experience I have of this is from a skiing holiday in one of the less well-known resorts in Austria. On the first day one of our group fell awkwardly and damaged her leg. She clearly required an ambulance, which was duly summoned. Although she spoke some German, the pain levels meant that she had forgotten most of the niceties – and it turned out that neither of the ambulance crew spoke any English at all! Filling out all the forms en route to hospital would have been a most interesting experience if we hadn’t had our own translator!
Our suggestion would be to learn the basics of the most common language in your holiday destination. If you are in doubt about your accent then you can write a dozen or so useful phrases on a piece of paper and point to the ones you need. Some online dictionaries also offer the option of hearing the word from a native speaker. www.leo.de provides this option for those who are learning German (or other languages with German as their base language). Be wary of online translation tools – they have their faults, and you cannot always guarantee wifi access at the top of a mountain!
If you have a food allergy or intolerance or other medical issue, then consider getting a translation of the issue and any medication you may require. There are websites where you can get medical information cards in a variety of languages, for example AllergyUK.
Teri is a language trainer, specializing in teaching French, German and English to adults. She no longer skis, preferring to find a good café, an exciting book and a “chocolat chaud” as she watches the family on their adventures.