Today I tried to do one of the most difficult tasks that an newly arrived expat must undertake – ordering lunch. Seriously, it is insanely difficult to order lunch in a foreign language. Not only do you have to say what you want but then you are asked questions about it. If I manage to order my lunch successfully, I feel like I have won a gold medal at the Olympics and tend to celebrate as such.
Today, I stupidly went to Subway by myself for lunch. Usually I go with one of my German colleagues who can translate if I fail to understand a question. But today they are all scattered across the globe (literally – one is in Australia, one is in Zurich and the third is somewhere in Hamburg at a business meeting) so I braved it myself. I knew what sandwich I wanted and on what bread, with what salad and what sauce and how to say all of this in German. However, I was totally unprepared for the fast paced questions thrown out at me. I failed on the first one. Obviously I failed in such a spectacularly bad fashion that I was asked if I spoke English and the rest of the order was done in Denglish (my favourite language).
I then did another spectacular fail when I went to pay for the sandwich cause apparently even just paying requires the Subway staff to ask a million and one questions beyond the standard ‘Is that all?’ This lead to a conversation in English about where I was from (yes my fail was that bad).
Some good points came out of this epic fail though – I no longer get upset or flustered when I can’t understand what I’m being asked or I screw up what I’m trying to say. This is a huge step forward for me and it seems that I am getting more comfortable speaking and screwing up in German. Also, I have pinpointed where my German skills are weak – listening and understanding. I can, for my level, speak and write in German quite well. But I really struggle to understand when people speak to me at normal speed using everyday language.
So does anyone have any awesome tips on how to improve your listening & understanding skills beyond listening to podcasts and just getting out there and giving it your best shot? Any handy hints of things that worked for you? Also, please share your epic language fails. I feel the need to compare war wounds.