I clearly remember my first conversation when I felt like I spoke mostly German for an evening. I was at a restaurant with a few guys and celebrating Reformation Day. I remember the conversation was about language learning, and I was so amazed as I walked home that day, thinking that I actually had a conversation in German! The interesting thing about that memory is that later, I got together with the guy I talked with that night and his memory of the evening was the opposite of mine. He remembers that we spoke mostly English that night! I think it reminds me that this process is just that - a process.
Today, I went into a climbing store because I wanted to look around. I mean come on, it's a climbing store and I like climbing. So I wandered around for a little while and finally someone looked at me and asked me if needed help. I asked a few questions and laughed with the guy behind the counter (most climbers are laid back and willing to chat about stuff). Later on in the afternoon, I was talking to a fellow language learner and I realized that I hadn't done something earlier. I hadn't rehearsed. One stage of language learning involves a lot of mental rehearsal before a social interaction, especially with a stranger. To be honest, it is emotionally draining. You think through exactly what you are looking to get out of the conversation and then what you expect them to say, or what questions you expect them to ask. So the fact that I went to the climbing store without mentally rehearsing anything, had a comfortable conversation and had no stress was an important milestone.
I would definitely not say that I am through the woods regarding language learning. I still have a long way to go, but it is great to look back and see times that were once difficult are not so hard today. It is great to see growth.
Photo credit: Seemann from morguefile.com