A few years ago I started dating my girlfriend. She’s crazy smart and studied German in school, both high school and college, and also was part of an exchange program in Dresden and Berlin.
I wasn’t much of a student throughout high school–I can’t really think of another time in my life when I cared less about the things I was required to do. Basically the opposite of her experience, which was that she skipped a grade, was valedictorian, and graduated from an Ivy League university when she was 20. My schooling experience looks more like I probably shouldn’t have actually graduated high school because my GPA was below a passing one (1.7, or something like that), went to community college for two years, then a state university for three–all to achieve a BA English Literature, with which I currently work at Whole Foods.
In an inconvenient turn of events, I developed an actual interest in learning a second language right after graduating college. Yes, shortly after being forced to study one for about 2 years, as well as 4 years in high school. With each of the languages I in one way or another attempted to learn, I always came to a realization that I didn’t have anyone to speak them with and so wouldn’t ever become proficient or at least conversational. I do still remember how to say “this is a wall” in Arabic, which is about all I really retained. (I wouldn’t know the actual transliteration of the Arabic into English, but it sounds something like “hah tha jhee-dar-ron”) .
A few months after Emily and I started dating, she offered to teach me German. The language made sense to me, I was able to understand its grammatical rules and generally speaking the vocabulary was similar enough, or made sense intrinsically–for example, “r Wortschatz” literally translating to English as “word treasure” and meaning vocabulary in German.
After a little while a friend of mine recommended finding German speaking groups to go to and practice. I did this and found that I was pretty good with communicating, but not so good with listening and understanding. The gist, sure. The nuances, nope. It was fun though.