As promised in my blog ‘Venturing out of my Comfort Zone‘ I will be sharing the teaching reminders I gained from teaching German to three English speaking expatriates in Berlin recently.

The first blog post in this series talks about empathy and being on the same page/wavelength as your learners.

So the first thing I realised is, that as a non native speaker of German, I had the distinct advantage of being able to remember just how incredibly frustrating it is to learn this difficult language. I remembered all of the mistakes I used to make and the embarassment attached to them.


As adults, we feel silly when we hear ourselves speak a foreign language or struggling to find the right words. We feel like we are making too many mistakes. That’s normal. On top of that we tend to beat ourselves up about not being able to speak the language more fluently.  Being taught by someone who has been in the same situation flattens the embarrassment factor. Being able to learn vocabulary from someone who has used the wrong words or made mistakes with using the wrong word or making other mistakes whilst learning the language feels easier.

It doesn’t seem so impossible to achieve either! If she can do it, then so can I!


It is more comfortable to work with a trainer that is really approachable and down to earth. If it is obvious that they understand your struggles, have made the mistakes that you are making, you can break through the nervousness and reinvest your energy in learning the language.

You see, when expatriates first move to a new country,  despite arriving with clear intentions to learn the language quickly, the reality is that, unless you start working immediately,  learning the new language is put on the back burner until you get the family sorted.

My advice is to set yourself a time limit and stick to it. The biggest mistake I see people making is putting off language learning for too long and then it becoming a big scary, overwhelming thing to learn.


All of your energy and emotion goes into getting your children and partner settled. You want to have your new place looking and feeling like home and making sure that everyone is feeling more comfortable.

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When you need help with something, it is natural to ask people who speak the same language as you to help you get things organised; you know the day to day stuff, like where to find a specific exercise book, a stain remover or where to find a plumber.

I MADE THIS TYPICAL MISTAKE TOO. It is an easy trap to fall into, but the trick is to turn every language challenge into a learning opportunity, more about that coming up…

As mothers though, on top of all this, we always tend to  put ourselves last, that’s normal, but when you are moving your kids from one country or continent to another, that is magnified big time!


You know deep down that this will be great for your family, but the bottom line is that your children have been pulled out of the familiar and into the unknown. Guilt creeps in. We try to make that transition as smooth as possible, it is a caring, maternal instinct that kicks in.

And that’s totally OK!

Expatriate parents, often feel even more humiliated because their children are becoming fluent almost overnight, much faster than you would believe humanly possible.  Benchmarked with your own slow or no progress, that’s depressing!Business_Woman-26







It was easy for me  to be able to empathise (from empathy) because I have been in the ‘same boat’ or same situation .  Learning languages is hard for me, I am not a natural at all.


Approachability - being in the same boat

Learning a language can feel like you are the only person struggling sometimes – in the same boat. You’re not.

I know what it is like to feel stupid for not knowing the right words or getting in a pickle about the word order or having the words, but not knowing how to fix it together in German. It is enough to make you exasperated and exhausted. Making mistakes is normal when you are learning a language!

I literally held my breath and felt my brain ache as my English speaking language learners racked their brains for the right word. It’s so frustrating when your brain just doesn’t work as fast as you want it to. You feel like it is only your stupid brain that has seized up, but it isn’t, we all feel stupid to start with.

It takes time for our brain to get back up again after it has been out of action for a while. It’s like a muscle, use it or lose it!

That’s why not being able to express yourself makes you feel so inadequate, for what is often, the first time in your adult life that you are unable to express yourself and that is a critical part of everybody’s personality. Losing your self confidence is natural.



The Three Keys to Learning a Language are vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation.


Next time we will be talking about

pesky pronunciation,

grim grammar


vulgar vocabulary

in combination with what else I learned when I started teaching Beginners German AND how being empathetic doesn’t mean you have a life long cop out (excuse or Ausrede) to learn the language either.

If you are an expatriate and this blog post resonated with you and perhaps reminded you of a situation in which you were learning a language, we would love to hear your story. Come on over to our
Facebook FB page ‘Professional English for Women’.