I had my third German conversation today.
When I started learning German this month, I was planning to have at least one real German conversation every day. It seemed like a logical way to improve. Benny the Polyglot says to do it.
But it didn’t work out that way. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe hearing Stephen Krashen say speaking isn’t important for acquisition took the wind out of my Skype sails. True, he didn’t exactly say that conversation isn’t important. He said talking to yourself doesn’t do anything, at least as far as acquisition goes.
Probably for both of these reasons, to date I’ve only attempted to have two conversations in German. Both times, I started choking before the first word had left my mouth.
Today was different in a few ways.
First, I decided not to use a dictionary or switch back to English. If I wanted to express something I didn’t know the word for, I used hand gestures and other words to talk my way around the meaning I wanted. It was like those games we played at the polyglot event the Friday before last.
Second, this was my first time having a conversation in person instead of on Skype. I think this made the non-verbal communication more immediate and important, which took some pressure away from verbal communication.
Third, I had words. Remembering the last time I tried speaking German a couple weeks ago when my mind was practically blank, today I felt like Neo. Except, you know, it was A1-level German instead of kung fu. That’ll show those agents.
To be fair, I was still more or less passive in the conversation, letting my partner ask most of the questions. And I have to thank her for her patience, that she was willing to watch me stare at the ceiling for ten seconds at a time while I tried to remember some word like after or tomorrow.
I also made little attempt to communicate in complete sentences, frequently using key words to get my meaning across, and just conjugating verbs occasionally.
But communication it was. We spoke for 30 minutes, covering a variety of topics mostly centered on hobbies, cooking, and language learning, without resorting to English once.
This feels like the first big milestone since I started learning German four weeks ago. Now does this prove that I’m actually acquiring the language? Or was it just a lucky combination of patient conversation partner + the similarities between German and English + the little basic German I’ve picked up in the last month making it seem like I’ve been acquiring it? Only time will tell.