Learning a new language

Recently, on the way home from the Amazon Summer picnic, while the girls were fast asleep in the back seat of the Acura, Jessica and I started having a conversation about life, culture, and our futures. This was a deeper subject than our general banter and babble, but it got us going in a direction that neither of us could have seen coming. We talked about how we wanted our children to experience, and have an appreciation for, different cultures and ways of life. We talked about how neither of us had left the country until we were adults and how we didn’t want our kids to be able to say the same. We also talked about how the rest of the world places such an emphasis on learning multiple languages, yet in the U.S. there is nowhere near that same level of commitment to understanding and appreciating cultures other than our own. In my personal opinion, this is a prime example of why most of the rest of the world views the United States as arrogant and ignorant. So, we decided to do something about it.

During that car ride we made a commitment to start learning a new language, and teaching that language to our kids. I’m sure that as you’re reading this you’re expecting me to say that we’re studying Italian, and believe me that’s exactly what my heart wants to do, but in this case I decided to listen to my brain rather than my heart… Something new for a change 😉 Based on a variety of factors that include cultural relevance, potential work-related opportunities, and geographic location (to a degree), we decided to start studying German. After that initial decision was made, I started doing my homework on Germany and quickly felt like our decision was validated. In addition to having a strong tech industry, I learned that Germany has by far the strongest economy in all of Europe. Ever since World War II, Germany has placed an incredible emphasis on not just rebuilding their country, but on becoming an economic powerhouse and global business leader. Our thought was simple, although learning to speak Italian or Spanish would be good, it doesn’t provide any intrinsic value to us in terms of opportunities. The same can’t be said for learning to speak German. In addition, I firmly believe that if you can learn to speak German, you can learn any other language you choose.

Making a decision like this is great, but it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t act on it. Anyone that knows me knows that once I set my mind on something I don’t waste any time getting it started. To a certain degree this felt very similar to the decision I made 3 years ago to commit myself to web development. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one thing I learned about myself throughout that experience is that I’m more than capable of teaching myself how to do anything I wish, and the same is true for Jessica. So, we didn’t waste any time and immediately ordered the ‘Instant Immersion German’ software kit from Costco.com. If you’re familiar with Rosetta Stone, this is the exact same thing, except that it costs 90% less. Within a few days the software had arrived in our mailbox and we wasted no time in getting started.

Not only did we want to start studying the language, but we also wanted to start familiarizing ourselves with the culture. So, we went to the book store and picked out a few books related to German history, and one full of German short stories. We decided to go all in, and so far it’s going great. I had no doubt that Jessica and I would enjoy the new challenge, but I wasn’t sure how Ava would do with it. Obviously Elise is too young to know what’s going on, however that’s good because as she is just now learning to speak, she’ll essentially be learning two languages at once. Well, much to our delight, Ava LOVES it. We’ve gotten into a routine where Jessica and I are each spending 20-30 minutes per day working on the language with our newly purchased software, and both of the girls love to sit with us while we study. After a few days Ava started running up to us saying “Can we play German!?” To her its a game, which is exactly what I was hoping for. She loves to sit in our laps, watch what’s happening on the computer screen, and repeat the words. Not surprisingly she’s doing incredibly well. The other night while I was cooking dinner, Ava and Jessica were working on colors and Ava got 6 or 7 in a row! I seriously couldn’t be more proud of her. It’s amazing to me how much each of us have learned in just 6 days, and it excites me to think of all the progress that we will continue to make. All it takes is 20 minutes a day and the results are incredible. I’m finding that phrases that I struggle to remember at night before going to bed are clear as day when I wake up the following morning.

Now obviously we want to make use of all this studying so we’re already considering our next big adventure, which would be relocating to Germany for a few years. What’s just as obvious is that you wouldn’t make this type of move on a whim. We were able to get away with something like that when we moved to San Diego, but something of this magnitude takes so much more preparation and planning. Plus we just bought a house that we love and want to be there for several years. So for now, we’re thinking that sometime in the next 4-5 years we would be ready to move abroad. That gives us plenty of time to learn the language, learn the culture, and verify that this is something we truly want to do. We’re still very much in the ‘honeymoon phase’ of this whole idea, and it’s more than possible that our feelings about doing something like this won’t be the same 4 years from now that they are today, but I can promise you that the idea excites us, and no one can argue that learning a second language can only be helpful to all 5 of us.

One thing we can’t stop talking about is how amazing it would be to be centrally located (in Europe) and be able to take the kids to so many different countries. Places like Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, England, The Netherlands, Croatia, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Norway, Sweden, and more are only a train-ride away. A good friend of mine that I grew up with named Jamie had this exact same experience with his family. After working at Microsoft for a few years he had an opportunity to transfer to one of their offices in England. Knowing what an incredible opportunity this would be for his family, he jumped at the chance and was able to introduce his kids to a wealth of cultural experiences. They have since relocated again to Australia, continuing an adventure that will forever shape each of their lives. I want that same type of experience for my family and am willing to do whatever it takes to make it a reality. Amazon has a strong presence in Germany, meaning that a transfer would be very possible. If not, there are plenty of companies in Germany that I would be honored to work for.

At this point it’s a bit of a pipe dream, but its something that Jessica and I are committed to at some point down the road. For now, we’re going to enjoy learning the language, and look forward to the day that we can sit down and watch something like ‘The Lion King’ in German. I hope this doesn’t come across as too much of a shock, but stagnancy isn’t something that sits well with us, and providing the greatest possible set of life and cultural experiences for our kids is of the highest importance and priority for our family.

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