Cold reception in Germany

Johnny_G

Johnny_G

After completing Rocket German and almost completing More Rocket German I traveled to Germany to attend a Fomula 1 auto race at Spa in Belgium. I was excited about the prospect of trying my new German language skills. I had also previously completed a 90 lesson German course from another source so I thought that I was somewhat well prepared. I was surprised when I spoke my first few German words to our German taxi driver and he requested (in English) that I speak only English. Once at our hotel again I started my first sentence in German and was asked by the German receptionist to speak only English. This happend each time I spoke even just a few words such as "Guten Tag" or something similar. On one occasion I greeted another receptionist with Guten Tag and he laughed at me and again recommended that I use English only. Our German host for a day tour explained that many Germans are taught English throughout school and that it would be better if I didn't speak any German unless I was perfectly capable and competely literate which I am not. I can only assume that my German was extremely poor which surprises me after so much study and practice time. I was embarrased and humbled and did not attempt another German word and all went well. :(

Hi John, I'm very sorry and somewhat surprised to hear about your experiences in Germany. Germans are known to appear slightly rude, but a lot of tourists come back from Germany saying that they met lovely people and had a great time. My own experience is that a lot of people will speak English with non-native German speakers, perhaps because they are thrilled to be able to practice their German or because they don't want you having to try so hard. My German friends always speak English to my English speaking friends (who also speak some German) no matter what. Even if my English speaking friend say something in German they would reply in English. That can be quite frustrating at times, especially if you have made an effort to learn German and want to practice it. I don't think I agree with what your host said, that you shouldn't speak German unless you are perfect. First of all, you need to start somewhere to get perfect and I don't think people are offended if you say something slightly incorrect. At least that is my experience. More often than not people are excited that you are making an effort. It's a shame you didn't have a more positive experience. I'm sure that your German is just fine after practicing so much. I really hope your self confidence is not down because of that and you don't lose your passion to continue learning German. Once agin, I'm very sorry and I hope your next trip will be different.
Ashen

Ashen

wow I'm sorry to hear that as well. I started learning German through the Rocket German course about 3 months ago because the mother of a really good childhood friend of mine hasn't been home in over 40 years and since she is like a second mom to me we thought it be nice to take her on a trip for her birthday. My friend and I didn't speak any German prior to RG so a couple of months back we got the course so we could get around and what not. We just got back from our trip this past Monday and needless to say after only learning for 3 months we are nowhere near fluent, but my experience was completely different than yours. The people were very nice, even tried to help us with our German. Some people asked us to speak English, but only to make sure they understood exactly what we were asking for or saying, then they would reply "slowly" in German. We thought that was funny because after hearing her mom talk to her aunts and uncle and just people in general we notice we could only understand some parts of the conversation so we were really grateful to those who slowed down for us, otherwise we realized we'd be speaking in English the whole time and we wouldn't progress. Some automatically spoke English to us but that was more for our sake. We just asked them if they would mind speaking in German because we were learning and they were very happy that we wanted to learn German that they agreed. I also speak Spanish and live in a city where Spanish is just as common as English. I think it's natural to want to reply to someone in their language if you notice that they are having trouble speaking yours. You naturally assume that it may be just as difficult for them to understand you because there are so many nuances, regional differences, and slang that you wouldn't normally learn in a language course, not to mention some people speak really fast. it's just natural to want to make communicating easier for the person. I notice that I did it and since I've been learning RG I started asking people if they'd rather I spoke in Spanish because I realized as we were planning our trip that they may be trying to learn English, and I was worried that some people may do exactly what I've been doing and just assuming that they were trying to communicate as opposed to trying out their English. I've hear that Germans can come off a bit harsh, but I believe it's just the difference in our languages, not the people themselves. Maybe you came across a few mean people (i sure hope not!). I don't want to devalue your experience, but i sure hope you give Germany another chance if you can, it's really lovely there. I think you'll find next time if you explain that you are learning and would rather speak German that most people are usually willing to put in the extra time to slow down and listen. Unfortch jobs like taxi drivers and hotel receptionist are jobs that deal with tourist and their job is to make the non native person more comfortable so that they get repeat business. Maybe they just thought you'd be more comfortable with English and were trying to make it easier on you. I wasn't there so it's hard to tell but either way I'm really sorry you had such a bad time. I know first hand it's not always easy speaking a language you're just barely learning to a native speaker. You really put yourself on the line, but in general most people who learn a second language understand that awkwardness and are usually willing to help since they've been through it once before themselves. I really hope you make a second trip if you can, and I hope you find it more enjoyable than the first. Who knows maybe we'll run into each other :D
Johnny_G

Johnny_G

Don't get me wrong. The people were very polite in other situations.....they just did not appear to like it when I spoke even a word of German so as I said, early in the trip I stopped trying. I also speak Spanish (Had a Condo in Costa Rica for a short while) ... I speak a little Brazilian Portugese as well. I spend some time in the Amazon each year and have found Brazilians very receptive to my attempts to learn their language. My Costa Rican friends were most happy to help me learn Spanish as we worked together but this German experience was quite different than anything I have ever experienced. (surprising) If it matters our hotel was in Aachen and I should have mentioned that the two people that did speak a little German with me early in the trip were Dutch and ran a small (but great) restaurant accross from the hotel. They treated us like family. The host that I mentioned was one of the more intelligent people that I think I have ever met and was most gracious but as I said, she was not interested in Americans trying to speak German. She worked for the Court system in Aachen and occasionally for the Police as a translater and spoke many languages. I still have much to learn in Portuguese so that will keep me busy. :)
Bindi

Bindi

Hi John I know exactly what you mean... I too have experienced the very same reception. I am now living in Germany; the first 6 months I really did not learn a word, apart from Hallo, bis bald etc. Why, well all my friends were far too happy to practice their English. I was quite happy at first as I was a little nervous to speak the language and travelling back and forth to the UK (for work) meant that I really had little time to immerse myself in the language. After 11 months the work situation got better (by that I mean I didn’t have to travel every week). Fantastic…. Now I could really get my head around the language, right… wrong. My friends tried to speak with me in German for Ohhh at least one sentence and then it would revert back to English. Even if I ordered a coffee in my bestest… ;) German, I’d get a reply in English… so everyone around me was improving their English at a very nice pace, while little old me was still struggling to put two sentences together…. It must be me, I’m rubbish!! The final blow came when I was out with a friend for coffee (of which the main purpose was to communicate in German). After 15 minutes or so, he stated that we should now speak in English, as it’s too difficult to communicate with me in German. Honestly, I nearly cried. My very first foreign language and felt like a thicko! Even my boyfriend (who’s English is now rather perfect I must say) seemed unwilling or frustrated to speak with me in German… it must be me! I’m living here so got to speak the language right! With that thought I booked myself on an intensive German course with the Goethe institute (probably the best language learning school in Germany). And blow me down with a feather, my confidence shoot through the roof…. It wasn’t me! I passed all the listening, written and spoken test with flying colours. Also compared with some students at my level, my pronunciation was extremely impressive (that was a little note on my A2/1 certificate). Interestingly enough a friend from Peru, who speaks almost zero English claims she has never had this problem… everyone speaks with her in German…. I wonder why! So yes, Germans definitely want to practice their English. They listen first for correctness and then for understanding. They want to be and think they are being nice by saying… it’s easier, let’s speak in English. (or rather… speak English its better)! John, don't be put off I am now refusing to speak with anyone in English (unless i get excited about something and forget). and it's working a treat... I've even had conversations where I have spoken German and my friends have spoken English. Cheers Bindi

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