Study Abroad – Grocery Store in Germany: TRAIN YOUR EARS! THIS IS WHY IT IS IMPORTANT
If you have never studied abroad in a foreign country, then you are missing out on a lot of fun and language experience. You are also missing out on a LOT of embarrassing, confusing and exasperated moments. However, you usually learn the most from those types of moments.
I remember my first time buying food at a grocery store in Freiburg, Germany. It was a really cool experience seeing all of the different types of food, packaging and advertisements. It was definitely a culture shock not seeing almost ANYTHING that reminds you of grocery shopping in your native country outside of meat and produce. The actual shopping for food was the fun and interesting part.
Checking out was the part where you have to truly put your language skills to the test. I became increasingly more nervous as my turn was coming up. I rehearsed what I was going to say and tried to calculate in my head how much money it should cost so I could have it ready for the cashier. By the way, the cashier I ended up having was an old, no-nonsense woman who already looked as if she were having a bad day. Then I show up and make her day worse!
My turn was up and it was time to do this. I said good morning (it was morning) and she returned the pleasantry (I think). She continued through scanning my items and when she was almost finished I noticed a glaring difference from what I was used to back in the US. There was no screen telling me how much it was going to be! Having grown up in the digital age I was used to being spoon fed the total amount so I could easily get my funds together and make a smooth transaction. I was caught up for a moment in this realization.
The cashier growled something to me while I was wrapping my head around the fact that I had no true idea how much I owed. I am sure that she told me how much but NOTHING registered. Her dialect was thick and I was too inexperienced listening to German being spoken by a true native (especially one with an allemannisch dialect). I managed to garble these words out, “Wieviel?” (how much?) and she responded again. She knew I was foreign and attempted to slow down her speech and try to speak more towards Hochdeutsch, the school taught version German. It didn’t matter, I still had NO IDEA what she said.
She saw the look of complete confusion on my face, eyed my hand holding some small amount of euros and had had enough. She opened my hand and counted out the money she needed, gave me my change and I was on my way. Can you imagine the feeling of embarrassment? It wasn’t like this was a large supermarket that was not very busy. It was a smaller store with a lot of customers. My face was flushed and I hustled back to my dorm room to finally release the breath I had been holding.
I began thinking to myself. I know the language well, as of that point in time I had been studying German for 7 years. In fact, I knew my numbers very well. This is when I came to the conclusion that it was not my knowledge of the language that was at fault, it was my lack of knowledge on HOW that language sounds being spoken by a native speaker. I simply could not discern WHAT words were being spoken because I did not know how they sounded when being pronounced by someone who was not tailoring their speech towards a classroom or mainstream media setting (Hochdeutsch).
The main thing to take away from my experience is that it could have been avoided. I should have practiced listening to the language more.
This is one of the reasons why World Vocab stresses listening and speaking a foreign language rather than just reading and writing it. It is very important to learn how the language sounds.