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Open Up, Make Mistakes, and Learn by Living Posted by on Jul 15, 2013 in Archived Posts

How often have you wondered: “What would speaking every day really bring to my foreign language?” With the Lernen to Talk Show, I aim to show exactly that.

When I was a sophomore in college, I spent one semester studying abroad in Chile. I chose Chile because I was very dissatisfied with the quality of my Spanish after seven years of studying the language. I spent my time in Chile exactly like I later spent my time in Germany, speaking openly to people as much as I could with my limited language ability. I was astonished by how much more quickly I improved there than in the classroom, but it wasn’t until after my time in Chile that I came up with the idea of the Lernen to Talk Show . Two years after studying abroad I worked at a foreign language camp as a Spanish-speaking counselor. While there, it occurred to me, “how awesome would it be if we could show these kids how their Spanish sounded at the start of their four-week sessions compared with how it sounds at the end?” And then I thought, “how awesome would it be if I could see how I sounded speaking Spanish on the day I got to Chile, compared with when I left?” And then I thought, well, I didn’t do it with Spanish, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t do it with another language! Two years later, I managed to find a program that accepted me to live in a foreign country for a year. I would honestly have been thrilled to learn any language at all. It just so happened that the program I found would bring me to Germany. And so the stage was set for The Lernen to Talk Show.

I made the Lernen to Talk Show because I wanted to convince people that they can learn a foreign language if they want to. Of course you guys probably already know that. But a lot of people don’t believe it. A lot of people go to high school and are obligated to take foreign language classes without knowing why, or without realizing that learning the language is completely within their grasp. A lot of people in their adult life regret never having learned a foreign language, and are convinced that it’s too late to do so. It’s a shame, really. And I want to do something about it.

If you’ve watched the video above, then you have an idea of what The Lernen to Talk Show is about. If you go on to visit my site, you’ll get an idea of how incredibly long the series really is. One video per week for fifty weeks adds up pretty quickly. You’re free to peruse each video at your leisure, but for now I’d like to guide you through some of my favorite moments of the show. Moments that I think best capture the excitement of improvement, the joy of new understanding.

It took a long time before I reached any moments like that. The vast majority of my conversations early on were spent smiling and nodding and trying to understand something the person had said two minutes before, like around the 3:00 mark in this video:

That video basically sums up the first five months of learning German for me. “Fake it ‘til you make it,” as they say. It definitely applies to foreign languages. Sometimes I still feel like I’m “faking it”. If you say something wrong, usually the person you’re talking to will get the point anyway, and will politely correct you. Or if they don’t know what you’re trying to say, they’ll just ignore it. But then occasionally (and refreshingly) someone’s true face of confusion will shine through, like around the 4:20 mark in this video:

It was nice to see in Week 25 when somebody who knew my humble roots was able to notice a stark improvement in my German, around the 2:25 mark in this video:

Week 39 brought perhaps my favorite moment caught on camera. Moments like this happen every day when you learn a language, but luckily that day the camera was out to capture it. I was speaking to a group of high school students about the United States, and at the end I filmed an episode of the Lernen to Talk Show with them. During the chat they teach me a humorous phrase in German, a play on words involving the famous German writer Goethe. I don’t get it at first, but as they explain it you can see on my face the sudden moment of clarity, like around the 1:30 mark in this video:

I love that moment not only because it shows how excited I was to be learning something new, but also because it’s just so darn German. It’s a great blend of language and culture, and hearing those high school kids laugh so genuinely at a pun about Goethe just makes me so happy. It makes me wonder what wonderful moments would be caught during a Lernen to Talk Show in any other language…

In the end, this project isn’t about me and isn’t even about German. It’s about people, and the lengths we’ll go to be able to communicate with each other. It’s about accepting your own shortcomings and it’s about embracing the randomness of the world around us. And it’s about how no amount of resources will change the world without a change in attitude to go with it. I hope that my project helps you realize, if you haven’t already, that it’s through your mistakes that you will learn the most. Thanks so much for reading a bit of my story, and I wish you continuous inspiration in whatever language you are learning! See you soon.



Watch all Lernen to Talk Show Episodes at:

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  1. Theresa:

    I hope you informed them that not all Americans are fat and lazy, as evidenced by yourself!

  2. Taylor:

    Hi there!

    Your German improves with each video. Your videos are great; funny, but inspiring. Many German words resemble English. I was studying beautiful Italian, but decided to drop it and study Hebrew instead. Hebrew is the most unique language I’ve ever studied (Italian, French, brushed up on Spanish that I once tutored in college, now Hebrew), not only because of the beautiful alphabet, but also due to its gender aspects. Imagine having four ways to say ever color: masc/fem singular & m/f plural. Plus, imagine having two ways to say each number in both genders. LOL It’s challenging, and fun! It’s my favorite language to study.

    Love your videos!
    Au revoir!

  3. Taylor:

    Omg! Just noticed your April vid whereby you are fluent in German! Congrats! Perhaps I should live in Israel for one year? LOL

    Au revoir!

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