Moving to Bayreuth: Is my German level good enough?

By Nicoleta Dvornicov

A dream coming true

Wait until you grow up, and you will be able to travel everywhere you want,” my mother used to tell me when I was little, dreaming of faraway places, new languages, different cultures and delicious cuisine. Travelling outside my home country, Moldova, seemed, at that time, a dream that would not come true anytime soon due to the economic situation after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Now, twenty years later, I can happily say that my mother was right. Once I graduated high-school in my home country, I moved to the United States to do my bachelor’s degree at Berea College, studied abroad for a semester in Mexico, finished my master’s degree at the University of the Basque Country in Spain, came to Germany and in February, 2020 I started working at the University of Bayreuth.

The power of education

After completing my master’s degree, I knew that I wanted to work in a university since through education, people obtain knowledge, skills and resources that enable them to make positive changes in a globalized world—and I always hoped to contribute to this empowering process. Hence, I was excited when I was given the opportunity to be a part of an innovative project in higher education, MOOCs—massive open online courses, at the University of Bayreuth.

My language challenge

I was eager to start the job, although I was reluctant regarding my German language skills. I was a bit afraid that I would not be able to express myself clearly since my German was at a rusty level. One would think that if you know other languages, you would feel more confident speaking a new one. Yet, although I speak Romanian, Russian, Spanish, English, and I took two semesters of German, my confidence in my German skills is still quite low.

In my case, the fear comes from the idea of being judged by native speakers, because their level, which is difficult to reach, is the aim of almost any language learner. Yet, it is necessary to point out that I have not had such a fear when learning, for example, English or Spanish. I assume that one explanation for it might be the fact that I have reached a higher level in these languages in an academic context, not in a working environment as it is currently happening with German. I learn German step-by-step on a daily basis, by making mistakes and learning from them.

Luckily, the language barrier for me is lessening as many co-workers ask me, “Would you prefer to speak in English or German?” When possible, I try to opt for German, with the request to clarify my questions in English when something is unclear. The empathy of my co-workers gives me more confidence in speaking German and their friendliness and openness makes my adjustment process easier and more pleasant.

The MOOC project at UBT

Now, that my language concerns are not so persistent, I feel even more enthused to work on the MOOC project especially because the development process requires both creativity and flexibility. There is not a single method that we have to follow, on the contrary, we are encouraged to propose ideas and solutions that would make the project more efficient. I strongly value this aspect because it involves thinking outside the box and promotes both team and independent work. I believe in the power of intertwining team work and independent tasks in achieving successful results because such an approach nurtures both individual and team creativity—and through creativity, innovation is born. It is fascinating for me to be a part of the MOOC Team, as there is much to learn every day from implementing a new innovative project. I am excited to see the results of our work and to share them with the UBT community.Nicoleta Dvornicov in Südspanien

Practice makes perfect

I hope that, throughout the course of the next months, my German level will improve since “practice makes perfect.” For instance, here are three techniques that I use to improve my level:

I am enrolled in a language course at Volkshochschule- this way I can learn in an academic setting, meet new people who are also learning German (and most likely experience the same difficulties as I do), and practice the language in a safe environment.

Daily, I read books out loud in German: this approach improves my pronunciation and enriches my vocabulary.

I watch movies in German and listen to the local radio stations: in this manner, I advance my listening comprehension.

The above-mentioned steps that I am taking outside the working environment help me boost my German skills in a safe setting, which lessens the pressure of speaking “at a perfect level.” With languages, we need to speak, make mistakes, learn from errors, and reach, step-by-step, our target level.

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