Society is built upon many factors, one of which is language. While this plays a distinct role in our lives, a journey across the sea challenges the fundamentals of identity.
The most direct form of expression of our identity is communication. Language not only helps to define our character but is also a tool for articulating every thought and emotion, therefore showing other people who we are.
I suppose I never fully understood the importance and power of language until I moved to Germany. Having lived in London and only spoken English my entire life, I didn’t truly consider the difficulties migrants must have. Yes, London is a very multi-cultural city and many of my friends there are international, but they all speak English so well that no one ever considers the time when they were learning.
THE BIG MOVE
In August 2015, I spontaneously left London and bought a one-way ticket to Berlin, with no plans or expectations and very little knowledge of the language. It was simultaneously exciting and terrifying. Knowing no one in a foreign city was not what was intimidating, but the language barrier; the sudden lack of understanding other people and restriction in people understanding me. Almost a year later and after intensive lessons, I can understand more and I am able to have basic conversation with people in German. This is not always enough however. The feeling of having jumped into a dark abyss of uncertainty is still with me, especially when in large group conversations that are difficult and awkward to follow.
MY IDENTITY IN GERMANY
I am quite a confident, outgoing and (how friends and family affectionately describe me) loud person. These are some of the characteristics that identify me – when comfortably speaking in my mother tongue. However this has drastically changed since moving to Berlin. While I can understand a lot of the language, I still find it difficult and somewhat embarrassing to speak in a foreign tongue. I also simultaneously feel terribly guilty speaking to people in English, out of fear of coming across as rude or uncompromising. Therefore, with all of these thoughts blurring my mind, I often remain silent, probably appearing shy or without opinion. However this isn’t me: my identity and how I am perceived by others in Germany is suddenly completely different.
I am also the sort of person that loves meeting new people, but it is very difficult to initiate such interaction with a language barrier! Sarcasm, humour and flirtation are wonderful features of language that I especially like to use and that completely define me, but are totally impossible to convey in another language when you’re a beginner. So again, identity and personality is altered. (Luckily for me, many people are able and eager to speak English here, so I haven’t been too thwarted in this!)
LIFE AT WORK
Another tough factor with language arises in the workplace. I feel very honoured to be able to work at muehlhausmoers, but the language barrier adds a huge challenge. There is difficulty in meetings where I am not always able to input my own opinions, so my involvement is limited to listening. However, I am pleased to say that listening to my colleagues on a daily basis has greatly improved my understanding of the language. I also enjoy knowing that my mother tongue is useful here, as colleagues often come to me for translations and English grammar checks. It is additionally motivating to gain encouragement and support from the company to continue learning German and overcome the barrier.
POWER OF LANGUAGE
It is clear that the knowledge of multiple languages is a powerful asset to have. To be able to converse and identify with other people around the world is commendable. For this reason, I am not deterred by the challenge, but determined! During my time in Germany so far, I have thoroughly enjoyed learning the language and feel a sense of accomplishment. It is a truly rewarding experience to see how much I have learnt and how much more I understand than when I first arrived. I am excited for this to improve in the future. Although it will take some time, I know that a stronger grasp of the language will greater enhance my experience of living in Germany. I feel so happy and fortunate with my life here already, so my aim is to remain, experience and learn as much as I can. While it is not by any means the only thing that defines identity, spoken language plays a very big part in revealing who you are. And so, with the continuation of my German lessons, I look forward to mastering the language over time and gaining a newfound German identity.