Welcome to the first of our Chatterbug Features, our new Chatterblog series featuring stories from actual language learners. In these posts, we hand over the mic to our students and let them tell us their trials and tribulations of learning a new language.
Today, we’re featuring Ryan Francis, a theater-major-turned-web-developer from San Francisco, now living in Berlin. Ryan has been a Chatterbug student since April 2019 and one of the reasons he’s learning German is his love of theater. He initially moved to Berlin to research current trends in the European theater, but these days, reading lines is something he does in his spare time, just for the fun of it. What follows is a transcript of our interview with him about his experiences learning German and life in the German capital.
Why are you learning German?
I’ve had an interest in learning German since I studied Bertolt Brecht in graduate school, but it wasn’t until I moved to Berlin a few years ago that it became a necessity. I’ve often had people tell me, “Oh, everyone speaks English in Berlin. You don’t have to learn the language.” But to me, I’ll never feel fully immersed until I have a good grasp of the language.
How long have you been using Chatterbug and what was your level when you joined?
I’ve been using Chatterbug for about 3 months now. I had previously studied through level B1 of the CEFR, but I was hardly ever using the language in my everyday life. Because of this I was still very afraid to speak and never considered my actual level to be that high. I would have probably considered myself at an A2 level.
We think making mistakes is a great way to learn, so have you made any funny or memorable mistakes since you began learning German with Chatterbug?
Oh gosh, I’ve made so many mistakes that I’ve lost track of most of them. One that I remember was when I was at the post office and mixed up the words for send (schicken) and ham (schinken). I assume I walked in and asked something like, “Kann ich das hier schinken? [sic]” Thankfully, most people that I’ve come in contact with know what was meant and just smile and nod. But after realizing what I had said, I was definitely quite red in the face.
What was your proudest German speaking moment since you joined?
I have a group of German friends who always switch to English when speaking with me (out of courtesy so I don’t feel left out). A few weeks after starting Chatterbug, I had a bit of confidence and tried to communicate with them in German. To my surprise, it wasn’t a total disaster. In fact, I got a lot of positive feedback and encouragement from them, which felt amazing.
What’s your favorite part about the platform?
The Live Lessons are definitely my favorite part about the platform. In my early days of learning the language, I neglected the importance of speaking. I can’t tell you how frustrated I was with myself as I continually studied through reading and learning vocabulary, but didn’t see much improvement when it came time to use the language. Now after a few months of speaking multiple times a week, I’ve had friends comment on how much improvement they’ve noticed.
Is there anything you’d change?
The Live Lessons are certainly what sets Chatterbug apart, but in the future I would love to see more activities (of different types) for self-study.
About your experience with tutors, is it difficult to start speaking German with someone you just met online?
Normally I would say yes, but something I really liked with Chatterbug was the prompts that are always available to guide you through a lesson or conversation with a tutor. These prompts and exercises make it very easy to chat with tutors because you always know what to talk about. I’ve had experiences with other platforms where it is the tutor’s responsibility to guide the lessons, and often times they forget where we’ve left off or what I’ve been working on. Chatterbug has solved that problem perfectly.
And finally, would you recommend Chatterbug to a friend? If so, why?
Absolutely. I’ve already recommended Chatterbug to a few friends that have been wanting to work on their language skills because of the flexibility that Chatterbug offers in scheduling lessons. In-person language courses are great, but there are often challenges when you’re also working a full-time job and don’t necessarily want to have 9am - 9pm days. I think it’s amazing that with Chatterbug I can schedule a lesson whenever I have free time, or even on weekends.
The entire exchange between Ryan Francis and Chatterbug is published in this article and the interview has been lightly edited for clarity.