Deer in Headlights: My Experience with Lang-xiety

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Josef Kiesenhofer
October 24, 2023
Boy sits on green bank in sunset lighting. He wears a white shirt and his pants are multicolored

While I certainly expected language challenges while abroad, I certainly didn’t anticipate developing a strained relationship with German. My whole experience in university with German classes has been focused on growing my appreciation and interest in German culture, and I always assumed language skills would flow by simply listening to German on a weekly basis. I loved all the content I was learning but was sorely overconfident in my speaking ability.

When I came to Berlin, I expected to jump right in with my German and improve quickly. After my dad left me with my hosts, I painfully realized I had the speaking level of an elementary schooler and could only say things like “I think that is cool” or other extremely rudimentary sentences. It left me ending every day feeling like I just wanted to hide in my room. Upon realizing that I now needed to learn German to just keep my head afloat, I was dismayed by my false confidence and any sort of German-language social setting seemed far out of reach. This immediate revelation about my incapability to speak German was directly juxtaposed with my sudden Spanish confidence.

I have been learning Spanish since I was about five or six years old, and Spanish classes have always been a constant in my life regardless of what city I was living in (Berlin is the sixth place I have lived). Next semester I will be studying in Madrid to hone my Spanish, but I was delightfully surprised by how many opportunities I have had to practice my Spanish in Berlin.

In social settings, I find myself breezing through quick Spanish conversations without needing to look up many words while simultaneously fighting for my life translating entire German sentences and writing my responses via Google Translate. I even held a 20–30-minute conversation with Peruvian tourists at Oktoberfest about a wide range of topics, something I could not imagine being able to do in German. With German, I walked away with every conversation physically wincing at how unintelligible I was. With Spanish, I quickly made connections and was praised for my skills.

This is where I started to really feel the “lang-xiety” (I have actually never heard that word used before, but I like it so I’m keeping it). I wanted to blast off in Berlin and find myself enhancing my German at every corner, but when I had such a direct language comparison showing me how much weaker my German abilities were, I felt guilty for wanting to practice my Spanish more than my German. It’s a very scary moment to be a German Studies major studying abroad in Germany and realizing you just want to speak Spanish.

After I let my language frustration freakout cool down and talked through my fears, I was able to re-frame the situation. I’ve been learning Spanish since Kindergarten, yet I’ve only taken about one year’s worth of German grammar and language classes. Obviously, one is going to be substantially better than the other.

I also think that I would be in a far worse-off position without the support of IES Abroad itself. The IES Abroad professors understand that we all enter the program with varying German levels and are, thus, extremely patient, and flexible with students. I feel more comfortable struggling along in class and making active efforts to speak, even though it almost feels like nonsense. My host parents have also been great resources. I feel like they give me the opportunity to practice conversational abilities in a low-stakes environment, and they’re always boosting my language confidence by reminding me how much I’ve grown in the past few months. Pushing through my “lang-xiety” has been the most frustrating yet rewarding experience because I’m able to love my language journey for the journey itself rather than holding myself up to standards I set before even setting foot in Germany.


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Josef Kiesenhofer

Howdy folks! My name is Josef Kiesenhofer, and I'm a passionate accounting, German, and Spanish student excited to explore the world. I love all things blue and embroidering on clothes. I sometimes have a broadcast radio DJ show, too!

2023 Fall
Home University:
Tulane University of Louisiana
German Language
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