Jonathan: Part-Time Learner of German - Toward Community

Jonathan: Part-Time Learner of German

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My ambition is to one day be able to do what I love and earn enough to get by

Over the last six life changing years I have grown a real interest in Philosophy and have come to realise that this is what I want to spend my life doing. At the moment I am currently working full time and am due to continue my formal studies in the autumn when I start my master’s degree. In this blog post I would like to just focus on one of the things I have been doing recently that will hopefully bring me closer to reaching that final goal and will make my life all the richer.

For the last several months I have been trying to teach myself how to speak, read and write German. Whilst I will be the first to admit that I am still a long way from reaching a standard where I would be confident writing my blog posts in German, I am happy with my progress and already feel like I have gained a lot from the experience. I have tried on several previous occasions to learn but seem to have found myself falling out of the routine each time.

So why German you may ask? Many of the thinkers I find the most influential have German as their native language and it is whilst studying philosophers such as Nietzsche, Wittgenstein and Heidegger that I have begun to realise just how fundamentally important language is. I started to consider the huge problems presented by translating texts; what can be voiced in one language can be very difficult to put into another. This is particularly an issue and the fuel of much academic debate within Philosophy, in which the objective is to speak as clearly and distinctly as possible. I feel that if I can learn German then I will be able to further my knowledge in these particular areas.

I would also like to stress how beneficial (not just from a career point of view) learning another language can be. I firmly think that everyone should at least try it. Not only does it open up whole new opportunities to communicate with people but it can also give you a much better understanding of your first language. I now notice certain things about English that previously I would have just taken for granted.

I think the crucial thing that I have come to realise this time around is I have to be more realistic in setting my targets and much better at managing my time. No doubt this is a result of growing up a little bit in the last few years. I am now more willing to accept that learning a second language is going to take time and is not something that is necessarily going to come easy. I have found that best way to face up to this problem is by trying to break the task down as much as possible. Rather than say to myself “I will be speaking German by…” I have instead tried to slowly surround myself with things that help to practice my German. For example I have been using apps on my phone, video-blogs online and websites that help to introduce you to foreign language pen pals, all of which I have been able to do free of charge and which I have found to be really useful. The idea behind this is to try and smooth the process of learning as much as possible. Rather than it seeming like a chore which I have to attend to regularly, I think it is much easier to be doing little things that let me put my skills to the test. When I visited Hamburg earlier this year I was amazed at how much I already knew just by doing these few simple things as I have not yet had any formal lessons.

I will finish with one last general remark on the problem of the work/life balance. Obviously we all have to do things from time to time that we do not particular enjoy or want to do. This is when work can be its hardest or feel the most draining. I think the best thing to do is to view these challenges as part of an overall bigger picture and to stay driven. I know that I want to work in philosophy, I also know that I am a long way off being able to support myself doing so; however I know that by putting extra work into doing things like learning German I can bring that goal closer. I think in the ideal situation there is no real difference between work and life. If you can get to a position where you can do what you love then they can start to become the same thing.

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Jonathan Wren

Jonathan Wren is a Masters student of philosophy, based in Manchester, UK.

One thought on “Jonathan: Part-Time Learner of German

  • 12th July 2015 at 2:59 pm

    Thanks for this Jonathan! Excellent point about work and the rest of life becoming integrated. If you are doing work that you feel fulfills your skills, passions and values, then the relatively recent lines we’re constructed between work and everything else become blurry. I particularly see this within my ideal of a community. Where we contribute to the collective doing what we love, such as people who enjoy tinkering being the village tinkerers und so weiter 😉

    That is not to say that said tinkerer would just be considered a tinkerer – they may have many skills, but above all else they are a person, who eats, sleeps and loves like the rest of us. Whilst I feel our work should reflect our organismic self, that work should also not purely define us like is suggested by the small-talk-favoured “what do you do?”.

    Does this present a problem? Perhaps we can get to the bottom of this…


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