PART 3: Accidental Polyglot...

Fluency, hangovers and hating German, English and Spanish.



Let me share a personal story with you, one that I'm not very proud of...

You see, I speak 9 languages now, but I have a very embarassing thing to admit...

I had 8 years of German classes during my teenage years, but I failed at it completelely.

You might say “what’s so embarrassing about that?”

After all, most of the people never end up speaking any foreign language at school! Certainly none of my ex-classmates. None of them speak German now, even if they passed some exams.

But in my case it was a bit deeper.

In fact, I used to HATE German with more passion than any other language... 

My disdain for it was deeply rooted in my childhood as my mom is a foreign language teacher, (a German teacher) back home in Slovakia. 

And half of those eight years, I was in her class

Can you imagine the pressure of your mom being a German teacher...you attending the classes, but still unable to speak that freaking language? 

A disaster.

“Luckily” I wasn’t alone. Everyone from my class was terrible at German, barely scraping by...

But my mom tried really hard. We - the students - tried. Unfortunately, nobody could speak!

When graduating in high-school I had to switch my foreign-language subject to English, which I studied “only” for 4 years. And it wasn’t much better, btw... I barely passed and was the worst in my class.

Despite my struggles with German, I always longed to move to Switzerland. Its stunning scenery, the alps, cheese, chocolate, and lakes had always beckoned to me. 

But the German grammar, and word order made me want to pull my hair out. In my twenties, I had the opportunity to move to a German-speaking country and stay with my auntie in Vienna. 

However, my attempts at finding a job were met with ridicule and embarrassment as my German was poor.

I struggled with der, die, das of nominative, and always confusing accusative with dative... Plus the verbs at the end of sentences, felt like being spitted at me backwards...

I was too slow to reply and my fear of being judged made me stay silent, which made people around me uncomfortable.

I wanted nothing to do with this language. If someone spoke German on the bus or train, I would often move the seat just to avoid hearing it. 

However, my story doesn't end there. When I arrived in Switzerland years later, everything was different...

In 2009, an opportunity came knocking that changed the course of my life forever. A friend of mine who worked in Spain (Menorca) managed to get me a job at a local hotel. As luck would have it, I spent the entire summer on this Spanish-speaking island, surrounded by locals who spoke nothing but Spanish.

And something weird happened: within three summer months, I became a conversational speaker.

The surprising thing was that I achieved this level without ever studying Spanish in a typical way.

No traditional grammar classes.

Nada...

To be honest, most of my free time there was spent recovering from hangovers every morning, due to the non-stop parties that were the norm on this island. 


This experience opened my eyes to the beauty of languages. I decided to travel across Europe, to work in bars or restaurants just to learn more languages with the end-stop planned für die Schweiz. 

I spent three months in Milan, and once again, the days were filled with boozy hangovers. However, this time too, I became fully conversational, in Italian this time. 

Suddenly I started to believe that maybe I'm special, that I have some new-found special talent for languages!

Until I was put back into my place by French...

After relocating to the charming coastal city of Nice, I struggled for a grueling nine months... at the end of which I couldn’t string together two simple sentences.

Initially, I thought my difficulties were down to the French language itself. However, upon reflection, I realized that I had approached learning it in a completely different way than I had approached Spanish & Italian which I found to be an absolute breeze... despite struggling with German and English during my school years. 

But, it wasn't until I set foot in France that I realized that language learning challenges can't be attributed to talent or age, as my results in language learning(s) were alternating like day and night. 

But I couldn’t figure out what exactly was causing these differences.

It was in France, where I first went to google for help...

As I delved deep into language learning, I came across the term "polyglots" and discovered the likes of Gabriel Wyner (from Fluent Forever) and Benny Lewis (from Fluent in 3 Months). 

And many others... who despite employing slightly different methods, had usually one thing in common:

They all failed languages in high school, but now spoke multiple fluently. 

Hmmn...

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