"bear-geh", in Swiss German"
"ber-gen, in High German"
My father in law patiently explains to me the difference in pronunciation of the word Berg (meaning mountain). I tend to roll my R's too Spanish-like, and I silence my ending vowels too French-like. I am a bit of a mess in learning the ropes and etiquette of Swiss German, all the while enrolled in a Babbel online course of High German. After 4 years of high school french, 8 years of travel to and living in Spain or Latin America, Learning Arabic and Italian for work, and spending loads of time in SE Asia. I end up marrying a Swiss man, and moving to Switzerland. Where I need to speak not only German, but the slightly more rolling, jumpy, and throaty neighbor- Schwiizerdütsch.
Integration into a new language in a new land is always overwhelming at first, but it will get better. It always does. The saving grace to my constant frustration in language blending is that my 2 year old is fearless in her new language. Yes, she has heard it since birth from her father, but there is a courage that I see in her as she pushes through and attempts her words with family and strangers that I admire so.
I would not say that I am "good" at learning languages. In fact, I'm terrible and lazy. Plus since I am on the move a lot, I have a much harder time to transition back and forth. Or maybe thats just a good excuse, no? dang.
Here are a few tips I TRY to keep with while adapting to new languages and picking up the ropes:
Rule of 3: I give myself the challenge of new 3 words or rules per day. This is a trick I picked up when I moved to Spain in my early 20's. I thought my Mexican kitchen Spanish could pull me through. But alas, I was completely unprepared for spain. 3 new random words or rules or phrases per day and repeat them as much as possible.
Repeat, repeat, repeat: Whatever it is that you know and feel comfortable saying. Say it out loud and over and over again. In public or alone. Just keep repeating what you know.
Take a course: Even online, even if it's just 10 minutes a day or 10 minutes a week. Make progress and show others that you are trying to break through and become more confident in speaking their language.
Write it and read it: I need to see the word and even write it down a few times for it to log properly in my language memory bank. The image of the word arrives in my brain before I speak it. If I don't ever see the word written (and know that Swiss german is not a written language... save me) then I've noticed how much harder it is for me to remember the pronunciation.
Accept the challenge: Allow others to challenge you by not speaking your native language all the time when you know they can.
Talk to small children: My 3 year old nephew has taught me more than any book so far. His language is slow, without slang, simple, and often does that adorable toddler-sentence-repeat-thing. This is golden for me.
*Side tip for saddling up your language skills before a trip- If it's just a vacation or quick trip your embarking on, then it's always good and polite to have a few language tricks up your sleeve. My rule of thumb is to always know and feel skilled with pronouncing a few basics.
Hello. How are you? Thank you. Your welcome.
Thank you very much - great for when you want to show someone that you are not just on autopilot with your gesture of gratitude.
I'm sorry/Pardon me. How much?
This. That. Here. Yes. No -These are really all you need to know when buying food or goods at a market stall. I use these a lot.
Beautiful/Cute - as a compliment for someones child, a helpful stranger's gorgeous purse, or the cute guy at the coffee shop. All are needed, am I right?
And heres a recipe for green banana muffins that my toddler is devouring these days which gives me immense joy to see something green entering her body when normally all she will eat is bratwurst and fresh bread.... But who can blame her when Switzerland can basically turn any Atkins dieter into a bread believer. I mean.... brot gläubiger.