Love of learning German

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It was freezing cold, snow in the air and on the ground, a real wintry day, beautiful but good to be planning on spending the next couple of hours indoors, writes Wetherby U3A columnist Caroline Green.

Adding to the beauty of the day was the slight feeling of trepidation I experienced as I headed towards the Wetherby U3A German language class. I have about six words of German, so I knew I would be out of my depth. However, I’ve always loved the construction of the language, and the way words just seem to get longer and longer; so this was my opportunity to gain some understanding.

The welcome I received from Stephen, in whose home the group was to meet, was in direct contrast to the cold weather outside; warm and welcoming. Soon we were all gathered together and Linda James, the Group’s Leader, introduced me to the other members. Immediately they got together, they launched into the language they obviously all love. Germany is going through very interesting times currently and is benefitting from a resurgence of interest in language, culture, history and tourism.

My trepidation about joining the German Group for a visit was steeped in my past experience of learning language at School which was fraught with anxiety and detention. So much so that the rest of my life has been spent thinking learning a language was something I couldn’t do. Much the same way as someone who’s been told as a child, they can’t sing. Somehow one carries these negative feelings throughout adult life, missing so much. It’s often experiences such as these, as children, that colour our desire to learn and hamper learning itself. It becomes harder to learn anything as adults, and a good deal of this difficulty is not to appear foolish or uneducated. The U3A offers us all a unique opportunity in later life to try something new.

The German Group consisting of Linda, Stephen, John, Roy, Christine and Graham, have stepped out from behind this invisible barrier to learning and joined forces to become a group of German speakers who are relaxed, knowledgeable, supportive and curious about a language they all love. They had all arrived in the same place following a life lived to the full, and were loving the fact that they could stretch themselves in a foreign language. The table was covered with reference books, dictionaries, books and information. The conversation was littered with political references, jokes and book recommendations. Each individual took it upon themselves to prepare a piece of work on the topic for the session, this one being about German Nobel Prize Winners. I learned so much! You might wonder how I managed that, considering my limited vocabulary at the beginning of the session.

In addition to being informative, the group members were very considerate of me, and of each other. When I looked totally perplexed, as opposed to just baffled, they explained in English the content of the conversation. This relaxed and informal way of learning is so effective. The conversation flowed between all the members as if we were all sitting in a Café in Berlin enjoying each other’s company and encouraging discourse. The standard was so high and it was obvious they all got on so well and are at a similar standard, which I would suggest is intermediate to advanced conversational German. The point about this group is that they have all lived full lives, working, travelling and taking part in community activities. Now they find they are able to bring the threads of those lives together to enhance their activities in retirement, pursue their interests, challenge themselves, learn from each other and make friends with like-minded people. All this, in a friendly relaxed atmosphere, is conducive to enjoyment and learning. So what did I learn? Even though my understanding of the language was limited, my enjoyment was immense. I learned not to be afraid, not to worry how I would manage, to listen and enjoy everything that transpired. Like anything we learn as adults, I learned that regular practise, research, enquiring of others and sharing knowledge are the keys to success and enjoyment.