When you're in-situ you can't hide from it - every day is a lesson and every interaction is a chance to improve and keep learning (every person I suppose if you're pedantic and opportunist...).
Yesterday I was stopped in the street by a volunteer for UNHCR. It was four degrees outside and he, and about four other people, were stood in the centre of Berlin happy to catch eye contact and attempt their spiel for donations to the charity. They do an excellent job, but I always feel a little sorry for these volunteers, and especially in these conditions. I hate ignoring them or their cause and I certainly don't want to be rude.
Wide eyed, pleading grin, a step in my path and bingo! Eye contact.
I smiled. Here we go...
I took a deep breath and began searching for my greetings and polite initial conversation, moving to scanning for the vocabulary to construct the sentence I wanted to form: 'I'm sorry, but I'm not able to donate today. I know lots about your organisation and do lots of charitable work too - but you're doing an excellent job. You must be very cold.'
That was not, of course, what it sounded like really...
It's times like these when you realise what you really want to say - that the thought occurs that maybe you say too much generally. You use unnecessary words. Waste people's time and beat around the bush with metaphors and general frivolities and pleasantries. Oh well.
This man humored me. He was patient whilst I arranged the few words I found and responded to me slowly, smile still in place, before asking me if I'd like to speak in English or wanted to continue in German. That's what most people here have said. Lots of people in Berlin speak English of course, but if you ask them or tell them you're learning, they are usually happy to continue to speak to you (and quietly correct you under their breath).
This worked the same way in Italy last year. In my free time I'd walk around the streets in town and if I hadn't interacted with anyone for a while I'd just walk into a shop and unapologetically begin to make conversation with the owner. This tactic, my free classes, and au-pairing for an Italian family with two girls were my main routes into the language.
This year however, thanks to the Opera Awards Bursary I've been able to be much more methodological in this process. I still talk to as many people as I can (laced with german apologies of course) and I still have my note book of phrases which I memorize and add to everyday. This time however I've budgeted for individual German classes too and it has made such an enormous difference. 1:1 means it's super personal and moves at my pace - we set goals and meet almost every day to make the most of my time here. And sure, my language, and linguistic knowledge and vocabulary is improving, but most of all my confidence increases every time and that is the biggest challenge.
I was not the best of students at school and boycotted most of my language classes entirely (sorry Ms. Shail) but learning for a reason offers you more motivation and has a sense of immediacy when you're actually there in the country of the language that you're learning. Boom. It's like my delayed German exchange that I wasn't good enough for and the trips I couldn't afford to go on have all come back together in the form of the Opera Awards hurrah!
So far Berlin has treated me well. I've had meetings at The Deutsche Oper, I am sitting in rehearsals for a new show at The Deutsches Theater next week and this weekend I am helping out Norman Cooley for Acting for Opera Singers masterclasses too. I've also, of course, been preparing and learning Ariadne auf Naxos ahead of starting rehearsals at Scottish Opera (co-production with Opera Holland Park) in February - but learning this surrounded by it's language and Strauss' context in the early 20th Century is the perfect research setting. The foundations of a language which I can continue through my career and the space, time and context that otherwise wouldn't have been available to me have been provided through the Opera Awards (sure, and a bit of my hard work) but I am incredibly grateful to the sponsors and the board for enabling me as a recipient of the award. And I cannot thank them enough: und ich kann Ihnen nicht genug danken.
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