Choosing to learn German at Lancaster University has to be one of the most spontaneous yet best decisions that I have made in my academic life. I actually came to university to study French and Management, but after finding out that I had the opportunity to study a third subject in my first year I had a difficult decision to make. After browsing through the subject handbooks, the possibility of studying German at an intensive level – from scratch – immediately stood out to me. The chance to become fluent in a language within four years was an exciting prospect, although I did start off the course being sceptical of how realistic this would be!
So how does the Department of European Languages and Cultures at Lancaster propose to get people with little or no knowledge of the German language to the same standard as those who have already studied German at A-Level? In the first year, I took four language classes per week, focusing on aspects such as grammar, oral and listening, and reading and writing. As well as these language classes, students also took culture classes looking at how key moments in German history have shaped contemporary German culture (films, plays, novels), something which I found extremely interesting. The second year beginners’ course built nicely upon these skills learnt in the first year, with specific emphasis on fluency, accuracy of grammar, and vocabulary. Upon returning from the third year abroad, with much language practice under our belts, the intensive and advanced students of German are put into the same class to further develop our skills.
Turning up to my first week of German classes I felt overwhelmed, especially being one of the students in the class who did not even know the basics such as how to say Hello (“Hallo”) or my name is “Ich heiße”. Knowing that, if I wanted to catch up with the other students and advance quickly, I would have to invest a lot of time and effort into learning German, I set about writing vocabulary lists, listening to YouTube videos in German (even if I didn’t understand them, I was at least familiarising myself with the language), and trying to get in as much German speaking-practice as possible. By doing this I really learnt to love the language, and with continuous support from my German tutors and classmates, as the weeks went by I quickly started to notice the improvement in my language skills.
After two years of studying German at Lancaster, it was time put my new found language skills to the real test and start my year abroad! After a lot of preparation and bag packing, I headed off to spend 8 months working as a market research intern at GfK in the city of Nuremberg. I would not be exaggerating when I say that the year abroad has to be one of the most amazing experiences, yet also at times one of the most daunting. I will never forget turning up to my work placement on a warm sunny morning in August 2014, hoping that the last 2 years of German learning would be sufficient to understand what my colleagues were asking of me. And the answer to this question was yes! Although I did not understand every word, I knew enough to get by. Slowly but surely, with the help of my supportive colleagues and friends, as well as a few embarrassing blunders, I noticed a great improvement in my language skills. I even think that at times having only learnt German for two years before embarking on my year abroad was a help rather than a hindrance as I felt less pressure to always get things right, and therefore pushed myself to speak as often as I could.
So what has learning German brought to me? It has allowed me to meet some of my best friends who I hope I will always be in contact with, it has given me the opportunity to see some beautiful cities (Berlin, Salzburg, and Munich to name just a few) as well as the confidence to know that I could work in a German-speaking country in the future. All this because of one decision which I made in my first year of university; to learn German.