I’m going to Austria – in September

There is nothing like a planned trip abroad to bring back the language learning juices!  My last trip to a German speaking country was in 2006 when I spent a few weeks in Germany (thus the picture with my dad, Wolfgang, in Berlin). Last week I was invited to participate in a conference that will be held in Viena, Austria, in September of 2011.  That is 10 months away, but already I feel the difference, that is, in terms of my study of German.

Not that it is totally on purpose, but I have my “actively learning” languages and my “passively maintaining” languages.  On the active side is Chinese.   I am specifically learning new vocabulary, meeting with tutors, listening, reviewing, and redoing tons of lessons, it’s an active attack.  On the passive side is German and Italian.  I often listen to German and Italian podcasts, music, etc., but there is no real effort to retain the information and I almost never repeat lessons a second time.  It’s more just a brief check to hope that my German and Italian skills don’t totally disappear.

Well, all that changed last week.  Even though it is 10 months away, just knowing that I’ll be going to Austria has perked the interest and increased the level of intensity.  Now it is not enough to simply listen to podcasts and music.  It’s time to review, retain, and practice. Instantly I found myself speaking more German to colleagues and friends who speak German. I have cracked out the old textbooks and I have started repeating some of the podcast lessons.

All of this reaffirms to me that language learning is tied to two great principles.  First, motivation is a gigantic factor.  It’s just amazing to see how much attitude affects learning.  We all know that, but it’s been fun to feel that again.  Second, learning is enhanced when it prepares you for something real (as opposed to academic and artificial).  There is a real sense of “I’m gonna need this stuff.”

Wish me luck, I’m going to Austria–and I’ll be speaking German when I get there.

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